Christie has maintained a cordial and clear-eyed relationship with the president. Though he carries some political baggage from his time as governor, he had credentials that few of the others considered for the chief of staff position could offer — skills that Trump likely will need in the year ahead. Among them were
- executive experience,
- political experience,
- communications skills,
- independent political relationships and, above all,
- legal experience as a former U.S. attorney.
.. Christie apparently concluded this was no time to go inside the Trump administration and to work for a president who rarely takes the advice of his advisers and whose volatility and unpredictability could prove to be even more detrimental in the months ahead.
.. The decisions by Ayers, Christie and others underscore the precariousness of Trump’s position. At a time when he will need all the strength, wisdom, firepower and support directly around him, Trump presides over a White House that is thinning out rather than beefing up.
.. The White House Counsel’s Office is understaffed heading into a year that could bring multiple requests for documents from congressional committees and the possibility of impeachment proceedings, if what special counsel Robert S. Mueller III ultimately reports rises to that level. So far that is an open question. Others already have moved out of the White House to jobs on the Trump 2020 campaign or the private sector. More could follow in the months ahead.
.. Some loyalists remain. Among them are
- Kellyanne Conway,
- Sarah Sanders, and the president’s daughter
- Ivanka Trump and son-in-law
- Jared Kushner.
But on the issue of fresh recruits, the question is: Who would want to come to work for a president at this moment, knowing that could result in sizable legal fees as a side benefit?
.. For Trump, a group of people he once counted as among his most trusted advisers has been turned into a weapon in the hands of prosecutors
.. Another person who once protected the president and is now on the other side is David Pecker, of American Media, the publisher of the National Enquirer
.. Equally worrisome for Trump could be the role of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer and the person who must know as much as anyone about the inner financial workings of Trump’s empire. He has been granted immunity from prosecution in return for his cooperation.
I think Trump has regretted becoming President from the moment he knew he had won on election night. I don’t think Trump thought he had any more chance of winning than anybody else did, which is to say unlikely in the extreme. Trump probably understood winning would have consequences, but I don’t think he really understood them. Trump is not someone who carefully thinks through the possible consequences of his actions. It can be taken for granted Trump knew there would be consequence, because at least Cohen, and his Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg would have sat him down and explained to him that even running for President was drawing a dangerous amount of attention to himself, let alone winning. Given how Trump has historically gone about doing business, he can not afford close scrutiny.
I think on one level Trump is loving being President, it is the ultimate ego boost, he probably likes the pomp and ceremony. although the fact he has to go to Paris to get a military parade, with real tanks and missiles must be driving him nuts. He isn’t enjoying the constant mockery, he hates that everybody is always critical of everything he does, he hates the complexity of a job he can’t get his head around, and he really hates that he can’t just order everybody about. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if he really did believe he would be able to lock up Hillary with no more processes than an executive order.
Add to all that he has the Mueller investigation, the New York’s Southern District investigation. He’s lost his compliant congress, come January Congress is going to be making his life miserable, and I think you can expect to see these investigations multiplying. Plus all his old business colleagues are going to be turning on him, Cohen already has, and Allen Weisselberg probably has as well.
At some point, if he isn’t already, Trump is going to be thinking that the only way he can survive this is to follow in Xi Jinping’s footsteps and make himself President for life, Trump’s problem he is not even remotely in Xi Jinping’s league. Trump has surrounded himself with the foolish, the greedy, and the outright stupid. The problem is that Trump is stupid enough, and perhaps desperate enough he might conceivably try it. If that day ever does come, the opportunists, and grifters will savage each other getting to the exits, the real danger for Trump and the office is going to be in the fools he has surrounded himself with. While what in effect would be an attempted coup will have zero chance of ever actually working, and it would probably end up having all the elements of a farce, the precedent could still end up being very damaging.
