Trump Organization finance chief 'gets immunity' in Cohen probe

Allen Weisselberg got immunity to speak to prosecutors in probe of hush money to women linked to Trump, US media report.

    Trump has denied having knowledge of the payments to the women at the time they were made [AFP]
    Trump has denied having knowledge of the payments to the women at the time they were made [AFP]

    Donald Trump's longtime financial gatekeeper has been granted immunity in a federal probe involving the US president's former lawyer, Michael Cohen, according to media reports in the United States.

    The Wall Street Journal and NBC News cited anonymous sources on Friday claiming that Allen Weisselberg, Trump Organization finance chief, received immunity to speak to prosecutors in the investigation of hush money Cohen paid to two women, who claimed to have affairs with Trump.

    Cohen had pleaded guilty to tax and campaign finance violations on Tuesday. 

    He said Trump directed him to arrange the payments. Such payments could be considered illegal campaign contributions under federal election law, according to experts.

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    Though not named in the Cohen case, Weisselberg is believed to be one of two Trump executives mentioned in the suit who reimbursed Cohen and then covered up the payments by saying they were legal expenses.

    Weisselberg has been a Trump confidant who started working for his family in the early 1970s.

    It is not clear whether Weisselberg told government prosecutors that the president was aware of the payments.

    Trump himself denied having knowledge of the payments at the time they were made.

    In an interview with Al Jazeera, Bruce Fein, a former top US prosecutor, described the reports as significant amid questions over the culpability of Trump's business in the payoff scheme, which Cohen had pleaded guilty to.

    "First of all, it is an absolute crime for a corporation to make any contribution to a political campaign," he said. "They can't spend one cent providing that assistance directly to a candidate."

    It appears that "substantial sums were paid for the Trump corporation to pay off [the two women], or to reimburse Mr Cohen", Fein said.

    "So, that being a campaign contribution, and that is what basically Mr Cohen has already pleaded guilty to, the corporation is equally guilty, including those who operate the corporation," he added.

    Fein said that with Weisselberg being granted immunity, it is possible that the president himself could be incriminated "in an income tax crime".

    The federal immunity for Weisselberg, also comes on the heels of several media reports on Thursday that David Pecker, the CEO of National Enquirer publisher American Media Inc, had also been granted immunity in the Cohen probe, as well as the company's chief content officer, Dylan Howard.

    The AP reported Thursday that the tabloid kept a safe containing documents about hush-money payments and damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Trump leading up to 2016 presidential election.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies


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