Out of the shadows: Loyal money man swept into Trump probes
By BERNARD CONDON
AP Business Writer
Thursday, March 7
NEW YORK (AP) — Allen Weisselberg is seemingly everything his longtime boss, Donald Trump, isn’t.
The modest money man has always been content to work behind the scenes, with no hint of flash, braggadocio or ostentatious spending.
He lived in the same three-bedroom ranch house in suburban Long Island with the same woman for decades, shows up for work at Trump Tower every day and almost always goes to the same spot down the block for lunch. The bald, bespectacled, 71-year-old chief financial officer of the Trump Organization is known for being loyal, unobtrusive and, well, somewhat dull.
But Weisselberg also has his name on all manner of checks and documents of the company going back decades, is familiar with its tax returns, its lenders and investors, and is said to track every penny going in and out. And given what he knows, the prospect of him testifying in federal probes and congressional investigations of Trump’s business empire could pose a new danger to the president from one of his longest-serving confidants.
“He was like from central casting, a green-eye-shaded accountant,” said Gwenda Blair, who interviewed Weisselberg for her book, “The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a President.”
“He was not even remotely colorful, eyes cast down on the spreadsheet and the calculator — click, click, click,” she said. “He’s been in the inner, inner circle, but he is so colorless that he faded into the woodwork. That was his job, not to be noticed.”
Weisselberg, who through the Trump Organization did not respond to requests for an interview, may not be able to keep that up much longer.
At least one of the Democratic-led House committees investigating Trump’s finances, hush-money payments and taxes is seeking to question Weisselberg following Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s explosive testimony last week in which he dropped Weisselberg’s name nearly 20 times.
Weisselberg also spoke to federal prosecutors last year as part of the investigation in which Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign-finance violations for payments to buy the silence of two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump — porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal.
Weisselberg has not been charged in that case, but Cohen has said he was deeply involved and ultimately the one who decided how to secretly reimburse Cohen for a $130,000 payment to Daniels.
For his grand jury testimony in the Cohen case, Weisselberg received limited immunity, which would preclude any truthful statements from being used against him in a criminal case. Federal prosecutors in New York have declined to say whether they are investigating Weisselberg himself.
Weisselberg started working for the Trump family in Brooklyn in 1973 under Fred Trump, Donald’s father, and was there for all the son’s big successes and flops.
He was overseeing the books when Donald built Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue, bought up several casinos in Atlantic City, and then drove them into bankruptcy. And he was there when Trump rose again as a reality-TV businessman and began slapping his name on hotels and residential towers owned by others. It was during that era that Weisselberg made a rare, if quiet, public appearance — as a guest judge on a 2004 episode of “The Apprentice.”
He was so trusted by Trump that he was named as the only non-family member to help Trump sons Eric and Don Jr. manage the trust the president set up to hold his business assets while he is in office.
Weisselberg’s family is deeply entwined in the company. His son Barry has managed the Trump Wollman Rink in Central Park. Another son, Jack, is an executive director at Ladder Capital, the biggest lender to the Trump Organization behind Deutsche Bank. Ladder had more than $100 million lent out to Trump’s company last year, according to the president’s financial disclosure report.
As is the case with his boss, Weisselberg was registered as a Democrat for years, according to the research service Nexis. He gave money to campaigns by New York Sen. Chuck Schumer and New York Gov. Mario Cuomo before switching to the Republican Party for the 2016 election.
But that is pretty much where the similarities to his boss end.
Weisselberg has no Twitter or Facebook account, though he does maintain a LinkedIn page with one “connection” listed — Matthew Calamari, a former bodyguard turned Trump Organization’s chief operating officer.
He has bought a few properties over the years besides a home in Wantagh, New York. He has a vacation home in Boynton Beach, Florida, that he purchased 17 years ago for $282,000. He bought two condominiums at Trump-branded buildings in Manhattan but sold them.
Weisselberg barely merits a mention in the many Trump biographies, nor in the many written by the man himself. He doesn’t appear in “The Art of the Deal,” for instance.
