Trump Org Is Basically Just Donald Trump — But That Won’t Make Prosecuting Him Easy
WASHINGTON - In Detroit, General Motors has a board of directors that oversees the running of the company. In Little Rock, Walmart has shareholders who can ultimately hold its board of directors accountable.
And in Manhattan, the Trump organization basically only has Donald Trump.
That is, even if Trump and his various defense lawyers try to claim that Trump is personally clear because only his company is being indicted, in this case it is largely an indistinguishable distinction.
"The Trump Organization is an avatar for Donald Trump in every possible way: financially, emotionally and psychologically," said Tim O'Brien, a Trump biographer who Trump unsuccessfully sued because his fortune was only a fraction of what he was had claimed. "The core business is a corner shop on Fifth Avenue."
It's a company that was also hit by fraud charges on July 1st. Prosecutors say the Trump organization, along with its chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, circumvented taxes by improperly treating top employee wages as fringe benefits or as compensation for contractors.
The Trump Organization's chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, appears in a New York court after he surrendered to the authorities on July 1. Prosecutors for the Manhattan Public Prosecutor's Office have indicted the Trump Organization and its CFO Weisselberg on tax offenses. (Photo: Spencer Platt via Getty Images)
Trump himself was not personally charged, but O’Brien said it was unthinkable that Trump was unaware of the scheme described in the 25-page indictment, as only a handful of employees had decision-making powers there. "None of these others would dare tie their shoes without asking Trump," he said.
But showing that Trump personally benefits and is involved in every aspect of the business doesn't necessarily mean that prosecutors can convict him for his illegal actions.
To do this, New York State would have to prove through Manhattan District Attorneys and possibly the Attorney General that Trump knew that what his company was doing when arranging payments to employees to avoid taxes was illegal but approved it was anyway.
"There has to be personal, specific knowledge," said Danya Perry, a former federal attorney in New York City. "One cannot simply assume knowledge."
Neither Trump's spokesman nor the Trump Organization responded to HuffPost's inquiries on the matter.
That Trump is the central figure in his company becomes clear in the annual financial reports that Trump had to submit during his presidency. These documents show elaborate, interlocking connections between Trump Corp., Trump Payroll Corp. and the hundreds of "limited liability companies" that Trump created to hold his various assets.
O'Brien said the impetus to create a different LLC for every single asset Trump owned - right down to individual condos in different buildings - was an overreaction to his near-personal bankruptcy in the 1990s when he used his personal fortune Pledged support of business loans. Despite the Byzantine structure, O’Brien said, in the end, essentially everything comes back to Trump. “This is basically a corner grocery store with a guy behind the counter nibbling on a hamburger. And he's the owner of the shop, ”said O’Brien.
If the various entities, each with their own governance structure, intend to disguise their ownership and control structures, the strategy is clearly successful.
For example, in 2018 the local Palm Beach, Florida newspaper reported that a company run by Trump's older sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, owned a beachfront home across from Mar-a-Lago Highway A1A from theirs Father bought sister Maryanne Trump Barry for $ 18 million. Its address: 1125 South Ocean Blvd.
But in May 2019, when Trump filed his annual financial disclosure, a new company emerged, 1125 South Ocean LLC, with assets between $ 5 million and $ 25 million. Elsewhere in the document it is stated that the new LLC was 100% owned by DJT Holdings LLC.
DJT Holdings LLC, in turn, is 1% owned by DJT Holdings Managing Member LLC and 99% owned by Donald J. Trump Revocable Trust, which also owns 100% of DJT Holdings Managing Member LLC.
The argument that [Trump] did not know that this money was going to Weisselberg or others is pure nonsense.
Former Trump attorney Michael Cohen
And this trust - which Trump created in order to give the false impression of parting with his business when he took office - is of personal benefit to Trump.
"Nothing happened in the Trump organization that didn't go through Donald's desk," said his longtime former attorney and "fixer" Michael Cohen, who was in federal prison for helping Trump arrange hush money payments to women who said that they would have had affairs with him.
Despite Trump's apparent control over his family business, he, his children and his supporters have made efforts to separate themselves from Weißelberg and the allegations against him.
For example, Trump's daughter Ivanka Trump said of Weißelberg last year in a case involving the finances of the founding committee in 2017: "I don't know what his exact job title is, but he is an executive in the company."
And Weißelberg has been removed as an officer from dozens of the Trump companies under the umbrella of the Trump Organization in the past few weeks following his indictment.
However, it is unclear whether the public excommunication of Weißelberg will work. The indictment states that bonus checks to Weisselberg and other employees labeled as payments to contractors rather than salaries, thereby causing Trump Corp. Avoid paying federal wage taxes from various Trump companies such as Trump International Golf Club and the Mar. came from -a-lago-club. And those two units are owned by Trump, through a similar series of steps as the beach house.
Norm Eisen, who served as Barack Obama's White House ethics attorney and recently worked on the House Committee that oversaw Trump's first impeachment, said holding Weisselberg accountable was a tough sell.
“That would be more than unbelievable. It would be ridiculous, ”he said. "The prosecutors have created the framework for a future case directed against Trump personally. ... prosecutors are on the hunt. "
"The checks for bonuses were all signed by Trump," Cohen said. "The argument that he did not know that this money would go to Weisselberg or others is pure nonsense."
If Trump is actually to claim he did not know such payments were illegal, he may have given the first lead at a rally in Sarasota, Florida two days after the indictments were unsealed. After attacking the prosecutor as politically motivated and defending the payments in question as examples of his generosity, he asked himself aloud to the audience whether one could know whether such services would have to be taxed: “I don't even know. You need to, do you need to? Does anyone know the answer to that? "
Perry said that while Trump tried to lay the groundwork for a defense, he also revealed that he knew quite a bit about the payments in question. "It was certainly an admission to see," she said. "I'm sure the prosecutors are watching him very closely."
This article originally appeared on HuffPost and has been updated.
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