Allen Weisselberg is in the hot seat—and that’s bad news for Donald Trump and his family. Assorted news reports have identified Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, as a key figure in the criminal and civil investigations of the Trump business being conducted by the New York attorney general and the Manhattan district attorney, who recently empaneled a grand jury to review evidence against the Trump company, its executives, and possibly Trump. Moreover, the New York Times recently reported that Weisselberg himself is being criminally investigated for possible tax fraud, raising the prospect that investigators are looking to flip the longtime Trump executive into a cooperating witness. Now there’s more trouble for Weisselberg and Trump World. Previously unreported emails attached to a little-noticed court document filed last year show that Weisselberg is tied to another Trump financial scandal: the Trump inauguration case, which is currently being investigated by the attorney general of Washington, DC.
In 2020, Karl Racine, the AG in the nation’s capital, filed a lawsuit against Trump’s inauguration committee and the Trump Organization, asserting that the inauguration committee, a nonprofit corporation, misused charitable funds to enrich the Trump family. The complaint, as the attorney general put it in a statement, accuses the Presidential Inauguration Committee (known as the PIC) of coordinating “with the Trump family to grossly overpay for event space in the Trump International Hotel.” The lawsuit notes that the PIC struck a contract with the Trump Hotel for $1.03 million, an amount that was allegedly far above the hotel’s own pricing guidelines. (At the time, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, a top producer for the PIC, raised concerns with the president-elect, Ivanka Trump, and others about the prices the Trump Hotel was charging the inauguration committee for events to be held there. But according to Racine, the PIC still paid the Trump Hotel inflated fees.)
Racine also alleges that the PIC improperly used nonprofit funds to host a private party at the Trump Hotel for the Trump family that cost several hundred thousand dollars. The attorney general has essentially maintained that the Trump crew and its company exploited the 2017 presidential inauguration to engage in significant grifting. and he is looking to recoup the money the PIC paid to the Trump Hotel so these funds can be directed to real charitable purposes. (Federal prosecutors have also examined the committee’s financing. It is not clear if their inquiry has concluded.)
In April 2017—three months after Trump’s inauguration—the PIC was trying to sort out its financial reports, and though the Trump Organization was not officially involved in its operation except as a payment recipient, Weisselberg was brought into the effort.
This happened on April 19, the day after the PIC filed its financial report with the Federal Election Commission and revealed that it had raised $107 million. This was a whopping figure, twice what Barack Obama had collected for his first inauguration. And the money had poured into the PIC from numerous wealthy and corporate donors who had kicked in seven-figure contributions, spurring concerns about influence-peddling. Additionally, the FEC report did not state how this flood of money had been spent. (The PIC was not required to list its expenditures.) As the Associated Press the next day noted, “That leaves a bit of a mystery: What the $107 million was spent for and how much was left over—the excess, if any, to go to charity. It also raises a new round of questions about the influence of money in politics, this time for a president who promised to ‘drain the swamp’ of Washington.”
A legal filing submitted by Racine in May 2020 in his case against the Trump Organization and the PIC included emails that show how the PIC reached out to Weisselberg on the afternoon of April 19, as news reports about the PIC’s finances were exploding.
Rick Gates, who was the PIC’s deputy chair (and who later pleaded guilty to charges stemming from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation), emailed Douglas Ammerman, the committee’s treasurer, “I would like to introduce you to Allen Weisselberg who is with the Trump Organization and was an enormous help to us on the campaign. Please reach out to Allen and walk him through the auditing process for the PIC and the activities that were conducted through the project.” Weisselberg and Tom Barrack, the billionaire investor and Trump pal who chaired the inauguration committee, were cc’d on the email.
In this email, Gates did not explain why Weisselberg, a senior official at an organization that had received a large amount of money from the committee, was being called on to oversee the PIC’s own internal audit.
Half an hour later, in the same email chain. Weisselberg wrote Ammerman, “If you would be so kind as to send me the latest report reflecting all revenue broken down by its sources as well as a detailed disbursement schedule by vendor it would be greatly appreciated. Once I review these reports I will get back to you with additional questions or requests.” Barrack and Gates also received this email. On the bottom of the print-out of these emails in the legal filing was a handwritten note: “Spoke to Rick Gates today about the inauguration accounting.” The person who wrote this note is not identified on the document.
