- Federal prosecutors have flipped the three men who may be privy to the most confidential details of the main facets of President Donald Trump’s life: his personal dealings, his campaign, and his business.
- The three men are Paul Manafort, the former Trump campaign chairman; Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer; and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer.
- Together, said one former federal prosecutor, “this is the perfect storm of cooperators.”
- Another Justice Department veteran compared their roles to those in the mob: “One could draw the analogy here that Manafort was Trump’s consigliere when it came to his campaign, Weisselberg was the underboss in the Trump Organization, and Cohen is, of course, the lawyer.”
Michael Cohen has been called President Donald Trump’s fixer and pit bull.
Paul Manafort worked on Trump’s campaign during the most pivotal time in the 2016 election season.
Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer, manages the company’s books and has been described as “the one guy who knows everything.”
In short, said Elie Honig, a former federal prosecutor, “this is the perfect storm of cooperators.”
Cohen pleaded guilty last month to five counts of tax evasion, one count of bank fraud, and two counts related to campaign-finance violations. He is now cooperating with a Manhattan US attorney’s office investigation into his and the president’s dealings leading up to the election.
Manafort on Friday pleaded guilty to one count of conspiracy and one count of obstruction, and a prosecutor working for the special counsel Robert Mueller said Manafort was cooperating “in any and all matters as to which the government deems the cooperation relevant,” including “testifying fully, completely” before a grand jury.
Weisselberg was granted immunity by federal prosecutors for the Southern District of New York in August so he could share information pertaining to their investigation into Cohen and Trump.
Combined, the three men may be privy to some of the most confidential details of the main facets of Trump’s life: his personal dealings, his campaign, and his business.
Patrick Cotter, a former federal prosecutor who was part of the team that convicted the Gambino crime family boss John Gotti, said Cohen, Manafort, and Weisselberg all had different responsibilities to carry out on Trump’s behalf.
“Weisselberg is inside the Trump company, Manafort was inside the campaign and has the Russia connection, and Cohen is the all-purpose lawyer and fixer,” he said.
“If you’re Mueller or other federal prosecutors, it’s useful for you to try to identify as many people as you can near the top of the organization to talk to you,” Cotter added. “And it looks like investigators got them.”
‘I don’t know that there’s another person out there with more information about the president’s potential criminal conduct’
- Yana Paskova/Getty Images
At the center of the investigation into Cohen are two payments made to women who say they had affairs with Trump. Both women were paid shortly before the 2016 election.
In a court filing last month, prosecutors said that Cohen approached Trump Organization executives asking to be reimbursed for “election-related” costs following the election and that he began receiving the payments in February 2017. The document said the Trump Organization ultimately approved $420,000 in reimbursements to Cohen.
New York federal prosecutors are also looking into whether other executives at the Trump Organization broke campaign-finance laws.
Weisselberg, as the man in charge of tracking the money flowing into and out of the company, is most likely crucial to helping investigators determine what kinds of transactions were made, who made them, and how high up their approval came from.
Though Cohen and Weisselberg are cooperating as part of the New York federal investigation and Manafort is cooperating in the Russia probe, it is common practice for law-enforcement officials to share witnesses if prosecutors from other districts believe those people may have information pertaining to their own cases.
Cohen is said to have been speaking to Mueller, who is investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. The president’s former fixer is critical to several threads of Mueller’s investigation, including the creation of a Russia-friendly “peace plan” during the early days of Trump’s presidency, as well as an allegation that Cohen traveled to Prague during the summer of 2016 to meet with Kremlin-linked officials.
Cohen was also central to the Trump Organization’s push to build a Trump Tower in Moscow at the height of the campaign. Weisselberg, as the company’s chief accountant, may be able to shed additional light on the controversial, defunct project.
Last month, it also emerged that Cohen had said Trump knew in advance about a Russian lawyer’s offer to the campaign of “dirt” on the Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in 2016. Cohen is said to have claimed that he was one of the people in the room when Trump greenlit the meeting.
As Manafort was one of three top campaign officials who attended the meeting, his firsthand account of it would most likely play an important role in helping Mueller determine whether the Trump campaign broke federal laws by accepting something of value from an agent of a foreign power.
Manafort was also the campaign chairman when he offered a Russian oligarch “private briefings” on Trump’s bid. And he was leading the campaign when WikiLeaks began dumping thousands of emails from the Democratic National Committee that Russian operatives stole.
- Skye Gould/Business Insider
“These guys cover pretty much every angle, a lot of which overlap, so prosecutors have a lot of chances now to build their case through three different people with three different perspectives,” Honig said.
Cotter echoed that view.
“In the mob, the most important guys are the consigliere, who is a top adviser of sorts to the boss; the underboss, who runs everyday operations; and the lawyer, who is the chief employee you send out to take care of your legal problems and dirty work,” he said.
Cotter added: “One could draw the analogy here that Manafort was Trump’s consigliere when it came to his campaign, Weisselberg was the underboss in the Trump Organization, and Cohen is, of course, the lawyer. And prosecutors have all three men cooperating. I don’t know that there’s another person out there with more information about the president’s potential criminal conduct.”