For months, some of Donald Trump’s top advisers have assured him that he has virtually nothing to fear from the Manhattan district attorney’s tax investigation, which they view as merely “fishing” for information. But investigators with the D.A.'s office have been expanding their criminal probe into Trump’s business empire, asking questions and grilling witnesses—as recently as in the past few days—not only about Trump but particularly about his eldest son, Don Jr., and Allen Weisselberg, one of the former president’s most trusted officers, The Daily Beast has learned.
This latest round of interest in Trump Jr. and Weisselberg’s activities, as well as other new developments, underscore the resources and the gravity that New York prosecutors are devoting to the investigation, just as Trump continues to publicly decry the probe as another example of Democrats picking on him.
For years, Weisselberg has loyally served as the chief financial officer at the Trump Organization, and has been a fixture in separate investigations far beyond Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s team. (Vance’s specific interest in Weisselberg, however, dates back to 2019.) Weisselberg has been a recurring character in other investigations conducted by the feds and on Capitol Hill, including for his alleged role in masterminding a plot to conceal the Trump-directed hush-money payoff during the 2016 election to pornographic film star and alleged Trump mistress Stormy Daniels. A resulting federal probe that occurred during the Trump presidency ended up sending Trump's former attorney Michael Cohen to prison, in part due to his role in that payoff, which constituted a breach of campaign finance law.
During his father’s administration, Trump Jr. became a chief MAGA spokesman and campaigner while simultaneously serving as the Trump Organization executive vice president, fronting the business with his brother, Eric Trump. According to his company bio, Trump Jr. is involved in “deal evaluation [and] analysis,” as well as the leasing operation, among other functions. Trump Jr. has also overseen the organization’s international dealings, the growth of which were somewhat hampered due to his father’s ascension to the presidency.
However, in that four-year term, then-President Trump continued to rake in millions from foreign business entanglements, with income flowing in from licensing agreements and buildings in various nations across the globe. And according to Forbes, Trump’s two sons also “unloaded $118 million worth of the president’s real estate since his January 2017 inauguration, striking deals everywhere from New York City and Los Angeles to Charleston, South Carolina and the Dominican Republic.”
Trump Jr.’s prominent role in the Trump Organization has attracted interest from another jurisdiction, as well. Early last year, the Washington, D.C., attorney general sued the Trump inaugural committee, as well as the Trump Organization, charging that they had misused over $1 million in fundraising when the committee “grossly overpay[ed]” in booking part of the Trump International Hotel in D.C. during inauguration festivities in 2017. Last month, the D.C attorney general’s spokesperson said that the office had alerted Trump Jr. that it sought to interview him as part of the ongoing investigation.
And in their separate inquiry into Trump and his company, Manhattan prosecutors have also broadened the range of investigation into the Trump family’s assets, and have recruited some extra manpower. On Thursday, The New York Times reported that the Manhattan district attorney’s office had brought on Mark Pomerantz, a well-known former federal prosecutor, to aid in its investigation of Trump and his real-estate company. According to The Wall Street Journal, prosecutors are now taking a look at loans that Trump had taken out on multiple buildings, including the marquee title of the ex-president and former reality-TV star’s brand name, Trump Tower in Manhattan.
A spokesperson for Vance declined to comment on this story. Jason Miller, a senior adviser to former President Trump, also declined. A rep for the Trump Organization didn't return a request for comment. Weisselberg did not respond to a request for comment by press time.
Trump, for his part, wants to continue projecting an air of legal invincibility, having come out the other end as (in his mind) a winner in the Mueller investigation, two Senate impeachment trials, and various other probes and serious allegations of wrongdoing or misconduct. In recent days, as he’s casually monitored news of the New York criminal investigation, the former president has predictably sneered. One of the reasons Trump has said he feels the probe is just “more bullshit” is because it is “relying” on people like his former legal pitbull Cohen, according to a person with direct knowledge of the matter.
Cohen, indeed, has been interviewed multiple times by investigators.But the scale of the investigations in New York goes well beyond just the word of Trump’s ex-fixer and personal attorney. In November, Vance sent a subpoena to the Trump Organization for records related to consulting fees, including some possibly paid to Ivanka Trump, who at that time last year served as a senior official in the White House.
Meanwhile, some of former President Trump’s closest advisers have also been reassuring him for weeks that he has nothing to worry about and that New York investigators aren’t going to find anything to bring him down, according to two people who’ve spoken to the ex-president recently. “He’s asked about it a few times [in recent weeks], and I have told him, as I think he already believes, that it’s a lot of political grandstanding,” one of these people said.
Still, the reality that much of Trump’s immediate post-presidency is likely to be consumed by different investigations and litigation is something that weighs on the 45th U.S. president’s mind. No longer a beneficiary of the significant legal privileges that come with being a sitting president, Trump has privately fretted that his enemies will be probing or “suing me for the rest of my life,” according to an individual who’s talked about this with Trump in the past few weeks.
Investigators in Vance’s office have generally stayed tight-lipped about the scope of the criminal inquiry. But for almost half the time of Trump’s presidency, the office has been looking into potential tax and insurance fraud, possible falsification of business documents, and the hush-money operation. One focus of the district attorney’s probe reportedly regards whether or not Trump’s enterprise intentionally falsified the value of its properties in order to lock down loans and tax breaks. In recent years, Trump, his administration, and his attorneys were locked in court standoffs with Vance’s team and Democratic lawmakers over whether the then-sitting president’s tax returns could be provided to investigators.
Ironically, years ago, Vance had been accused of bungling a criminal probe against both Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump for allegedly misleading potential purchasers of their Trump SoHo condos.
But this week, the Trump crew suffered a major blow, when news broke that the U.S. Supreme Court had finally cleared the way for the Manhattan D.A. to see Trump’s long-concealed tax returns and other financial records for a wide-ranging fraud probe. In response to the order, Vance released just one three-word statement: “The work continues.”
Conservatives currently enjoy a sizable majority on the Supreme Court, a majority that Trump created and one at which the former Republican president continues to vent his anger for not protecting his interests to his satisfaction. Three days before the court’s order, Trump attorney Jay Sekulow told The Daily Beast that the ex-president’s lawyers “are planning on filing our cert petition in March,” to challenge the decision of the lower court in their quest to keep those tax returns out of the hands of the Manhattan D.A., and that the “petition will raise significant issues.” Following Monday’s Supreme Court order, Trump’s lawyers and team didn’t respond to queries on whether their strategy had changed.
On Monday, Trump released a statement complaining, “The Supreme Court never should have let this ‘fishing expedition’ happen, but they did,” and baselessly accusing his foes of engaging in “fascism” against him. In the written statement, he again regurgitated the lie that he “won” the 2020 presidential election in which he was decisively defeated by Democratic contender Joe Biden. That lie led to a months-long, anti-democratic crusade by Trump and Republicans to nullify the outcome of the election, a multi-pronged effort that culminated in the deadly Jan. 6 MAGA riot at the U.S. Capitol.
The new developments in the New York probe come as Cohen sat down on Thursday with Vance’s investigators for the fifth time. Vance personally was involved with the interview, showing how critically investigators view Cohen’s role in helping them bring charges against the former president.
“The Supreme Court has now proclaimed that no one is above the law,” Cohen told The Daily Beast. “Trump will, for the first time, have to take responsibility for his own dirty deeds.”