The judge hearing the tax fraud case against former President Donald Trump's family business and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, in New York City has set a schedule with a potential court trial starting in late August or early September 2022, just months before the midterm elections.
That timing, as well as a potential conviction against his family business, could cast a pall over any efforts by Trump to drum up support for Republican candidates. And with multiple investigations still underway, the legal cloud hanging over Trump's world may be getting larger, lawyers on Weisselberg's defense team suggested during a court hearing on Monday.
"We have strong reason to believe there could be other indictments coming," said Bryan Skarlatos, one of Weisselberg's attorneys.
Trump's family business is accused of defrauding taxpayers
Their appearance at the New York state Supreme Court in Manhattan came almost three months after Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. unsealed a bevy of criminal charges that alleged the Trump Organization and Weisselberg took part in a more than 15-year scheme to defraud taxpayers by paying company executives with untaxed benefits.
Weisselberg, who has been employed by the Trump family since 1973, and the Trump Organization have pleaded not guilty to the allegations. The former president has said the case is politically motivated.
"We have studied the indictment and it is full of unsupported and flawed factual and legal assertions regarding Allen Weisselberg," Skarlatos and Mary Mulligan, one of Weisselberg's other attorneys, said in a statement. "We look forward to challenging those assertions in court."
The lawyers are expected to be back in court before New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan in July 2022.
Prosecutors have not stopped investigating the Trump family's business
Behind the scenes, and while proceedings play out in court, prosecutors with Vance's office have been continuing to work with New York state Attorney General Letitia James' office on an ongoing probe into Trump's business dealings in New York. There are plenty of signs that Vance and James are aggressively working on this case, including an unannounced court appearance in August by attorneys for both Weisselberg and the Trump Organization.
"The fact that they are having sealed proceedings is consistent with an ongoing grand jury investigation and suggests the district attorney may be considering further charges or defendants," said Adam Kaufmann, a former investigations division chief at the Manhattan District Attorney's Office who is currently a partner with the law firm Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss.
The son of the Trump Organization's COO has testified
In August, Matthew Calamari Jr. — the Trump Organization's corporate director of security and son of the chief operating officer, Matthew Calamari Sr. — testified before a grand jury, an attorney for both father and son confirmed in a statement. Grand jury witnesses, according to New York state law, generally cannot be prosecuted for what they said.
"He is a model citizen, has never violated any law, and is glad to have the distraction behind him," the attorney, Nicholas Gravante Jr., said of Calamari Jr.
Asked after Monday's hearing whether Calamari Sr. could be indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney's Office, Gravante said he and his client "continue to believe there is no basis for indicting him."
"If they presently intended to indict him, I would have been informed. I haven't been and, in fact, have been informed to the contrary," Gravante added.
Vance's investigation started in 2018 around the time Michael Cohen, Trump's former personal lawyer, pleaded guilty to campaign finance charges related to payments of hush money to women who claimed to have had extramarital affairs with Trump.
The Trump Organization may also ultimately face civil charges as part of a related investigation James' office launched in 2019 after Cohen told Congress that Trump manipulated the value of his properties to obtain bank loans and lower his tax obligations.
STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A judge has set an approximate trial date for a criminal fraud case against an executive who worked for former President Trump. Allen Weisselberg is to go on trial in the late summer of 2022, August or September, about a year from now. Journalist Andrea Bernstein is covering the case for NPR News and was in the courtroom this morning. Good morning.
ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey Steve. Great to talk to you.
INSKEEP: When I see that news, I immediately think of the old saying that justice delayed is justice denied. Why would a criminal trial be held for about a year?
BERNSTEIN: Well, this is a case against Trump's company and his chief financial officer. And the lawyers for the chief financial officer argued in court that they need time to go through these some 6 million documents that the DA has sent to them. The judge did give them a lenient schedule, but he said that's it; don't schedule any vacations or other trials for August and September of 2022.
INSKEEP: OK, so it was on the defense's motion that this is being delayed so far. Let's talk about what's in those 6 million documents or at least allegedly in there. What is it that Weisselberg supposedly did?
BERNSTEIN: So what the prosecutors are saying is that he and the Trump corporation participated in a 15-year scheme to defraud the government of its proper taxes by, in effect, keeping two sets of books - one which was what they reported to the IRS and one which was allegedly Weisselberg's actual salary, much more money, with untaxed benefits like an apartment lease, a car lease and a spot for his Mercedes Benz included.
INSKEEP: Wow. OK, so they are saying there is documentation of this. Like, the Trump's - the Trump Organization's own documents prove the case, according to prosecutors here.
BERNSTEIN: Well, that's what they say. And today after court, Weisselberg's lawyer issued a statement saying, we have studied the indictment, and it is full of unsupported and flawed factual and legal assertions regarding Allen Weisselberg; we look forward to challenging those assertions in court. The president is not charged - former President Trump. He has denied any wrongdoing, and his companies have pleaded not guilty.
INSKEEP: OK, so these 6 million documents - what is the schedule going ahead? We mentioned not a trial for almost a year, but I assume something happens between now and then.
BERNSTEIN: Right. So the judge gave the defense 120 days until the interesting date of January 20, 2022 - of course, a year after the inauguration of President Biden - to submit their motions. Prosecutors have another 120 days. The judge said he would rule in July and see them all back in court in August or September. Now, one other extremely interesting thing happened in court today, which is that Weisselberg's lawyers said that they have strong reason to believe there could be other indictments coming. And we know other Trump executives have been testifying to a grand jury. We know the district attorney and the attorney general have been aggressively investigating. So while this trial may not happen until next summer, there is likely more to come in the interim time.
INSKEEP: I want to be very clear about what you're telling me. Prosecutors did not say they are on their way to indicting more people, which is not a thing they would likely ever say, but the defense, with whatever communications it has, believes that other indictments are coming. Is that correct?
BERNSTEIN: Exactly. Exactly. They said that in open court - we have strong reason to believe there could be other indictments coming. What they are, who they're against, we don't know yet.
INSKEEP: Much more work for you, Andrea.
BERNSTEIN: Thanks, Steve.
INSKEEP: Andrea Bernstein covering the Trump criminal case for NPR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MAMMAL HANDS' "HOURGLASS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.