Don Jr.: Trump Organization indictment “no different” than Putin persecuting Alexei Navalny

Junior incorrectly identified the imprisoned opposition leader as “Navatny”

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published July 2, 2021 4:30PM (EDT)

Donald Trump Jr. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)
Donald Trump Jr. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Donald Trump Jr. claimed Thursday that this week's grand jury indictment against the Trump Organization is "no different" than Russian President Vladimir Putin's persecution of political opponents.

Trump Jr. appeared on Fox News after his company and longtime Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg were charged with a yearslong scheme to avoid paying taxes on compensation to top executives.

The former president's namesake compared the prosecution to Putin's persecution of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, whom Trump. Jr. incorrectly referred to as "Navatny." The Biden administration imposed sanctions on Russia earlier this year after concluding that Navalny was poisoned and nearly killed by Russian security forces before being imprisoned.

"This is the political persecution of a political enemy," Trump Jr. told Fox host Jesse Watters. "This is what Vladimir Putin does. Just ask Navatny [sic]."

Trump Jr. went on to argue that the prosecution was "no different" than Putin.

He also complained about the length of the years-long investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James and Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, who initially began probing hush-money payments to women who alleged affairs with Trump before embarking on a more sweeping review of Trump and his company's business practices. Trump Jr. downplayed the charges even though Weisselberg faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

"This is what they come up with," Trump Jr. said. "They're gonna charge a guy who's 75 years old on crimes of avoiding paying taxes on a fringe benefit."

Eric Trump also made the rounds on Fox News to dismiss the allegedly ill-gotten gains as "employment perks."

"These are... a corporate car which everybody has, I guarantee you... there's people in this network that have corporate cars, there's people in every company in the country that have corporate vehicles. This is what they're going after," he argued. "This isn't a criminal matter."

The payments also allegedly include tuition for one of Weisselberg's grandchildren, an apartment, and other bonuses.

The grand jury returned a 15-count indictment against the Trump Organization and Weisselberg, accusing the company and its financial chief of using two sets of books to funnel more than $1.7 million in untaxed "indirect employee compensation" to Weisselberg starting in 2005. Prosecutors said the scheme was "orchestrated by the most senior executives, who were financially benefiting themselves and the company, by getting secret pay raises at the expense of state and federal taxpayers."

Prosecutors charged the company with criminal tax fraud and falsifying business records, among other counts. Weisselberg, who was brought to his arraignment in handcuffs, faces charges including tax fraud and grand larceny, which carries up to 15 years in prison. Both the Trump Organization and Weisselberg pleaded not guilty.

Former President Donald Trump, who has not been charged in the investigation, called the case "ridiculous" in an interview with The New York Times, but avoided questions about whether his company "systemically avoided its tax burdens." Advisers close to Trump say he is "thrilled" with what they described as light charges, and is already planning to use the prosecution as fodder for rallies as he reportedly eyes a 2024 run.

Trump is hardly out of the woods and neither are his children, however. The Times noted that the company has also written off numerous personal perks for Trump and his adult children in recent years, which has allowed the family to reduce their own personal tax bills.

"These investigations work in stages, and there's no indication that the investigation is winding down," said Times reporter Ben Protess, who has been covering the probe. "Once you indict the C.F.O. and the company, that pretty much only leaves Donald Trump himself."

Former Trump Organization vice president Michael Cohen also predicted on CNN that "there are other members of the Trump Organization, including the children who are next to come up on to these indictments."

And going on TV to discuss an ongoing criminal investigation may not help matters.

"Criminal lawyers will invariably, almost invariably tell their clients, 'Do not make any statements regarding the case to the press,'" Michael Bachner, a former prosecutor at the Manhattan DA's office, told the Washington Post. "The reason is fairly obvious: Statements made by people who can be construed as corporate representatives could be deemed as admissions of the corporation in the litigation."

Attorney Bradley Moss quipped on Twitter that "clearly no one at Trump Org has told the nepotism hires that commenting on the criminal matter is unwise."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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