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, told The Wall Street Journal in a profile before the 2016 election that Weisselberg “is deeply passionate, fiercely loyal and has stood alongside my father and our family” for decades.
Weisselberg has also been tied to several Trump ventures tarnished by scandal. He reviewed the finances at the now-defunct Trump University, the real estate school hit by a fraud lawsuit that the president settled for $25 million. He was a director of the shuttered Trump Foundation, which is being sued by New York’s attorney general for allegedly tapping charitable donations for political and business purposes.
And in testimony before the House Oversight Committee last week, Cohen said Weisselberg knew about what Cohen said were falsified financial statements that Trump used to dupe insurers and investors. Cohen also said that it was Weisselberg who decided that the hush money that Cohen paid out of his own pocket to the porn star should be reimbursed in installments spread out over 12 months to “hide what the payment was.”
And Weisselberg is likely to know the answer to the biggest question since his boss pulled off his surprise election to the presidency: Just how much is Trump worth?
Trump testified in a 2007 deposition that Weisselberg was the one who valued his properties and other assets.
“My numbers are pretty in line with what he says,” Trump testified.
Cohen turns over documents on Moscow project to House panel
By MARY CLARE JALONICK and ERIC TUCKER
WASHINGTON (AP) — Michael Cohen, President Donald Trump’s former lawyer, turned over documents to lawmakers Wednesday as he tried to back up his claims that a false statement he delivered to Congress in 2017 was edited by the president’s attorneys, two people familiar with the case said.
It’s unclear who edited the documents or what exactly was changed.
But in public testimony last week on Capitol Hill, Cohen said Trump’s attorneys, including Jay Sekulow, had reviewed and edited the written statement he provided to Congress in 2017. Cohen acknowledged in a guilty plea last year that he misled lawmakers by saying he had abandoned the Trump Tower Moscow project in January 2016, when in fact he pursued it for months after that as Trump campaigned for the presidency.
At issue is whether Trump or his lawyers knew that Cohen’s statement to Congress would be false, and whether the attorneys had any direct role in crafting it. Cohen has said he believed the president wanted him to lie, but he also said Trump never directed him to do so. It’s also unclear whether any of the president’s lawyers knew the truth about when the Trump Tower negotiations had ended.
Sekulow has flatly denied ever editing any statement about the duration of the project.
“Testimony by Michael Cohen that attorneys for the President edited or changed his statement to Congress to alter the duration of the Trump Tower Moscow negotiations is completely false,” Sekulow said in a statement last week.
Cohen appeared behind closed doors Wednesday before the House intelligence committee, his fourth day of testimony on Capitol Hill as he prepares for a three-year prison sentence for lying to Congress and other charges.
Cohen has become a key figure in congressional investigations since turning on his former boss and cooperating with special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe. During last week’s public testimony, he called Trump a con man, a cheat and a racist. He was also interviewed privately by both the Senate and House intelligence committees last week.
“I will continue to cooperate to the fullest extent of my capabilities,” Cohen said in a short statement to reporters after he finished Wednesday’s testimony.
Among the issues discussed in Cohen’s closed-door interviews last week was a pardon, according to people familiar with those interviews. They spoke on condition of anonymity to reveal the confidential discussion.
Cohen told Congress last week that he had never asked for and would not accept a pardon from Trump. But that may not be the full story.
According to people with knowledge of the situation, a lawyer for Cohen expressed interest to the Trump legal team in a possible pardon for his client after a raid last April on Cohen’s hotel room, home and office. The people spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss it publicly.
The president’s attorneys were noncommittal during the conversation with Cohen’s lawyer, the people said. Cohen did not participate in the conversation.
No pardon was given, and Cohen ultimately pleaded guilty and is cooperating against the president in separate investigations by the special counsel and by federal prosecutors in New York.
Asked about the pardon issue Tuesday evening, another Cohen attorney, Lanny Davis, said his client was speaking carefully during his public testimony. He acknowledged on MSNBC that Cohen “was certainly looking at the option of a pardon” before he decided to come clean and turn on Trump.