So yes I would put good money on the fact that Trump spends a lot of his time feeling sorry for himself, and wishing that he gotten a handful less votes in the right places. Maybe he even wishes he hadn’t taken that ride down his golden elevator.
n late 2016, I had lunch with a former high-ranking Trump Organization executive, a person who said he was happy to share dirt on his old boss, but who confessed to not having much dirt to share. This executive wrote a list of people whom I might contact to find out about anything potentially illegal or unethical that Donald Trump may have done. At the bottom of the list was the name Weisselberg. “Allen is the one guy who knows everything,” the person told me. “He’ll never talk to you.” I have had nearly identical conversations with different people who work or have worked for the Trump Organization many times since. They all described his role similarly: Allen Weisselberg, the firm’s longtime chief financial officer, is the center, the person in the company who knows more than anyone.
.. It is safe to say that the entire world of Trump watchers—those journalists, political folks, and advocates who carefully monitor every bit of Trump news—went bonkers. Weisselberg is the man to whom those people most want to speak. He is also the man who has, for decades, been the most circumspect.
.. “I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” Cohen explains to Trump.
It is difficult to hear the tape and not wonder how Weisselberg developed this particular expertise and whether he had deployed it before.
More importantly, it offers more justification for Robert Mueller and other federal, state, and local prosecutors to investigate the Trump Organization’s general business practices.
.. Weisselberg’s son Barry works at the Trump-run Wollman Skating Rink, in Central Park; his other son, Jack, works at Ladder Capital, which has been a primary lender to the Trump Organization in recent years, when few other lenders would work with a company that had experienced several bankruptcies.
.. Last month, the New York State Attorney General, Barbara Underwood, sued the Trump Foundation. Weisselberg had been deposed and showed a surprising willingness to give answers that put the President in an unflattering light.
.. In January, 2016, during Trump’s Presidential campaign, his foundation made a series of donations to veterans-advocacy organizations in Iowa that were explicitly designed to gain support for his candidacy.
.. Were Weisselberg eager to protect his longtime boss, he could have answered the questions far more narrowly. It was an early hint that Weisselberg, like Cohen, may not jeopardize his own freedom to defend Trump.
- .. There is, for example, a question about where Trump got more than two hundred million dollars in cash to buy and lavishly upgrade a money-losing golf course in Scotland.
- In a deal in Azerbaijan, Trump knowingly did business with a family that is widely suspected of laundering money for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.
- The F.B.I. has reportedly investigated the source of funds for a Trump-branded property in Vancouver, Canada; while the Trump hotel in Toronto also has suspicious funding.
- Many of the key questions about Donald Trump revolve around his funding sources and his business partners: Did he knowingly receive funds from criminals? Did he launder money for criminals?
- Did he receive remuneration to look the other way when his partners broke the law?
- Was much of his business built around selling his famous name to make illegitimate projects seem viable?
Was much of his business built around selling his famous name to make illegitimate projects seem viable?
.. Weisselberg is a big fish—perhaps the biggest fish of all. Fearing that Weisselberg might implicate them in a crime, any cronies, dealmakers, attorneys, and others who might want to exchange information for leniency from prosecutors, will now do so.
.. With Cohen and, now, Weisselberg providing information, it is becoming increasingly certain that the American people will—sooner or later—have a far fuller understanding of how Donald Trump conducted business. That is unlikely to go well for him.
We just learned longtime Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg was granted immunity in the Michael Cohen probe, becoming the latest figure close to President Trump to cooperate with investigators. Weisselberg follows Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, George Papadopoulos, David Pecker and, of course, Cohen. Pecker, like Weisselberg, had immunity; the others got plea deals.
.. But the latest news is potentially even bigger than its predecessors. And that’s because none of these other figures can likely hold a candle to Weisselberg when it comes to knowing about any skeletons in Trump’s closet.
.. Cohen, O’Brien had argued even months before, was a relatively small fish in Trumpworld; Weisselberg, by contrast, has been deeply involved in Trump’s business and finances for decades:
.. Weisselberg . . . has worked for the Trump family since the 1970s, and knows more about the Trump Organization’s history and finances than nearly anyone. Almost 71 years old, he joined the company after graduating from college and worked for the president’s father, Fred, as an accountant. He has since become the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer and one of the president’s closest business confidants (alongside Jason Greenblatt, who was Trump’s in-house legal counsel before the president named him as a special diplomatic envoy to the Middle East).
