Evidence shows that Trump “explicitly” endorsed tax fraud

NEW YORK (AP) — In the end, it wasn’t a last-minute smoking gun, but a prosecutor who insisted that evidence shows that Donald Trump was aware of a plan his Trump organization executives devised to prevent the they had to pay personal income tax on millions of dollars worth of benefits paid by the company.

After telling jurors on Thursday that Trump “knew exactly what was going on” with the plan, Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass continued, citing trial evidence and testimony that he said made clear “Mr. Trump explicitly approves of tax fraud.”

Steinglass, speaking on the final day before deliberations on the Trump Organization’s criminal tax fraud, showed jurors a lease Trump had signed for a Manhattan manager’s apartment and a memo initialed by the former president authorizing a pay cut for another manager who got perks.

He also cited Weisselberg’s claim, during his three-day testimony, that he told Trump he would pay him back after Trump agreed to cover his grandchildren’s hefty private school expenses. Weisselberg then adjusted his payroll to reduce his pre-tax salary by the cost of tuition.

“I mention all of this to show that this whole story of Mr. Trump being blissfully ignorant is just not real,” said Steinglass.

Trump himself is not on trial, as Steinglass reminded jurors, but Judge Juan Manuel Merchan gave him the green light to talk about Trump’s possible exposure to the plan after the company’s lawyers claimed in their summonses that Trump knew nothing about it.

Trump has denied knowing that Weisselberg and other executives evaded taxes, writing this week on his Truth Social platform: “There was no profit for ‘Trump’ and we knew nothing about it.”

After Steinglass ended Friday, Trump Organization attorney Michael van der Veen asked Merchan to declare a mistrial, arguing that the prosecution irreparably harmed the defense by effectively portraying Trump as a co-conspirator in the tax fraud scheme.

“I do not believe it is necessary to announce a mistrial. That’s not even a thought,” Merchan said, agreeing to instead warn jurors about Steinglass’s comments.

But Steinglass’s sudden focus on Trump’s knowledge of the plan, just as the Trump company’s trial was coming to a conclusion, begged the question: Why wasn’t he charged, too?

The Manhattan district attorney’s office declined to comment, citing the ongoing trial. District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who inherited the case when he took office in January, has said an investigation into Trump is “active and ongoing” and no decision has been made on whether or not to indict him.

The Trump Organization, the entity through which Trump manages his golf courses, hotels and other ventures, has been tasked with helping some top executives avoid paying income taxes on non-monetary compensation. The company’s case is the only lawsuit stemming from the Manhattan district attorney’s three-year investigation into Trump and his business practices.

Prosecutors allege the company is liable because Weisselberg and a subordinate he worked with on the plan, controller Jeffrey McConney, were “senior executive” agents entrusted to act on behalf of the company and its various entities. If convicted, the company could be fined more than $1 million.

The defense has alleged that Weisselberg masterminded the tax evasion on his own, without Trump or the Trump family knowing, and that the company was not profiting from his actions.

“We’re here today for one reason and one reason only: Allen Weisselberg’s greed,” Susan Necheles, attorney for the Trump Organization, said Thursday.

Weisselberg testified that Trump didn’t know, but that the Trump Organization did have some advantage because it didn’t have to pay him that much actual salary. Van der Veen peppered his summons on Thursday with the mantra of the defense: “Weisselberg did it for Weisselberg.”

“Their whole theory of the case is a hoax,” Steinglass said Friday morning before the jury entered the courtroom, as corporate lawyers tried to temper his rhetoric.

One apartment in Manhattan paid for by the company even went to Weisselberg’s son, Barry, ostensibly so he could respond quickly to emergencies at the Central Park rink the company operated.

“This is all part of the Trump executive’s compensation package: free cars for you, free cars for your wife, free apartments for you, free apartments for your kids,” Steinglass said. Barry Weisselberg, he joked, “didn’t live on a Zamboni in Wollman Rink. He lived in an apartment on Central Park South.

At the beginning of the trial, Merchan warned the defense and prosecution not to talk about Trump, so as not to give jurors the impression that real estate honcho was or should have been at the defense table for a long time.

But the judge noted on Friday that the tenor of the trial changed after lawyers and prosecutors frequently mentioned Trump during arguments and testimony, even though he did not testify and did not attend the trial.

Steinglass, wrapping up his summary, told jurors that Trump was “the elephant that’s not in the room.”

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Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak and send confidential tips by going to https://www.ap.org/tips/.

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