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Trump Organization's CFO Said To Have Been Given Immunity By Federal Prosecutors


After a week in which key members of President Trump's circle pleaded and were found guilty of federal crimes, there is news this morning that could spell even more trouble for the president. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization Allen Weisselberg has been granted immunity by federal prosecutors. And one of the reporters who broke the story is with us. It's Rebecca Ballhaus from The Wall Street Journal. Thanks for coming on the program.

REBECCA BALLHAUS: Thanks for having me.

GREENE: So why are prosecutors interested in Weisselberg?

BALLHAUS: Weisselberg is pretty deeply involved in some of these payments that Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations for arranging this week. We know that he arranged for the Trump Organization to reimburse Michael Cohen after he made a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, the porn star who said she had an affair with Trump. The charging documents that were filed this week lay out in a little bit more detail - although they don't name Weisselberg - how the Trump organization went about paying Mr. Cohen back for paying the porn star in the first place. And it seems like there was some strange financial maneuvers there. They seem to have doubled the amount that he asked to be reimbursed for. They filed it as legal expenses, which it wasn't. So it seems like a sort of tricky area. And in receiving immunity from federal prosecutors, he seems to have given them information about how exactly this process worked.

GREENE: OK. There's a lot to unpack there. Obviously, we don't know everything, but we do know that Michael Cohen, the president's former private lawyer, did plead guilty saying he violated campaign finance law by making these payments to women who say they had affairs with President Trump. He says it was to change an election, to make it more likely that President Trump would win the election, which he says violated campaign finance law. The president has said he didn't know about these payments until after the fact. It sounds like Weisselberg is the kind of person who might be able to actually help prosecutors get to the truth, in theory, here.

BALLHAUS: That's the thought. We don't know, to be clear, whether Weisselberg gave prosecutors information that the president was involved in the payments. Michael Cohen has said before a federal court this week that he was directed by Trump to make these payments. We know that David Pecker, another longtime Trump ally, who is the CEO of one of the publishers that bought another one of these stories, he did give prosecutors information that Trump had knowledge of these payments. We don't know whether that's the case with Weisselberg.

GREENE: Well, obviously the Trump Organization handled, I mean, a lot of if not the majority of Donald Trump's business dealings. Are these payments the only thing that prosecutors might be interested in talking to Weisselberg about, or could there be a lot of other stuff?

BALLHAUS: I think that's the key question here, is we're trying to figure out where this investigation is going next. We've reported that the investigation is still ongoing even though Michael Cohen has now pleaded guilty. We know that Weisselberg has insight into a very broad array of the president's financial dealings. In addition to being CFO of the Trump Organization, he is also treasurer of the Trump Foundation, which has come under its own set of scrutiny in a different investigation. And he's also the person who would physically bring Trump checks every day when he was at the Trump Organization, and Trump would go through each check that he had to sign and say, what's this one for, why is this so much, and ask him to hold off on various payments. So he's someone who has really intricate knowledge of not only the company's finances but Trump's interaction with those finances.

GREENE: And we should say this comes on the heels of another Trump ally being granted immunity. David Pecker the CEO of the company that owns the National Enquirer, which is also all connected to this. And then he's someone who might have really important knowledge.

BALLHAUS: Right. And we know that he specifically told prosecutors that Trump did know about the payments. So that's - you know, we don't know if Weisselberg said that, but if there are two people saying that Trump had knowledge of the payments in addition to Michael Cohen that makes it all the harder for Trump to deny that he did.

GREENE: OK. Still stressing that we have no idea if the president would actually be charged with a crime or did anything illegal, but certainly there are a lot of things looming here for the president with all of these developments. That's Rebecca Ballhaus from The Wall Street Journal. Thanks so much for your reporting, and thanks for coming on the program.

BALLHAUS: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.