When Donald Trump’s charity was caught making an illegal political donation years ago, his longtime right-hand finance man, Allen Weisselberg, signed a letter to law enforcement that chalked it up as a mere mistake. In reality, as The Daily Beast recently revealed, employees were well aware that the money was going to a Florida politician.
When the Trump Foundation made its annual tax filings with New York state that incorrectly listed that donation—making it seem like it was going to a legitimate nonprofit—Weisselberg signed off on the document, he said, without actually reviewing it.
By scribbling his signature with a thin black pen, he affirmed that he’d “reviewed this report” to make sure it was “true, correct, and complete.” As Weisselberg would later say, the truth was he hadn’t even read it.
“I may have just glanced through it,” he told investigators during a sworn interview in October 2017.
In fact, Weisselberg claimed to not even realize he was one of only three board members of the multimillion-dollar charity for 15 years.
“I'm not a director,” he swore. “I’m just a treasurer.”
Such is the standard operating procedure of the now-indicted chief financial officer of the Trump Organization. Although his current legal strategy in his tax fraud case has yet to be revealed—with his lawyers merely describing the prosecution as “flawed”—this past behavior shows that his primary defense has basically been gross negligence. A disregard for oversight. Carelessness. Incompetence.
The Daily Beast utilized a public records request to acquire a complete copy of a transcript of Weisselberg’s day-long interview with government lawyers from the New York Attorney General’s office. Only snippets of the interview were previously available in publicly accessible court records, but we requested the files directly from the AG’s office by citing the state’s Freedom of Information Law and got them a week later.
The attorney general’s office is currently teaming up with the Manhattan district attorney to criminally prosecute Weisselberg and the company for allegedly dodging taxes by giving employees expensive benefits off the books. But the interview The Daily Beast acquired through a public records request dates back to a previous investigation by the AG’s office, which resulted in the dissolution of the Trump Foundation for improperly mixing politics and charitable funds.
Weisselberg’s interaction offers a preview of what the Trump executive could show at his scheduled trial for criminal tax fraud—that is, if prosecutors don’t manage to flip him against his boss.
The 227-page examination further proves what multiple sources have said for months: Weisselberg is a man devoutly loyal to Trump who sits atop the company’s operations and exerts firm control. But when pressed about questionable behavior, Weisselberg repeatedly feigns ignorance, even to the point of incompetence.
However, those who know Weisselberg best—like his divorced daughter-in-law—say the real Weisselberg is a domineering figure who constantly ponders setbacks and devises contingency plans, keeping a watchful eye on every piece on the chessboard.
Contrary to Allen Weisselberg’s seeming defense, he’s not at all a bumbling accountant, said Jennifer Weisselberg, who was married to the CFO’s son for years.
“He’s a liar,” she told The Daily Beast. “Allen is controlling. He has to know where every dollar goes. He can’t handle not overseeing every dollar. And he’s not going to sign something unless he knows what it says. He knows exactly what’s going on. He doesn’t want any loose ends.”
In his sit-down with investigators back in 2017, however, Weisselberg described his role in the Trump world in the simplest of terms.
“My responsibilities are really outlined carefully. So I did what I would normally do for any one of our companies: Keep the money relatively liquid in a safe place,” he said.
As he detailed in this 2017 examination, Weisselberg is tasked with that responsibility because of the long track record he’s got with the Donald himself.
As he told investigators, Weisselberg got his start with the Trump family just three years after he graduated with a bachelor’s in business administration from Pace College (now formally recognized as a university). He did brief stints teaching, working at a small certified public accounting firm, and doing financial work at a stock brokerage firm before he finally landed at Fred Trump’s real estate business in Brooklyn, Trump Management Inc., in 1973.
Weisselberg would stay there for 13 years until the occasional work he did on the side for the patriarch’s son finally pulled him away for good.
As Weisselberg recalled to investigators about Donald Trump: “He asked his father a number of times to have me come and help him do my accounting or whatever. And his father kept saying, ‘Get your own guy, you don’t need him, leave him alone.’ That went on for a few years.”
