When the news broke last week that the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer was subpoenaed to provide testimony in Michael Cohen’s criminal investigation, the company resorted to one of Trump’s favored tactics: minimization.
CFO Allen Weisselberg was a “bookkeeper who simply carries out directions from others,” Trump Organization attorney Alan Garten said.
But that characterization of Weisselberg is belied by years of reporting, court documents and even Trump’s own words.
“Allen has been with me for thirty years and knows how to get things done,” Trump wrote in his 2004 book “Think Like A Billionaire.”
Weisselberg was hired straight out of college to serve as Fred Trump’s personal accountant. He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming company controller and, ultimately, the Trump Organization’s top moneyman. The CFO and executive vice president was dispatched to give reporters tours of the Trump family’s properties, sat for daily meetings with Trump, prepared Trump’s own tax returns for a time and was heavily involved in side projects like Trump University and the Trump Foundation.
As a former Trump Organization employee told NBC’s Katy Tur, Weisselberg “knows where all financial bodies are buried.”
Managing the Trump Organization’s books
Along with Donald Trump, Jr., Weisselberg now manages the trust in which President Trump placed his businesses after entering the White House. Per ProPublica, those two are “the only people who know the details of the Trump trust’s finances.”
Weisselberg’s official duties, according to Trump’s descriptions in “Think Like A Billionaire,” included negotiating with financial institutions, tracking sales and acquisition of properties, and arranging for checks for Trump to sign.
Trump commended Weisselberg as “one of the toughest people in business when it comes to money” who helped him secure cash flows when his company was caught up in bankruptcy proceedings in the 1990s.
“When I was having some financial problems in the early 1990s, I called Allen into my office and told him there would be tough times ahead,” Trump wrote. “The banks were about to cut off our funding. Allen said, ‘No problem,’ and went back to his office, where he proceeded to renegotiate almost every payment from that point forward. He did whatever was necessary to protect the bottom line—and refused to succumb to the pressures of risk.”
“Now he’s negotiating with bankers on deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and he’s so tough that most banks would rather I negotiate the deal than him. He’s a loyal employee, and he’s the ultimate master at playing the cards of business,” he continued.
An anecdote in a 2016 New York Times story illustrates Weisselberg’s ability to play hardball. Lawyer Y. David Scharf told the Times that in the mid-2000s he contacted the company seeking payment for $470,000 in legal bills, and accidentally included one page of a bill intended for another client. An irate Weisselberg threatened to divulge the error to that other client unless the firm agreed to a 50 percent discount on the outstanding legal bills, per the account. The firm reportedly informed Weisselberg that his threat “smack[ed] of extortion,” and the parties resolved the matter.
Personal affairs and payouts to women
Weisselberg’s role as CFO involved handling some personal matters for Trump as well.
That included overseeing household expenses and personal purchases and, for a time, preparing Trump’s own tax returns.
More controversially, they also allegedly involved handling payments to women who claim to have carried out affairs with Trump. Weisselberg arranged for the Trump Organization to reimburse Cohen for the $130,000 hush money payment made out to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Though a source close to Weisselberg told the Wall Street Journal that he didn’t know about the payout to Daniels, Weisselberg personally approved a $35,000 monthly retainer to Cohen.
On a secret 2016 recording made public last week, Cohen also assures Trump that he “spoke to Allen” about financing a deal with American Media Inc. to buy the rights to former Playboy model Karen McDougal’s account of her alleged affair with Trump.
“I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” Cohen said.
Signing checks for the “sham” Trump University
Weisselberg was intimately involved in handling the finances for Trump University, the defunct for-profit real estate seminar that was forced to pay out $25 million to former students who claimed they were defrauded.
In a Saturday CNN op-ed, Tristan Snell, the former New York assistant attorney general who helped oversee a state fraud investigation into the university, wrote that his probe “revealed that amid the sprawling tentacles of the Trump Organization, everything leads back to two people: Allen Weisselberg and Donald Trump.”
Along with Trump’s three eldest children and Trump himself, Weisselberg was one of five authorized signatories for the Trump University bank account. He “personally reviewed all of the finances” of the organization monthly, and was the only individual permitted to issue payments or transfer money, according to Snell.
“In order for Trump University LLC vendors to be paid, Trump University checks had to be sent from Trump University LLC at 40 Wall Street to Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg at the Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, for his review and signature,” the New York attorney general’s office noted in court documents.
Helping Trump pay himself through the Trump Foundation
Weisselberg served as treasurer for the Donald J. Trump Foundation, which was sued by the New York attorney general’s office in June for engaging in “a pattern of persistent illegal conduct.”
Though he was not named as a defendant, Weisselberg sat for a deposition in that investigation and admitted to engaging in various activities that violated state and federal non-profit laws against self-dealing.
One incident involved a $100,000 donation that the foundation made to settle a suit brought by the city of Palm Beach against Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. A handwritten note from Trump included in the petition directs “Allen W” to use the charity’s funds to resolve the suit.
Weisselberg also helped handle a series of payments the foundation made to veterans’ groups during the 2016 presidential campaign, violating laws that prevent non-profits from engaging in explicitly political activity. In his deposition, he described flying to Iowa in January 2016 with the foundation’s checkbook for a campaign event held shortly before the caucuses there.
“He’s my boss. I went,” Weisselberg told prosecutors in explaining his last-minute trip.
Overseeing Trump’s troubled Atlantic City empire
Weisselberg was named vice president of Trump’s Atlantic City, New Jersey casino empire in 2000, according to the Wall Street Journal. His appointment at Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts, which in 2004 changed its name to Trump Entertainment Resorts, came after years of financial troubles and accounting scandals.
As the Journal reported, the company was forced to agree to a Securities and Exchange Commission cease-and-desist order, and filed for multiple corporate bankruptcies before becoming a subsidiary of Icahn Enterprises in 2016.
Serving on the board at Miss Universe
Weisselberg served on the board of the Miss Universe Organization after Trump purchased the pageant in 1996. Though little has been reported on Weisselberg’s involvement with the company, Trump’s 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant there has come under scrutiny as part of investigations into the links between Russia and the President’s associates. Cohen traveled along on that trip, where Trump met with various Russian oligarchs to discuss possible business ventures.