- President Donald Trump’s former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen’s plea agreement could open up a new legal front involving the Trump Organisation.
- Prosecutors laid out how executives at Trump’s business helped reimburse Cohen for the “election-related expenses” and labelled the payments as legal fees.
- Experts said this could open up a couple of new fronts.
There could be a new round of legal headaches for the Trump Organisation after a pair of unnamed employees were listed in the charges pressed against President Donald Trump’s former longtime lawyer Michael Cohen by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York.
Cohen on Tuesday pleaded guilty to five counts of tax evasion, one count of making a false statement to a financial institution, and two counts related to campaign-finance violations. Cohen said under oath that Trump directed him to violate campaign-finance laws just before the 2016 presidential election in order to boost his candidacy.
The latter two charges were in connection to payments to the former Playboy model Karen McDougal and the porn actress Stormy Daniels to silence their allegations of affairs with Trump.
In the information made public by federal prosecutors, they laid out how executives at Trump’s business helped reimburse Cohen for the “election-related expenses.” According to the court filings, Cohen submitted an invoice in January 2017 requesting $US180,000 – which included $US130,000 for the payment he facilitated to Daniels and $US50,000 for “tech services.”
The Trump Organisation officials listed in the filings allegedly inflated that total to $US420,000, which would be paid to Cohen in installments of $US35,000, a monthly retainer fee throughout 2017.
The company accounted for those monthly payments as legal expenses, according to the court filing.
“In truth and in fact, there was no such retainer agreement, and the monthly invoices Cohen submitted were not in connection with any legal services he had provided in 2017,” prosecutors wrote.
Though the two executives in the document were not named, many were quick to point to Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organisation’s chief financial officer, as likely to be one of the two.
Last month, Weisselberg found himself dragged into the Cohen saga after his attorney, Lanny Davis, released an audio recording Cohen made of a conversation with Trump in September 2016. In the recording, which Cohen apparently made without Trump’s knowledge, the two men discuss buying the rights to McDougal’s story.
Cohen mentioned Weisselberg at a couple of key points during the recording, which was seized by the FBI in its April raids of Cohen’s home, office, and hotel room as part of the investigation.
Soon after, it was reported that Weisselberg was summoned to testify before a grand jury in the Cohen investigation.
Experts said the section highlighting the actions of the two Trump Organisation executives could pose legal problems for the company. The section of the information suggested that prosecutors could soon target Trump Organisation executives if they continue to press forward in the Cohen investigation.
Mitchell Epner, an attorney at Rottenberg Lipman Rich who was previously an assistant US attorney for the District of New Jersey, told Business Insider in an email that the language used by prosecutors in the filing “raises the possibility in my mind of a potential prosecution for money laundering.”
Roland Riopelle, a partner at Sercarz & Riopelle who was formerly a federal prosecutor with the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York, pointed to Weisselberg being summoned to testify testimony to the grand jury and told Business Insider the executive “may already have immunity and may already have told the SDNY what they know.”
“If that is so, it explains why the SDNY does not need Cohen to testify as to campaign finance issues,” Riopelle added. “That testimony has already been obtained. If the employees do not have immunity, it is possible they, too could be charged with crimes, if the government can show they knew they were violating the law and covering up the illicit payments.”
A representative for the Trump Organisation did not respond to a request for comment from Business Insider. Alan Futerfas, an attorney for the company, also did not return a request for comment.
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