But since then, Davis said, Cohen has been clear that he wouldn’t accept a pardon.
Davis said in a statement after Cohen left the intelligence committee interview that he “responded to all questions truthfully” and agreed to provide more information in the future, if needed.
Cohen told reporters as he left the meeting that he would only be back “if they ask.”
There is nothing inherently improper about a subject in a criminal investigation seeking a pardon from a president given the president’s wide latitude in granting them. But lawmakers have requested information about talks on possible pardons for Cohen and other defendants close to the president who have become entangled in Mueller’s investigation.
The intelligence committee investigation is one of several probes Democrats have launched in recent weeks as they delve deeper into Trump’s political and personal dealings.
On Monday, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., sent 81 letters to Trump’s family and associates seeking documents and information. Nadler said he would investigate possible obstruction of justice, corruption and abuse of power.
Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about the duration of negotiations over the Trump real estate project in Moscow. In addition, he pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations for his involvement in payments to two women who allege they had sex with Trump, which Trump denies.
Federal prosecutors in New York have said Trump directed Cohen to arrange the payments to buy the silence of porn actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal in the run-up to the 2016 campaign. Cohen told a judge that he agreed to cover up Trump’s “dirty deeds” out of “blind loyalty.”
Cohen said in his Oversight testimony that Trump directed him to arrange the hush-money payment to Daniels. He said the president arranged to reimburse Cohen, and Cohen took to the hearing a check that he said was proof of the transaction.
Trump has said Cohen “did bad things unrelated to Trump” and “is lying in order to reduce his prison time.”
Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro, Laurie Kellman and Padma Padmananda in Washington and Michael Sisak in New York contributed to this report.
Follow all of AP’s Trump Investigations coverage at https://apnews.com/TrumpInvestigations
WILL ETHNOCIDE IN WESTERN CHINA BECOME GENOCIDE?
By J.P. Linstroth
At this moment, China has as many as one million Uighurs, Kazakhs, and other Muslim minorities held in concentration camps in Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) in northwestern China. This has been ongoing for some time now and is beginning, finally, to be noticed.
This unfolding tragedy is well-known by the United Nations as well as influential governments such as the United States. Thus far, little is being done to prevent the Chinese from carrying out its concerted efforts in imprisoning and politically indoctrinating its Muslim populations.
It is so objectionable that Badger Sportswear of North Carolina announced it stopped purchasing imports from that region of China due to credible reports of mass forced labor.
The Chinese government is spending huge amounts of money in Xinjiang Province where these ethnocidal horrors are taking place. These so-called “re-education camps” have been analyzed by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (ASPI). The ASPI examined 28 camps in Xinjiang but stated there may be as many as 1,200 across the entire region. Since 2016, the ASPI found an increase in growth of these camps to almost 470 percent.
In 1981 the Chinese signed onto and ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), but these camps clearly violate that law.
Chinese officials also heavily police the region, using surveillance cameras and security checkpoints, biometric data collection, voice recordings, and requiring identification cards of its mostly Uighur population in Xinjiang. According to the most recent estimates, there are most likely 11,000,000 Uighurs and 1.6 million Kazakhs living in the Western Chinese Province of Xinjiang.
Perhaps the best and most extensive report about the current situation in Xinjiang is by “Human Rights Watch” (September 2018). One Uighur refugee, Tohti, is quoted as saying: “What they want is to force us to assimilate, to identify with the country [China], such that, in the future, the idea of Uyghur will be in name only, but without its meaning.” From the Human Rights Watch Report we learn the Chinese government has arbitrarily detained its Muslim minority population, and not only this, these Turkic Chinese-Muslims have been abused, tortured, and deprived of fair trials. The Chinese want to eliminate basic freedoms of religion among this population for practicing Islam. The re-education of these Turkic Muslims is meant to Sino-assimilate or “Sinicize” them with Chinese identities, scrubbing them of their religious identity.
