[UPDATE: Today it is reported that Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump organization, has also been given immunity by the Mueller investigation in return for testimony.
Mr Weisselberg reportedly oversaw the reimbursements Mr Cohen received from the Trump Organization for paying adult film star Stormy Daniels. Depending on how the financial transfer was accounted for, it could run afoul of a number of campaign finance and accounting laws.
What’s more, Mr Weisselberg has been at the beating heart of the Trump Organization since the 1970s. He handles the president’s private trust, is the treasurer of the family’s charitable foundation – currently under investigation by the state of New York – and has, at times, reviewed the Trump presidential campaign’s accounting books.
He’s the man who knows things – and now he’s talking.
Is there going to be anyone close to Trump who is not convicted of a crime or given plea deals and immunity in return for testimony?]
Many people have been involved in the Byzantine world of corruption and sleaze that surrounds this administration like a thick fog. Donald Trump is finding out that he has very few true and loyal friends. This should not surprise him since he himself seems to have no sense of loyalty to anyone but realizing that requires a sense of self-awareness that he clearly does not possess. We are now seeing the classic situation of thieves falling out, when they turn on each other to save their own skins. The latest people to do this are of course Omarosa Manigault Newman and Michael Cohen.
Even with those still around, there is friction. His own White House counsel Don McGahn has been talking extensively with Mueller for 30 hours though we do not know about what or what he said, and Trump is said to have been unaware of the extensive time these discussions took. But the strangest of relationships is between Trump and his attorney general Jeff Sessions. Sessions was one of the earliest people to sign on to the Trump wagon and was rewarded with the plum job. He is aggressively pursuing every policy that Trump wants but one single act, that he recused himself from the Mueller investigation, seems to rankle Trump greatly. Trump keeps sniping at Sessions about this and on occasion, like yesterday, Sessions snipes back. Trump clearly wants Sessions to fire Mueller and that is not happening. Of course Trump could fire Sessions and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein and appoint new people who would do the firing. That will strongly resemble Richard Nixon’s infamous ‘Saturday Night Massacre’ in order to fire Archibald Cox. But we have seen that for all his bluster about firing people, Trump is too cowardly to do so himself. He always calls upon other people to inform that person when he is not present and even on occasion feigns ignorance.
The latest people to turn on Trump and decide to cooperate with the Mueller investigation is David Pecker and Dylan Howard, publisher and chief content officer respectively of the National Enquirer. Pecker had been considered one of the closest friends and allies of Trump, who had practiced the infamous ‘catch and kill’ policy on his behalf, where he would purchase from Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal the rights to their stories about their relationships with Trump and then not publish them, thus preventing damaging information coming out during the campaign.
The defection of Pecker was a big surprise within the Trump inner circle, according to Gabriel Sherman.
Pecker’s apparent decision to corroborate Cohen’s account, and implicate Trump in a federal crime, is another vivid example of how isolated Trump is becoming as the walls close in and his former friends look for ways out. “Holy shit, I thought Pecker would be the last one to turn,” a Trump friend told me when I brought up the news. Trump and Pecker have been close for years. According to the Trump friend, Pecker regularly flew on Trump’s plane from New York to Florida. In July 2013, Trump tweeted that Pecker should become C.E.O. of Time magazine. “He’d make it exciting and win awards!”
During the 2016 campaign, Pecker provided invaluable media support to Trump by regularly attacking his Republican rivals and Hillary Clinton. At times, it seemed like the Enquirer operated as a de-facto arm of the campaign. In October 2015, I reported that Trump aides were a source for an Enquirer article exposing Ben Carson’s malpractice lawsuits (“Bungling Surgeon Ben Carson Left Sponge in Patient’s Brain!”). Pecker denied it at the time. In June, The Washington Post reported that the Enquirer routinely sent stories to Trump to review prior to publication. (The Enquirer denied that as well.) During the transition, rumors circulated that Trump was considering Pecker for a prime ambassadorship. Last summer, Pecker reportedly brought an adviser to Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman to meet Trump in the Oval Office to help him expand A.M.I.’s business.
As far as I could tell, the favors that Pecker did for Trump were not illegal so the question is why he decided to cooperate with Mueller. He has been granted immunity for his testimony which must mean that it is valuable to Mueller. But Pecker would only do so if Mueller could also threaten him with charges that promised serious jail time. So why would Pecker cross over? Josh Marshall says that he was not surprised by the defection because of a little noticed item in the Cohen guilty plea.
If you read the Cohen Information, which is essentially the charging document, it makes clear that the Trump/Enquirer arrangement wasn’t just a friend keeping an eye out for his friend – the way the relationship and modus operandi had been portrayed in the media. It was a very specific arrangement: The Enquirer would troll for Trump-damaging stories, which there were obviously going to be a lot of, buy them and then sell them to Trump. The last part is key; and we didn’t know that until Tuesday. This wasn’t just being a pal. It was a specific, standing financial arrangement. The Enquirer would essentially act as a cut-out, buying stories on Trump’s behalf without the seller of the story knowing what was happening.
It was a great convenience. It’s obviously inherently difficult to Trump to purchase stories about his affairs from former mistresses or sex partners. Obviously he did that too. But in many cases it was going to be easier for the Enquirer to trick the sellers by making them think they were selling their story to a publisher rather than Trump.
It’s one thing to do something like this as an individual. But the Enquirer was doing this as a company, with multiple employees involved. Given the various ancillary crimes involved and the potential for other crimes that remain uncharged, that’s a big problem and a real threat to the company.
It now appears that this Enquirer ‘catch and kill’ policy was not just for Trump but extended to cover other celebrities as well. It was part of their business model.
The National Enquirer kept a safe containing documents on hush money payments and other damaging stories it killed as part of its cozy relationship with Donald Trump leading up to the 2016 presidential election, people familiar with the arrangement told The Associated Press.
The Trump records were stored alongside similar documents pertaining to other celebrities’ catch-and-kill deals, in which exclusive rights to people’s stories were bought with no intention of publishing to keep them out of the news. By keeping celebrities’ embarrassing secrets, the company was able to ingratiate itself with them and ask for favors in return.
This looks less like an attempt at ingratiation and more like blackmail: “That’s a nice little career you got there. Too bad if something should happen to it because of these damaging stories that we have.”
Given all these defections, it is not surprising that Trump has railed against the practice of prosecutors ‘flipping’ witnesses, making deals with them in exchange for testimony against third parties who are the real targets of the investigation, though this is common practice.
Pecker’s defection has got to sting. When thieves fall out, truth has a greater chance of emerging.