WASHINGTON — Life comes at you fast. A day after President Trump said on Fox News that it “almost ought to be illegal” for “flippers” to receive more lenient plea deals in exchange for testifying, the Wall Street Journal broke the news that Allen Weisselberg, a longtime top executive and chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, was granted immunity by federal prosecutors.
The thinking is that Weisselberg would be free to provide information (if he hasn’t already) as part of the investigation into Trump’s former lawyer-fixer Michael Cohen and his hush-money payments to two women shortly before the 2016 election. According to the Journal, Weisselberg had been called to testify before a grand jury, and he has already provided information to investigators in the Cohen case.
The news that Weisselberg has immunity will send shockwaves through Trumpworld. Weisselberg likely knows more than anyone, even perhaps Trump himself, about the nitty-gritty inner workings and closely-held financials of the Trump Organization. When Trump took office, he handed over control of his business to Weisselberg and his sons, Don Jr. and Eric. Weisselberg also served as the treasurer of the Trump Foundation, which is also under investigation in New York. Ivanka Trump described Weisselberg as “integral” to the Trump Organization in a 2016 profile in the Journal. “He is deeply passionate, fiercely loyal and has stood alongside my father and our family for over [three] decades,” she said.
That fierce loyalist is now cooperating with the feds in a criminal investigation that, according to Cohen’s guilty plea earlier this week, leads directly to the president himself. “Weisselberg’s cooperation takes the Mueller and SDNY investigations out of some of the penny ante stuff in play so far and into the heart of the Trump Organization and President Trump’s business history,” Tim O’Brien, a Trump biographer and expert on all things Trump, tweeted. “The game gets started here.”
By this point, it’s getting hard to keep up with all the Trumpworld denizens now entangled with investigations involving the president and his associates. According to the Journal and Vanity Fair, the feds have also granted immunity to another erstwhile Trump loyalist, David Pecker, the head of American Media Incorporated (which owns the National Enquirer). Trump and Pecker have long been pals, and Pecker used the Enquirer to boost Trump’s candidacy during the 2016 campaign while attacking Trump’s Republican primary opponents and later Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. (When Trump lobbed the conspiracy that Ted Cruz’s father was connected to the man who assassinated JFK, the Enquirer ran the story on its cover.)
Pecker also used his perch at AMI to engage in a practice known as “catch and kill.” In the case of Trump, he would buy the rights to stories that were damaging to Trump and never run them. According to the charging documents in connection with Cohen’s guilty plea, executives at Pecker’s company played a key part in Cohen’s pre-election hush-money payments to women. The company alerted Cohen to the fact that adult film actress Stormy Daniels (real name Stephanie Clifford) was shopping the story of her affair with Trump, eventually leading Cohen to pay Clifford $130,000 in hush money. And then there was a $150,000 payment to a former Playmate named Karen McDougal in which AMI purchased the rights to her tale about having an affair with Trump and never ran the story. Both Pecker and AMI chief content officer Dylan Howard are referred to — though not by name — in the Cohen charging documents.
Knowing all of this, we’re left to ask: Which Trump loyalist will flip next? Will one of the president’s own family members turn on him?
This has been the longest and lowest week of the Trump presidency: Trump’s ex-campaign chairman (Manafort) was convicted on eight counts of tax and bank fraud. His former lawyer and fixer (Cohen) — who said last fall that he’d take a bullet for the man — pleaded guilty to eight counts, including campaign finance violations that implicate the president. Immunity was granted to one powerful friend with direct knowledge of damaging secrets (Pecker) followed by news of an immunity deal given to the CFO of the Trump Organization (Weisselberg).
It was possible six months ago, or even last week, to imagine that the various investigations encircling President Trump were closer to their ends than to their beginnings. No more. The scope of this story is much greater than Russia and the 2016 election or the Trump Foundation. Taken together, the events of this past week show that these probes could reach into every corner of the president’s life. What does Trump do now?
When asked by the New York Times last year if Special Counsel Robert Mueller would be crossing a “red line” if he investigated the Trump Organization, Trump replied: “I would say yeah. I would say yes.” In this case, it isn’t Mueller but the Southern District of New York with its sights set on Trump’s company, the source of his wealth. But it’s hard to believe the president won’t see that red line now crossed.