Two other refugees told Human Rights Watch: “[The guards] told us that Uyghurs and Kazakhs are the enemies of China, and that they want to kill us, and make us suffer, and that there’s nothing we can do about it.” Another stated: “[A detainee] showed me his scar from being hung from the ceiling. He didn’t have any religious materials, but after being hung for a night, he said he would agree to anything.” Others had died while in detention and their families were not allowed to bury the dead with Islamic blessings or ceremonies and were forced to bury their loved ones under military watch.
Aside from the political aspects of Chinese social control, how do we understand this type of discrimination in relation to modern world history?
Humans are highly complex and for the most part racism is entirely a social construct, usually involving essentializing entire populations and persecuting them en masse, virtually always with a veneer of rhetoric to make it all acceptable unless we actually look. The histories are shameful. Thus, we saw all non-Europeans referred to as, what Rudyard Kipling euphemistically called them, the “white man’s burden”; Jews and Gypsies sent by Germans to labor camps with sayings such as Work is Freedom; land stolen from Native tribes in the name of “progress”; Tutsis slaughtered by Hutus to “protect” themselves from a minority; Japanese-American families rounded up into compounds in the western US during World War II to secure the homeland; and millions of Armenian civilians killed by Turkey a century ago to punish traitors, and other horrific chapters in our human story. Almost all the terrible responses in the modern era that target innocent civilians are massive overreactions to violent attack. In China, those attacks from Islamic extremists were in 2013 and 2014 and have been the official justification for mass incarceration since then.
The magnitude of China’s efforts to incarcerate its Turkic Muslim minority populations is happening in an unprecedented way, which we have not seen since Nazi Germany and the imprisonment of Jews throughout Europe. As usual, there is an official rationale and a public relations effort, including the approval of the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, aka MBS, which “proves” that China’s systematic persecution of Chinese Muslims for religion is not its sole rationale.
How many more Muslim Chinese minorities need to be imprisoned before we say no more? When should the UN Security Council act in concert against China? When should the United States begin imposing economic sanctions upon China for its human rights abuses in Xinjiang northwestern China?
We know from our human history that it almost always takes outside pressure to bring regimes back from the brink of genocide.
What can you do to change the situation?
· Write the Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C.
· Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· Call the Chinese Embassy in Washington D.C. and complain: (202) 495-2266
· Write or call to your local US House of Representative and/or your two US Senators
J. P. Linstroth, Ph.D., syndicated by PeaceVoice, is a former Fulbright Scholar to Brazil. His first book is: Marching Against Gender Practice (2015).
A different kind of freshman marks Pelosi’s new majority
By LISA MASCARO and LAURIE KELLMAN
WASHINGTON (AP) — It wasn’t exactly a mic-drop moment. But when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi abruptly ended a conversation as a freshman lawmaker no longer seemed to be listening, it showed just how far the Democratic leader and the new majority have to go in getting used to each other.
A lot has changed in the 12 years since Pelosi last ran the House.
The California Democrat is finding a freshman class whose members seem more eager to lead than be led. Part of a younger generation of lawmakers, mostly women and minorities, they bring perspectives and expectations different from some who have walked the halls for decades. A few, like New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, carry their own starpower in real-time on social media.
Their willingness to question the protocols of Congress is exposing Pelosi’s leadership team to high-profile stumbles. Leaders could not hold their majority in line on a routine procedural vote last week. And this week, a debate spilled into the open over a leadership plan for a resolution condemning anti-Semitism and Islamophobia largely in response to remarks made by Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar.
“So, we have some internal issues,” Pelosi acknowledged Wednesday during a private caucus meeting.
It was during that behind-closed-doors session that another newly elected Democrat, Jahana Hayes of Connecticut, stood to speak about the resolution, according to those in the room.
Hayes wanted more input on the process. Others worried that their legislative agenda had drifted way off track. Some questioned why Omar’s actions were being singled out when others — namely President Donald Trump and Republicans in Congress — had repeatedly made offensive comments on race and religion.