When Weisselberg concluded that he “didn’t like the way things were being run, the way investments were being made” under Fred Trump’s new company controller in 1986, he jumped ship and went off with Donald Trump instead.
“I wanted to make sure things were being done properly for the family,” Weisselberg recalled to investigators, hinting at the unwavering devotion he’s maintained to the Trump clan.
As the years went by, Trump elevated him from controller to chief financial officer, eventually placing him as a director on several iterations of his corporation across the world. Weisselberg stuck around while Trump’s casinos and first two marriages crashed and burned, navigating the bankruptcies and divorces. Two former associates say Weisselberg became the only person Trump truly trusted with his money.
That fealty manifested itself in the way Weisselberg would even stay within the Don’s proximity on weekends—just in case he was needed—by tagging along on the CEO’s weekend plane trips to Mar-a-Lago.
Jennifer Weisselberg—who married Allen’s son, Barry—recalled how the CFO would pace nervously on Sunday mornings and insist on boarding the plane before his boss to always be present and at the ready, because he understood that his value lay in his steadfast presence by Trump’s side.
“His whole life is Donald. He literally thinks the sun rises and sets with him. Allen was the deal guy who made sure that the company and Donald are protected,” she told The Daily Beast. “That was his whole game. He’d cut deals with insurers to save a few bucks on each employee, then he’d go to Donald and say: ‘I’m saving you money, I’m saving you, I’m saving you.’”
At nearly every step of the way, Weisselberg kept his own right-hand man, an accountant by the name of Jeffrey S. McConney—the Trump Organization controller who earned a reputation as a loyal foot soldier in the closely guarded family business and now finds himself repeatedly brought before a Manhattan grand jury in an attempt to leverage him as a witness against the company and its officers.
Several close associates of the pair have told The Daily Beast about the dynamic between them, with Trump nailing business deals, Weisselberg lining up financing, and McConney cutting the checks.
That relationship is seen in operation in the accounts collected by the New York AG lawyers who separately interviewed Weisselberg and McConney.
Take the two main blunders that finally doomed the Trump Foundation by illegally mixing charity work with politics: One, the much-touted veterans fundraiser that Trump did in Des Moines, Iowa, that used his charity to boost his political campaign one week before the 2016 Iowa caucuses. And two, the $25,000 check that Trump’s charity donated to support then-Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi’s re-election campaign in 2013, just as she faced the possibility of investigating his Trump University scandal.
As previously reported by The Daily Beast, McConney readily admitted to investigators that those things shouldn’t have been done, absorbing the blame for his department’s actions.
Meanwhile, Weisselberg distanced himself from both episodes, making himself out to merely be a signatory with little knowledge of the machinations beneath him.
When pressed during his examination to explain his role on the day Trump held his problem-riddled fundraiser for veterans—in which Weisselberg and McConney scrambled to fly to Iowa armed with a checkbook—Weisselberg largely dismissed the whole ordeal.
“We were in the audience, if that’s considered assisting. I don’t believe it is,” Weisselberg told investigators.
Weisselberg squirmed during his examination when an investigator probed the illegal political donation to support Florida’s AG. The assistant attorney general, Steven Shiffman, ratcheted up the pressure when he noted that Bondi’s crew had actually sent the Trump Foundation a tax form clearly noting that the money was intended for a political group.
“You know, clerks that work in the department, I can’t tell you they do things perfectly all the time, whether they keep things, don’t keep things, know what’s important, what’s not important,” Weisselberg told investigators. “They pay bills. So I don’t know what she determined. I never saw this at the time. Whether she kept it in a file or not, I never saw it.”
Weisselberg, who currently faces tax fraud charges in the current joint AG-DA investigation, is now being forced to explain something he certainly should know more about: how he ended up with company-provided luxury apartments, cars, and school tuition for grandkids that never ended up in his taxes.
His legal defense team, which dodged the press during a recent court hearing, has issued statements noting their position that the indictment “is full of unsupported and flawed factual and legal assertions.”