"She's on to something": NY AG Letitia James suggests Trump lawyers may have "withheld" evidence

James wants to know if Trump and his team facilitated "perjury by withholding of incriminating documents”

By Charles R. Davis

Deputy News Editor

Published April 11, 2024 10:33AM (EDT)

Attorney General Letitia James exits the courtroom during the civil fraud trial of former President Donald Trump and his children at at New York State Supreme Court on November 03, 2023 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Attorney General Letitia James exits the courtroom during the civil fraud trial of former President Donald Trump and his children at at New York State Supreme Court on November 03, 2023 in New York City. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

In the financial statements he used to overstate his wealth and obtain more attractive terms from the banks he defrauded, former President Donald Trump asserted that his Manhattan penthouse measured at no fewer than 30,000 square feet of prime real estate. The reality, first revealed by Forbes, is that the dwelling was actually just a third of its stated size.

It was not, of course, an honest mistake. During Trump’s civil fraud trial last year, New York Attorney General Letitia James presented a 1994 document, with the Republican candidate’s signature on it, stating that the three-story apartment was actually under 11,000 square feet. Asked about that on the stand, Allen Weisselberg, the long-time chief financial officer for the Trump Organization, professed ignorance: Yes, he’d read the email containing that document, but he said he never opened the attachment.

Oh well, these things happen.

Except, as Weisselberg himself now concedes, the former CFO of the Trump Organization is a liar. Last month, he pleaded guilty to perjury and admitted to giving false testimony during the 2023 trial – which ended in a $454 million judgment against Trump – and was this week sentenced to five months behind bars.

That guilty plea drew renewed attention from New York’s top prosecutor. In a letter to the judge who oversaw the civil fraud case, dated April 4, the attorney general noted that Weisselberg’s plea agreement with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg contained a reference to an August 2016 email exchange in which the former CFO and another employee of the Trump Organization discussed the size of Trump’s penthouse – and explicitly verified that it was but “10,996 square feet,” as reported by Courthouse News Service.

That damning exchange wasn’t shared with James and her team ahead of the 2023 trial, however. And while she still won the case, she’s not the letting it go.

In an April 9 letter, addressed to Judge Arthur Engoron and reported by Business Insider’s Laura Italiano, the attorney general’s office rejected defense arguments that any discovery issues with the civil fraud case are now moot. “Mr. Weisselberg has admitted that he perjured himself during discovery and the trial in this action,” Senior Enforcement Counsel Kevin Wallace wrote. “The Court is well within its authority to determine if Defendants and their counsel facilitated that perjury by withholding of incriminating documents.”

As Italiano reported, James, upon discovering the withheld evidence, asked for a forensic review of the Trump Organization’s electronic data to be conducted by the former judge who was installed as a monitor there after fraud came to light. But Trump’s lawyers have been fighting the request, arguing it would be an “astonishing” expansion of the monitor’s authority.

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The conflict is unlikely to result in any new repercussions from Trump himself. His lawyers, on the other hand, could face sanctions if they are found to have knowingly withheld evidence during the discovery process.

Joyce Vance, a former U.S. attorney who teaches law at the University of Alabama, believes James wouldn’t be bothering with this fight for nothing.

James seems to believe Trump’s lawyers withheld something from her,” Vance wrote on X. “Given her track record, it’s clear she doesn’t make claims like this unless she’s on to something.”

Weisselberg’s conviction on two counts of perjury is what drew attention to the 2016 email exchange. But that’s not the only way that conviction might cause migraines for Trump’s lawyers: it also means the former Trump executive won’t be of much use, as a now twice-convicted liar, at Trump’s upcoming trial over “hush payments” and falsified business records.

The prosecution of Allen Weisselberg is something of a twofer, on the justice front,” former federal prosecutor Glenn Kirschner commented Wednesday. “First, he’s being held accountable for new crimes he’s committed: multiple counts of perjury. And two, he’s being neutralized as a possible defense witness who could come in and try to nefariously help Donald Trump wiggle out from under the charges.”

Weisselberg's personal lawyer suggested as much, indicating Wednesday that his 76-year-old client is done committing crimes and would now like to slink back into obscurity.

“Allen Weisselberg accepted responsibility for his conduct," attorney Seth Rosenberg said in a statement, "and now looks forward to the end of this life-altering experience and to returning to his family and his retirement."

By Charles R. Davis

Charles R. Davis is Salon's deputy news editor. His work has aired on public radio and been published by outlets such as The Guardian, The Daily Beast, The New Republic and Columbia Journalism Review.

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Allen Weisselberg Alvin Bragg Donald Trump Letitia James Politics