When Pelosi addressed her, Hayes turned to walk away. Exasperated, Pelosi said if Hayes wasn’t going to listen, the conversation was over. She set down the microphone.
Hayes later told reporters that she didn’t realize Pelosi was talking to her. But, she said, she’s ready to speak up again, every time she needs to.
“I don’t want to wait two years before I raise my voice,” she said. “I know that looks different or feels different to people. … But I didn’t come here to just sit quietly and fall in line.”
Hayes said, “I don’t mean that to be disrespectful. But the people in my district deserve a voice. These are important decisions.” She added, “A new crop of freshmen, I guess.”
Every new majority has its growing pains. GOP Speaker John Boehner never really figured out a way to control the tea party Republicans who ultimately forced his retirement. And Pelosi’s predecessor, Republican Paul Ryan, called it quits rather than try to do much better.
Pelosi, who made history in 2007 as the first female speaker, has always been seen as a particularly strong leader. She fended off attempts to topple her return this year, and her stock soared among some Democrats as she took on Trump during the 35-day partial government shutdown.
But Pelosi faces a changed media environment that is rapidly chronicling every move of the historic freshmen class in real-time and a president in the White House eager, with his GOP allies in Congress, to capitalize on the divisions. Trump tweeted Wednesday about the resolution debate, saying it was “shameful” Democrats wouldn’t take a stronger stand against anti-Semitism in their conference.
Democrats also returned a veteran leadership team, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, who, along with up-and-comers, have made no secret of their interest in Pelosi’s job. They are responsible for setting the floor schedule and counting the votes, and share some responsibility — and blame — for the leadership’s early pitfalls.
While Democrats had a larger majority 12 years ago, the caucus was not as racially and ethnically diverse the first time Pelosi was speaker. There was a sense Wednesday among Democrats that Pelosi and her leadership team may have underestimated the anger and opposition that a resolution dealing only with anti-Semitism would inflame among progressives, who now include the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress.
Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., a freshman liaison to Democratic leaders, said Pelosi is juggling several dynamics. Managing the social media and instantaneous reaction that turned the issue “into this massive explosion … is one of the biggest challenges,” she said.
In fact, it wasn’t Pelosi’s idea to put forward the resolution on anti-Semitism, according to those familiar with the situation. They and others spoke about private conversations on condition of anonymity.
But after fielding some 100 calls over the weekend from other lawmakers, some proposing it as a response to Omar’s comments about Israel, Pelosi agreed to the idea and suggested they broaden the resolution to include a rejection of anti-Muslim bigotry. Omar is Muslim-American and faces criticism, including by GOP lawmakers, and public threats.
The early drafts, though, went too far for some lawmakers, but not far enough for others. Jewish lawmakers, in particular, preferred the more narrow approach to anti-Semitism. Others wanted a more sweeping statement against other forms of racism and bigotry that, as Clyburn put it, was “anti-hate.”
After Wednesday’s session, Pelosi pivoted, shelving the issue that had already drained Democrats of much of their focus on the week’s agenda.
“This is a distraction,” said Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman, D-N.J., who made similar remarks during the private session. “We came in promising a rigorous agenda for the people.”
Others, though, said Democrats needed to remind Americans, and others, of the dangers of anti-Semitic tropes. Omar last week suggested the Jewish state’s supporters are pushing lawmakers to pledge “allegiance” to a foreign country.
“It’s important for us to have this conversation and for people to understand the history,” said Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif. He faced his own run-in after Ocasio-Cortez tweeted about his views in what would have been seen as a rare display of intra-party disagreement.
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said Pelosi is adroit at being able to “adapt to the reality once that reality becomes clear to her.” He added, “We don’t have a perfect leader, but she’s doing an excellent job.”
Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a progressive who is allied with Ocasio-Cortez and others in the new class, said, “I don’t agree with Nancy Pelosi on a number of things, but I understand that she knows more about how the system works than I know.”
Khanna added that the freshmen have brought “great energy and great voice, but ultimately Washington is still about getting things done, and Nancy Pelosi understands power.”