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Trump’s company charged on narrow grounds despite three years of investigation


To be clear, the indictment against the company that Donald Trump used to become a prominent businessman, reality TV star and ultimately president is a very bad development for him.

For all of his allegations of the New York investigation being a witch hunt, it means he must expend time, energy, and resources defending his company. This means that the Trump organization could be so badly damaged that it is losing huge amounts of business. This means that the company’s founder faces a major distraction in preparing for the six months ahead. And it means that Trump’s long-time CFO Allen Weisselberg, who pleaded not guilty on Thursday, will come under enormous pressure to turn against his boss.

Yet the Manhattan District Attorney’s case is astonishingly close. The filing of a criminal complaint over the tax treatment of fringe benefits underscores how more serious allegations have been investigated and dismissed.

Top of the list: Donald Trump was not personally charged (and remember, prosecutors have his tax returns). The company was not accused of inflating its assets to get bank loans or minimizing its assets to avoid taxes – the kind of fraud that can destroy a company. The company was not charged with Michael Cohen passing hush money on to Stormy Daniels to buy her silence over an alleged affair with the boss. All of these matters hit the headlines, DA Cyrus Vance Jr. has been investigating for three years and apparently had no evidence to back the grand jury’s indictment.

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I’m not trying to minimize the tax burden on Trump company executives. Weißelberg is said to have avoided taxes on $ 1.7 million in “indirect employee compensation” for 15 years – which would correspond to a fraud of about $ 900,000. The organization itself has been accused of not withholding taxes on these amounts. Weisselberg was also accused of hiding his New York City residence and not reporting payments for beds, televisions, and carpets in a Florida home.

However, such matters are usually dealt with in civil proceedings. If you are guilty, you will pay a heavy fine and pay back the taxes you avoided. Company lawyers said they had not been able to find a previous criminal case of this type.

So the limited nature of the indictment will blame Trump and his allies that the indictment is purely political. Vance, the son of a former foreign secretary, is a Democrat, as is Attorney General Letitia James, who won the elections with a promise to follow Trump.

The media are absolutely thrilled with this case. We saw that in a number of potentially illegal leaks: Weißelberg could be indicted this summer. Weißelberg could be charged next week. Weißelberg will be charged Thursday! (The sealed indictment was actually delivered Wednesday night.)

A company statement called Weisselberg, whose annual salary and bonuses were $ 940,000, a “farmer in an attempt to harm the former president.”

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For four years, journalists and commentators have campaigned for Trump to be charged with a crime. They were very disappointed when he emerged legally unscathed from the Russia investigation. Then there was the impeachment for his dealings with Ukraine and the impeachment for the Capitol Uprising. These allegations may not be as deep as they hoped, but for the press they will.

The fringe benefits in question are generous: a leased Mercedes-Benz (and one for his wife); a rent-free apartment in the Upper West Side and private schooling for two family members. Such benefits are generally taxable (although, as the New York Times notes, the laws can be unclear). They are treated as income. But for the overall case you have to ask yourself: Is that all?

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Well there is a big X factor in this case. It’s clear that Weißelberg, a loyalist who has worked for Trump for nearly half a century, has refused to cooperate with prosecutors. But these allegations will increase the pressure. He could still hit a deal in exchange for immunity or a lesser charge – if he’s ready to attack Trump.

But that’s pure speculation at the moment. So far the fees seem to be quite low. But they could have a maximum impact on the company founder and his political future.

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