By Karen Freifeld
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Federal prosecutors have granted immunity to the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer in an investigation involving U.S. President Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.
The CFO, Allen Weisselberg, was called to testify before a federal grand jury earlier this year, the newspaper reported.
A cooperation deal between Weisselberg and prosecutors could be damaging to the president given the executive’s longtime role in Trump’s business affairs. Weisselberg has worked for the Trump family for more than four decades, including as treasurer for the Donald J. Trump Foundation.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Manhattan, which has been leading the Cohen probe, declined to comment, as did the White House. The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Alan Futerfas, an outside lawyer for the organization, also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Cohen – who arranged hush-money payments shortly before the November 2016 U.S. presidential election to at least two women who said they had had sex with Trump – on Tuesday pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations and other charges. He said in court that Trump directed him to arrange the payments.
Such payments could be considered illegal campaign contributions under federal election law, according to experts.
Two executives at American Media Inc, which publishes the National Enquirer, a supermarket tabloid reportedly involved in making the payments, have also been granted immunity in the investigation, Vanity Fair magazine reported. The executives are company Chief Executive David Pecker, a longtime Trump friend, and Dylan Howard.
Cohen mentioned Weisselberg on a secret recording that Cohen made in September 2016 and which was aired on CNN last month. On the recording, Cohen and Trump appeared to discuss reimbursing American Media for a payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who has said she had a yearlong affair with Trump. Trump has denied there was an affair.
On the recording, Cohen is heard saying, “I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up.”
McDougal sold her story to American Media for $150,000 in August 2016 but it was never published by the National Enquirer, a practice known as “catch and kill” aimed at suppressing potentially damaging stories.
Trump has also denied having sex with adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
Rudy Giuliani, a lawyer for the president, has said the payment to McDougal and a $130,000 payment to Daniels were a personal matter and were not subject to campaign finance law.
The Trump Organization is the umbrella group for dozens of Trump businesses, including real estate development, management of hotels and golf courses, and production of the reality television shows “The Apprentice” and “Celebrity Apprentice.”
Under a reorganization plan announced before Trump’s January 2017 inauguration, the business was placed into a trust now controlled by Weisselberg and the president’s two adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump.
The Cohen investigation was referred to federal prosecutors in New York by U.S. Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is looking into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible coordination between Trump’s Republican campaign and Russian officials.
Trump has repeatedly denied there was coordination between Moscow and his campaign, and has labelled the Mueller probe a “witch hunt.” Moscow has denied it meddled in the election. U.S. intelligence agencies concluded that Russia did interfere.
(Reporting by Brendan Pierson, Jonathan Stempel and Makini Brice; Writing by Anthony Lin; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)