.. Over the years, Weisselberg’s professional duties also came to include handling Trump’s personal finances as well as the Trump Organization’s corporate finances. He has paid household bills, made large purchases for Trump, and has communicated with Trump’s outside investment advisers. After Trump became president his lawyers created a trust that safeguards his interest in the Trump Organization while ostensibly managing the company without his input. The trust is run by Weisselberg and the president’s two eldest sons, Donald Jr. and Eric.
.. Weisselberg has served as something of a jack-of-all-trades for Trump. He worked for the Trump Organization and the Donald J. Trump Foundation, yes, but he also handled personal stuff — up to and including tax returns, and he apparently consulted with Cohen on how to handle paying for the rights to a story about an alleged Trump affair
.. immunity deals aren’t analogous to plea deals. Sometimes, they are ways to prevent a witness from invoking their Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, by allowing them to avoid liability only for the things they say during testimony — and not necessarily for the underlying crimes. That would mean Weisselberg wouldn’t necessarily be a willing participant in the immunity deal, even as it would require him to speak more openly.
granted immunity to another longtime Trump ally: David Pecker, the chief executive of the company that publishes the National Enquirer
.. A person familiar with Mr. Weisselberg’s thinking said he didn’t know that money was intended to pay Ms. Clifford, who goes professionally by Stormy Daniels, when he agreed in January 2017 to a $35,000 monthly retainer for Mr. Cohen.
.. Executives at the Trump Organization “ ‘grossed up’ for tax purposes” Mr. Cohen’s requested reimbursement, doubling it to $360,000, and added a $60,000 bonus
.. At the Trump Organization, Mr. Trump was known for being meticulous about payments the company made. Mr. Weisselberg would bring Mr. Trump checks to sign for the company on a daily basis, according to a person close to the company. Mr. Trump would routinely ask questions about the checks and what they were for, at times requesting Mr. Weisselberg hold off on specific payments, the person said.
The Trumps have often been compared to a mob family. Certainly, in the White House, they have created a dark alternative universe with an inverted ethical code, where the main value is loyalty to the godfather above all else.
An anti-Trump group called Mad Dog PAC has a billboard reading: “MAGA, Mobsters Are Governing America.”
.. As Michael Daly noted in The Daily Beast, “Traditionally, rats begin wearing a wire after they get jammed up.”
.. In the taped call, Cohen tells Trump that he has talked to the mogul’s trusted money manager and “Apprentice” guest star, Allen Weisselberg, about how to set up a company to reimburse David Pecker, the National Enquirer owner, for buying off Trump goomah Karen McDougal. Federal investigators in Manhattan now want to interview Weisselberg.
“Long term, this could be the most damaging,” Trump biographer Tim O’Brien told me, “because it gets into Trump’s wallet.”
.. Cohen the Fixer claims Trump knew about the Russian meeting during the campaign with his son and Paul Manafort. The president hit the mattresses on Twitter, denying it all.
.. Rudy Giuliani has somersaulted from a RICO-happy prosecutor to a man acting like a Mafia lawyer, telling Chris Cuomo that Cohen is an “incredible liar” when only three months ago he pronounced him “an honest, honorable lawyer.”
.. If the White House seems more and more like “Goodfellas,” it is not an accident.
“Trump has a very cinematic sense of himself,” O’Brien said. Like many on social media, he is driven to be the star of his own movie. He even considered going to film school in L.A. before he settled into his father’s business.
.. O’Brien recalled that Trump told him that he thought Clint Eastwood was the greatest movie star. “He and Melania model their squints on Eastwood,” the biographer noted. Trump also remarked, while they were watching “Sunset Boulevard” on the Trump plane, that a particular scene was amazing: the one where Norma Desmond obsessively watches her silent films and cries: “Have they forgotten what a star looks like? I’ll show them!”
.. Trump is drawn to people who know how to dominate a room and exaggerated displays of macho, citing three of his top five movies as
- “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,”
- “Goodfellas” and
- “The Godfather.”
