“Stunning”: Experts think Trump CFO perjury caused judge to “slam the brakes” on fraud trial ruling

Allen Weisselberg perjury deal could be “big nail in the Trump civil fraud coffin,” says Andrew Weissmann

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published February 2, 2024 9:17AM (EST)

Former CFO Allen Weisselberg leaves the courtroom for a lunch recess during a trial at the New York Supreme Court on November 17, 2022 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Former CFO Allen Weisselberg leaves the courtroom for a lunch recess during a trial at the New York Supreme Court on November 17, 2022 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Allen Weisselberg, the former longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, is negotiating a deal with Manhattan prosecutors to plead guilty to perjury, according to The New York Times.

The deal would require Weisselberg to admit that he lied while testifying at Trump’s recent civil fraud trial and in an earlier interview with the New York attorney general’s office, sources told the outlet.

The reported deal comes after a long pressure campaign by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, whose team sought Weisselberg’s cooperation in several investigations into Trump’s business and alleged election crimes. Trump is scheduled for trial in Manhattan in March in the 2016 hush-money case.

The deal likely would not require Weisselberg to “turn on his former boss,” according to the report. Prosecutors are not expected to call him as a witness in the hush-money case and the investigation into Trump’s finances “may no longer be a priority for prosecutors,” the Times reported.

The potential deal is likely to strengthen Bragg’s hand, the report added, because it could deter other witnesses from lying on the witness stand. And it could discredit Weisselberg, who has disputed prosecutors’ evidence relating to the hush-money case.

Weisselberg previously pleaded guilty to a yearslong tax fraud scheme and spent about 100 days in jail on Rikers Island.

Bragg’s office threatened to bring additional charges against the longtime accountant. If the two sides don’t reach a deal, Weisselberg could be indicted, the report said.

It’s unclear whether Weisselberg would plead guilty to a felony or misdemeanor or what his sentence could be. It’s also unclear which statement brought about the perjury allegation, though reports accused Weisselberg of lying under oath about Trump’s Trump Tower triplex apartment, which is 10,996 square feet but was listed for years on financial statements as 30,000 square feet.

Weisselberg testified that he “never focused” on the unit but a Forbes article showed that Weisselberg “played a key role in trying to convince Forbes over the course of several years” of the apartment’s value.

Weisselberg was abruptly pulled from the stand after the article was published.

The reported deal comes amid a reported delay in the ruling in Trump’s fraud trial. Judge Arthur Engoron is now expected to issue a decision in early to mid-February, a court spokesperson told The Guardian.

It’s unclear what prompted the delay, which came after a court-appointed monitor flagged a potentially fake $48 million loan, but some legal experts believe it could be related to the Weisselberg negotiations.

“Why has Judge Engoron not issued his decision on the Trump civil fraud? One reason could well be the news that the Trump chief financial officer may be pleading to lying to Judge Engoron in a way to help Trump,” tweeted former Mueller prosecutor Andrew Weissmann. “And the Judge is waiting for that to support his decision against DJT. This [would] be another big nail in the Trump civil fraud coffin.”

CNN legal analyst Elie Honig, another former federal prosecutor, agreed that the deal may have given Engoron pause.

"If I'm in Judge Engoron's position here, and getting ready to issue a big verdict and ruling, and now I've heard this , and we've all heard it, that one of the key witnesses committed perjury in front of me — I slam on the brakes and say, 'I'm not going to rule until I know the specifics of this,'” he said Thursday.

"If you're going to issue a ruling and it turns out Weisselberg lied, that's going to harm the Trump Organization when it comes time for the verdict," Honig said, adding that the plea deal and delay are a “problem for Donald Trump because he's going to be on the receiving end of this verdict."

We need your help to stay independent

Honig also cited a report that Weisselberg’s $2 million severance package from the Trump Organization “required him not to cooperate with any law enforcement unless he was legally required.”

“That was stunning to me,” he said. “I’ve never heard of such a thing! I don’t think that’s enforceable to say you won’t cooperate with law enforcement. I mean, it certainly undermines what prosecutors are trying to do.”

Experts say the development is likely to affect Trump’s upcoming Manhattan trial.

"It really does send a message to other witnesses in a case. I've been involved in cases where we prosecuted someone for perjury in a grand jury. And you see the other witnesses who are trying to decide just how much they can get away with, take note, so in this case I think it is really important,” former U.S. Attorney Joyce Vance told MSNBC on Thursday.

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

"One thing — it probably serves to keep Allen Weisselberg off of the witness stand as a defense witness for Donald Trump," Vance added. "He has always defied the normal expectations with someone who completes a guilty plea that they will cooperate for prosecutors as part of that deal. He never fully cooperated in any case… Keeping him off the stand and sending out a caution to other witnesses would be important for Alvin Bragg at this point."

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti called the development “very consequential.”

“You have to know that Allen Weisselberg is giving Alvin Bragg and his team a heck of a lot,” he told MSNBC. “Realistically, a prosecutor putting a witness up for the prosecution who's pleading guilty to perjury, you know, that's not going to be a very attractive witness… In order for that witness to be worth the time, they've got to be giving up something really important. That's what I think is really the news here."

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.

MORE FROM Igor Derysh

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Aggregate Allen Weisselberg Alvin Bragg Arthur Engoron Donald Trump Letitia James Politics