The Memo: Immunity for Trump Org figure rattles White House

A grim seven days for President TrumpDonald John TrumpCNN's Camerota clashes with Trump's immigration head over president's tweet LA Times editorial board labels Trump 'Bigot-in-Chief' Trump complains of 'fake polls' after surveys show him trailing multiple Democratic candidates MORE and his allies was capped on Friday by news that Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, had been granted immunity by prosecutors.

The immunity deal is said to involve only Weisselberg’s testimony against the president’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen.

But supporters of the president worry about the potential ramifications of even a relatively narrow deal — and fear major consequences if Weisselberg were to be persuaded to talk more broadly.


“It’s hard to see how you could minimize it,” said one GOP strategist close to the White House. “He was the brains of the operation.”

Another source familiar with Trump’s business operations sounded even more worried: “Weisselberg’s detailed knowledge of every financial transaction of the Trump Organization has to be a nightmare for everyone involved,” the source said.

Weisselberg has worked for the Trump family for more than four decades, having begun as an employee of the president’s father, the late Fred Trump, in the 1970s. His role expanded greatly, growing to encompass some management of the president’s personal finances as well as knowledge of countless business deals.

The news of Weisselberg’s immunity deal was first reported by The Wall Street Journal.

Since last weekend, Trump’s troubles have piled up.

Cohen has pleaded guilty to several offenses and directly implicated the president in a criminal breach of campaign finance law.

Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul ManafortPaul John ManafortTop Mueller prosecutor Zainab Ahmad joins law firm Gibson Dunn Russian oligarch's story could spell trouble for Team Mueller Trump, Mueller, the issue of 'guilt' and a do-nothing Congress MORE was found guilty on eight charges, mostly related to tax and bank fraud.

The White House counsel, Don McGahn, was revealed to have cooperated with special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE’s Russia probe in a more extensive way than Trump or his personal lawyers had previously realized, according to a New York Times report.

Tabloid executive David Pecker, a friend and ally of the president, is also reported to have struck an immunity deal with prosecutors.

Trump denies wrongdoing in the Cohen matter, which pertains to payments in the final months of the 2016 election campaign to buy the silence of two women who claimed to have had sexual relationships with the president a decade before.

Those two women are adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. The relationships are alleged to have taken place in 2006 and 2007, early in Trump’s marriage to now-first lady Melania TrumpMelania TrumpDesigner defends Melania Trump statue: 'People may laugh but the context still resonates' Melania Trump heading to West Virginia to discuss opioid epidemic Wood-carved statue of Melania Trump erected in her Slovenian hometown MORE and soon after the birth of his youngest son, Barron Trump.

Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, told The Hill that he was “unable to comment” on the Weisselberg matter “because of the ongoing discussions” with prosecutors.

But Davis suggested that investigators had reason to believe Cohen’s charge that Trump had directed him to make the payments to the women for the purpose of influencing the election.

“Mr. Cohen read those words into the record under oath,” Davis said. “Before doing so, the government knew what he was going to say and did not object.”

(Davis is an opinion contributor to The Hill.)

Anxiety is particularly acute in Trump World because of the sense that prosecutors could now have the president’s children in their crosshairs.

Three separate sources with knowledge of the Trump Organization told The Hill that when Trump was head of the company, any substantial invoices required his personal approval before being paid. He would often initial the invoices himself.

During the transition period after winning the presidency but before being inaugurated, Trump created a trust to manage his assets, in which Weisselberg and the president’s adult sons, Donald Trump Jr.Donald (Don) John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report — Trump retreats on census citizenship question Trump set to host controversial social media summit Trump associate Felix Sater grilled by House Intel MORE and Eric TrumpEric Frederick TrumpTrump Jr. blasts reports of Kushner feud: 'More fake news bulls---' Chicago mayor says waitress crossed 'the line' by spitting on Eric Trump Live coverage: Democrats face off in first 2020 debate MORE, play central roles.

All three sources that spoke to The Hill were insistent that sign-off would be expected from one of the Trump sons when Cohen invoiced for the first two of 12 scheduled monthly payments of $35,000 in February 2017. The money was reimbursement for a payment of $130,000 to Daniels, as well as a $60,000 bonus and fees for other work.

If one of Trump’s children approved such an invoice, that could potentially leave them legally exposed. That, in turn, raises the specter of investigators burrowing further into Trump’s family business — and putting pressure on the president via his children.

A spokeswoman for the Trump Organization did not respond to a request for comment.

A former White House official, who is not one of the three sources referenced above, contrasted the current situation with the troubles around other figures, including Manafort and former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whose misdeeds do not involve the president quite so directly.

“The president has been pretty removed from the fallout so far, but with Cohen and Weisselberg, the noose is tightening around not just him but his family,” the former official said. “Don Jr. is now potentially exposed. Eric is now potentially exposed. Ivanka, who works in the White House, is now potentially exposed.”

Prosecutors note that there is nothing particularly unusual about piling pressure on family members — the distinction in this case is that it involves the president of the United States.

Sol Wisenberg, a Washington lawyer who conducted the grand jury questioning of then-President Clinton during Kenneth Starr’s investigation into the Monica Lewinsky affair, told The Hill that it is “a time-honored prosecutorial tradition to go after family members.”

The president, as of Saturday morning, had made no mention of the immunity deal received by his longtime finance chief.

Some Trump allies took a measure of comfort from the apparent narrowness of Weisselberg’s agreement.

“In the end, immunity means somebody wants a degree of protection in order to share something,” said longtime Trump friend Michael Caputo. “It doesn’t mean the end of all days.”

Others complained that the investigations were fundamentally unfair.

Former Trump campaign aide Sam Nunberg said that there was evidence to support the president’s frequent complaints of a witch hunt because prosectors were looking into “his private business.”

Nunberg said that when he himself gave a voluntary interview to Mueller’s team, he had been struck by an open-ended question asking what he knew about the president’s businesses.

Still, at the end of a fraught week for the president, his woes look to be deepening.

On the Cohen allegations, Davis was adamant. “If you are paying someone to hush them up for the purpose of affecting an election, that is a crime,” he said.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.

--This report was updated on Aug. 26 at 8:50 a.m.