Two weeks later, Weisselberg exchanged several emails with Heather Martin, the committee’s budget director, and he requested assorted financial information. In one of these emails, he asked why there was a $1.6 million difference between the committee’s revenues and donations.
During depositions taken in Racine’s lawsuits, the attorney general’s lawyers repeatedly questioned witnesses about Weisselberg’s role in reviewing the PIC’s finances. The responses were curious. Ivanka Trump was questioned about Weisselberg’s emails with Martin: “Do you have any idea why the Trump Organization would be asking for revenue data from the PIC?” She replied, “I do not.” Donald Trump Jr. was asked a similar question: “Do you have any idea why Mr. Weisselberg would have been requesting to review PIC finances?’ Trump’s eldest son said, “I don’t.” (Trump Jr., a top executive at the Trump Organization, made several statements in his deposition that were apparently false or contradicted by the testimony of others.)
When Barrack was asked about Weisselberg, he acted as if he barely knew him. “Can you refresh my memory?” he said. Barrack then noted that Weisselberg had no formal position within the inauguration committee. One of Racine’s attorneys queried Barrack, “Do you recall whether the PIC was providing him financial reports or financial statements relating to the PIC?” Barack answered, “I have no idea.”
Yet during his deposition in the Racine case, Gates had a much different story to tell about Weisselberg and Barrack. Asked why Weisselberg and Ammerman in April 2017 had emailed about the PIC’s budget, Gates said, “Mr. Barrack wanted Mr. Ammerman to send him the….overall list of revenue raised or revenue—donations raised and the expenditures against those donations.” Gates called this “a proactive effort” initiated by Barrack. “There was at this point in time a number of attacks on the inaugural committee based on the amount [of money] it had both raised [and spent].”
A lawyer in the attorney general’s office asked Gates “What was Mr. Weisselberg’s role in connection to responding to those attacks?” Gates replied that Weisselberg was “great” with numbers and that “Mr. Barrack had known him, you know, for years.” The attorney followed up: “Was Mr. Weisselberg’s donating his services to the PIC?” Gates said, “I do not know.” But Gates added that he had spoken with Barack about Weisselberg’s review of the financial information and that Barrack indicated that “he wanted to be proactive and send this to Mr. Weisselberg. And so he had asked Doug Ammerman to prepare both the money raised and the expenditures against that and to send it directly.” Gates also said that he recalled phoning Weisselberg to let him know that Barrack would be forwarding him the information.
There is a sharp contradiction between Barrack’s account and Gates’ recollection regarding Weisselberg’s involvement in reviewing the PIC’s finances—an arrangement that now seems particularly unorthodox, given that the Trump Organization and the PIC have been accused of violating tax rules and bilking American taxpayers.
In March, Racine requested an extension of discovery in his case against the Trump Organization and the PIC to conduct additional depositions, including an examination of Weisselberg.
Mother Jones emailed Weisselberg a long list of questions regarding his involvement in reviewing the PIC’s finances. Who asked him to examine these numbers? Did he ever discuss the PIC’s finances with Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, or Barrack? Did he approve of the financial information the PIC eventually released publicly? Was he aware that the Trump Hotel seemingly overcharged the PIC? Weisselberg’s lawyer, Mary Mulligan, replied tersely: “No comment.”
Mother Jones also sent a list of questions to Barrack and his attorneys related to his deposition in the inauguration case and asked him to explain the discrepancy between his testimony and Gates’ deposition. Barrack and his lawyers did not reply.
“The Trump Organization is the parent company that controls the operations and finances of the Trump Hotel, so why would Allen Weisselberg, its CFO, be asked to participate in the audit pertaining to the finances of the PIC?” asks Winston Wolkoff, who is now a lead cooperating witness in Racine’s lawsuit and a prominent critic of Trump corruption. “That is especially true when those finances involve the questionable payments to the Trump Hotel that I questioned at the time. This seems highly unusual, and it’s a matter that the various investigators should be seriously examining.”