.. As a young real estate developer, he would hang out at Yankee Stadium and study the larger-than-life figures in the V.I.P. box:
- George Steinbrenner,
- Lee Iacocca,
- Frank Sinatra,
- Roy Cohn,
- Rupert Murdoch,
- Cary Grant.
He was intent on learning how they grabbed the limelight.
.. “In his first big apartment project, Trump’s father had a partner connected to the Genovese and Gambino crime families,” said Michael D’Antonio, another Trump biographer. “He dealt with mobbed-up suppliers and union guys for decades.
.. “When Trump was a little boy, wandering around job sites with his dad — which was the only time he got to spend with him — he saw a lot of guys with broken noses and rough accents. And I think he is really enchanted by base male displays of strength. Think about ‘Goodfellas’ — people who prevail by cheating and fixing and lying. Trump doesn’t have the baseline intellect and experience to be proficient at governing. His proficiency is this mob style of bullying and tough-guy talk.”
As Steve Bannon noted approvingly, Trump has a Rat Pack air, and as O’Brien said, Trump was the sort of guy who kept gold bullion in his office.
.. Trump’s like a mobster, D’Antonio said, in the sense that he “does not believe that anyone is honest. He doesn’t believe that your motivations have anything to do with right and wrong and public service. It’s all about self-interest and a war of all against all. He’s turning America into Mulberry Street in the ’20s, where you meet your co-conspirators in the back of the candy store.”
Mr. Weisselberg has served as executive vice president and chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, and was once described by a person close to the company as “the most senior person in the organization that’s not a Trump.” After Mr. Trump was elected, he handed control of his financial assets and business interests to his two adult sons and Mr. Weisselberg.
.. Mr. Weisselberg, a reserved accountant associates say is prized by Mr. Trump for his loyalty, has handled personal financial matters for Mr. Trump and has also been linked to payments made to two women who alleged they had sexual encounters with Mr. Trump.
.. During his effort to secure the retainer, Mr. Cohen showed Mr. Weisselberg records that he said related to expenditures he had made on behalf of Mr. Trump from his personal home-equity line of credit, this person said.
.. In the recording, which Mr. Cohen secretly made and which is under review by federal investigators, Mr. Cohen said he would set up a company to make the payment, adding, “I’ve spoken with Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” before Mr. Trump interrupts him.
.. Later in the conversation, Mr. Cohen reiterates that he “spoke with Allen” about the plan to finance the payment.
.. Mr. Cohen’s repeated references to Mr. Weisselberg in his conversation with Mr. Trump about buying the story were interpreted by others in the company as an effort to bolster Mr. Cohen’s credibility, according to a former associate of Mr. Weisselberg.
.. Mr. Weisselberg’s ties to the Trump family date back to days of working for the real-estate firm owned by Mr. Trump’s father, Fred, in the 1980s. He later came to the Trump Organization, where he reported directly to Donald Trump and worked out of an office in Trump Tower.
He was long an understated presence—one former colleague told the Journal in 2016 that Mr. Weisselberg “fits in with the wallpaper”—but with a temper that flared at times and an ability to crunch numbers rapidly
.. Mr. Weisselberg long performed tasks such as arranging for checks that Mr. Trump would sign, but also took on an increasingly large role at the company. If he thought there might be questions about whether or not to pay a supplier the full amount the Trump Organization owed, he would direct executives to check directly with Mr. Trump, one former executive said.
Over the years, Mr. Weisselberg has handled dealings with banks and other important matters, according to the former executives. He oversaw many of Mr. Trump’s personal transactions, the Journal has reported, citing a former Trump executive, including paying household expenses as well as the purchases of boats, planes or other personal properties.
For years, at least through the financial crisis, Mr. Weisselberg prepared Mr. Trump’s tax returns, according to one former Trump Organization employee.
Another former executive said Mr. Trump would sometimes point out to him how Mr. Weisselberg had been loyal to him for decades. In the course of business meetings, Mr. Trump also at times would reflexively ask his CFO to confirm his opinion. During one meeting, in 2015, Mr. Trump turned to Mr. Weisselberg and asked, according to a person who was there:
“Isn’t that right, Allen?”
“One-thousand percent right,” Mr. Weisselberg responded.