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Trump Organization executive granted immunity in federal probe of Cohen

August 24, 2018 02:12 pm Updated: August 24, 2018 02:12 pm

Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer for the Trump Organization, was one of the executives who helped arrange $420,000 in payments to President Donald Trump's longtime attorney Michael Cohen to help reimburse him for hush money he paid an adult-film star.

Weisselberg, who got his start working for the president's father, was granted immunity by federal investigators in New York in exchange for his truthful testimony about his role in the payments, according to people familiar with the discussions.

Weisselberg is the person identified in court filings as "Executive-1," who prosecutors said helped authorize $420,000 in payments to Cohen, one person said. He testified last month before a grand jury investigating Cohen.

In addition to being the longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, Weisselberg is also one of two trustees of the trust that controls the president's assets.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Weisselberg's immunity deal.

On Tuesday, Cohen pleaded guilty to eight felonies, including two counts related to hush money to women who alleged affairs with Trump. He admitted he violated campaign finance law by helping provide Trump's campaign excessive and illegal contributions.

According to court filings, Cohen in early 2017 submitted an invoice to Weisselberg seeking to be repaid for legal expenses and payments he said he made on Trump's behalf.

Among the expenses for which he was seeking reimbursement: $130,000 that he paid to adult-film star Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual encounter with Trump.

Weisselberg, working with another Trump Organization executive, helped arrange payments to Cohen that totaled $420,000.

A person familiar with the Trump Organization said Cohen explained the $130,000 expense as a settlement "of a personal nature."

Weisselberg did not know what $130,000 was for, according to one person familiar with the situation, and approved it because of Cohen's long-standing role as counsel to Donald Trump.

In February 2017, Cohen sent "Executive-1" an invoice seeking two monthly payments of $35,000 "pursuant to [a] retainer agreement," according to court documents.

Weisselberg forwarded Cohen's invoice to another unidentified Trump Organization executive, "and it was approved," prosecutors wrote.

Weisselberg then forwarded that email to another employee, writing: "Please pay from the Trust. Post to legal expenses. Put 'retainer for the months of January and February 2017' in the description," according to court filings.

In fact, prosecutors said, Cohen had no retainer agreement with the Trump Organization at the time, and the invoices were not in connection with any legal services he provided in 2017.

Weisselberg has worked as chief financial officer for Donald Trump's companies since 2000. He got his start in the family business by working as an accountant for Trump's father and real estate magnate Fred Trump in the 1970s. He also served as treasurer of the Donald J. Trump Foundation and has long handled the Trump family personal expenses.

A person close to the Trump family who requested anonymity to describe private discussions said Weisslberg is viewed with the highest respect by family, calling him "truly a class act."

The low-profile executive was thrust into the headlines last month, when Cohen attorney Lanny Davis released a secret recording Cohen made of a September 2016 conversation with then-candidate Trump.

In the recording, Cohen can be heard discussing the need for Trump to purchase the rights to Playboy centerfold Karen McDougal's story of an affair with Trump. In their conversation, Cohen told Trump that he had discussed buying the rights to McDougal's story with Weisselberg.

After the disclosure of the recording, Alan Futerfas, an attorney for the Trump Organization, disputed the idea that Weisselberg had signed off on Cohen's plan.

"Mr. Weisselberg is a bookkeeper who simply carries out directions from others about monetary payments and transfers," he said.

But federal prosecutors in New York quickly subpoenaed Weisselberg to appear before a grand jury.

It is not uncommon for prosecutors to offer immunity to a person who may have wittingly or unwittingly facilitated a crime if investigators decide that person is more of a witness than a perpetrator, or if prosecutors decide they cannot get necessary testimony without offering some degree of immunity.

For example, when Trump's former campaign chairman Paul Manafort went on trial earlier this month in Alexandria, Virginia, prosecutors granted immunity to several people who worked on his taxes and finances. One of those witnesses testified she suspected Manafort was submitting false information to the IRS to lower his tax burden, but went along with it.

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The Washington Post's David A. Fahrenthold and Jonathan O'Connell contributed to this report.