Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg surrenders to authorities in New York

By Greg Farrell and Patricia Hurtado | Bloomberg

The Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer has surrendered to authorities in New York, facing tax-related charges in the most direct attack on Donald Trump and his business to emerge from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s years-long criminal probe.

Allen Weisselberg, 73, went through a freight entrance to avoid cameras awaiting his arrival in lower Manhattan Thursday, one day after a grand jury indicted him and the company in an extraordinary challenge to the former president.

The exact charges he’s facing will be unsealed later in the day, but are expected to involve unpaid taxes on benefits extended to Weisselberg, according to a person familiar with the issue who asked not to be identified discussing confidential matters. Trump isn’t expected to be named in the charges, but they ratchet up the pressure on Weisselberg to cooperate against his boss.

Weisselberg’s cooperation could lead to a more expansive case against the company and raise the prospect of a historic and politically charged prosecution of a former president. With a trial unlikely before next year, Weisselberg will have months to decide whether to fight the charges or plead guilty and possibly strike a deal with prosecutors. A Trump executive for four decades, Weisselberg has unique insight into the former president’s finances and business deals.

Trump has slammed the probe by Vance, a Democrat, as politically motivated. “They will do anything to stop the MAGA movement (and me),” he said in a June 28 statement, referring to his campaign slogan to “Make America Great Again.” Former Trump senior adviser Jason Miller tweeted on Wednesday that a case against Weisselberg would be a “political disaster” for Democrats because it didn’t include Trump.

Trump Organization lawyer Ronald Fischetti said last week that the district attorney’s case appeared thin.

“In my more than 50 years of practice, never before have I seen the district attorney’s office target a company over employee compensation or fringe benefits,” he said in a June 25 interview. “The IRS would not, and has not, brought a case like this.”

But a number of legal experts said the charges against his CFO raised the potential legal jeopardy for Trump.

“The question is not whether this is the strongest case they can make against the Trump Organization, but whether this is the strongest case they can make against Weisselberg,” said Jeremy Temkin, a former prosecutor. “The pressure on a potential cooperating witness changes significantly when they are in the caption of an indictment. This is all about putting pressure on Weisselberg and getting him to cooperate.”

Prosecutor Focus

Vance’s investigation initially focused on the Trump Organization’s reimbursement, through Weisselberg’s office, of hush-money payments made by Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer. In the run-up to the 2016 election, Cohen paid two women claiming to have had affairs with Trump.

The district attorney’s investigation has since grown into a review of the company’s dealings with a variety of outside business entities, including Deutsche Bank AG and Ladder Capital, where one of Weisselberg’s sons works. New York Attorney General Letitia James earlier this year joined the criminal probe, while also maintaining a separate civil investigation of the company’s business practices, particularly its valuation of properties.

Prosecutors have also examined an array of perks that the Trump Organization bestowed on favored employees, including Barry Weisselberg, Allen’s son, who managed Trump-run New York City properties like Wollman Rink before those concessions were revoked by Mayor Bill DeBlasio this year. He was provided a rent-free apartment in a Trump building starting in 2005, Bloomberg reported.

The Trump Organization also paid the private-school tuitions for Allen Weisselberg’s grandchildren. Such perks are usually taxable as income, and failure to report them could be a crime.

To convict the Trump Organization or Weisselberg of tax fraud, prosecutors must show they had an intent to defraud, and must prove the value of those benefits and the taxes underpaid.

“Payroll taxes are due on income,” said Susan Hoffinger, a criminal tax attorney and former prosecutor in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. “If those fringe benefits are considered income, they owe payroll taxes on that.”

More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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‘I’m all for it’: Governor Newsom, state Assembly support removing Trump

By KATHLEEN RONAYNE | The Associated Press

SACRAMENTO  — California Gov. Gavin Newsom added his support Monday for removing President Donald Trump from office through impeachment or the 25th Amendment.

“I’m all for it,” the Democratic governor said in response to a question about his stance on both options, before quickly changing the subject.

“That’s not my focus right now. My focus, candidly, is on you and your family, as it relates to issues associated with getting us through this very challenging wave in this pandemic,” he said, referencing the effort to vaccinate California’s nearly 40 million residents against the coronavirus.

Newsom’s approval of removing Trump put him in line with U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California. The House will begin debate Wednesday on an impeachment resolution charging Trump with “incitement of insurrection.”

While California has been at odds with the Trump administration since the Republican took office in 2017, Newsom has carefully chosen his words during the pandemic to avoid Trump’s ire, often praising his administration for providing resources. He originally declined to answer a question about removing Trump when asked last week.

Meanwhile, the California Assembly passed a resolution calling for Trump’s resignation or removal. Assemblyman Chad Mayes, a former Republican leader who left the party in 2019 to become an independent, introduced the resolution.

“This American carnage lays at the feet of only one person,” he said. Mayes said reconciliation and healing must come after “accountability and repentance.”

The Democratic-led chamber approved the measure by a vote of 51-6. All six people voting against it were Republicans. But the majority of Republicans, including Republican Leader Marie Waldron, did not vote.

Assemblyman Devon Mathis, a Republican who voted against the measure, said “the 25th Amendment timeline simply is not there.” He criticized his colleagues for focusing on Trump and said their attention should be on the pandemic and other state issues.

“The first thing we do on the floor in California is throw a political punch at a lame duck. I think that’s lame,” he said.

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Second Trump-Biden debate to be virtual due to Trump’s COVID-19

By ZEKE MILLER | Associated Press

WASHINGTON — The second presidential debate between President Donald Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden will take place virtually amid the fallout from the president’s diagnosis of COVID-19.

The nonpartisan Commission on Presidential Debates debates made the announcement Thursday morning, a week before the two were scheduled to face off in Miami, “in order to protect the health and safety of all involved with the second presidential debate.”

The candidates will “participate from separate remote locations,” while the participants and moderator remain in Miami, the commission said.

Trump was diagnosed with the coronavirus a week ago and but in a Tuesday tweet said he looked forward to debating Biden on stage in Miami, “It will be great!” he tweeted.

Biden, for his part, said he and Trump “shouldn’t have a debate” as long as the president remains COVID positive.

Biden told reporters in Pennsylvania that he was “looking forward to being able to debate him” but said “we’re going to have to follow very strict guidelines.”

Trump fell ill with the virus last Thursday, just 48 hours after debating Biden in person for the first time in Cleveland. While the two candidates remained a dozen feet apart during the debate, Trump’s infection sparked health concerns for Biden and sent him to undergo multiple COVID-19 tests before returning to the campaign trail.

Trump was still contagious with the virus when he was discharged from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on Monday but his doctors have not provided any detailed update on his status. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, those with mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 can be contagious for as many as — and should isolate for at least — 10 days.

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George Floyd protest held as President Trump is celebrated in separate O.C. events

About 100 protesters gathered in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign in Huntington Beach on Sunday, June 14 — also the day dozens of bicyclists rode from that city to Newport Beach to celebrate President Donald Trump’s birthday.

Both events were peaceful, and neither resulted in any reports of altercations or arrests, Newport Beach police officials said. The two groups did not gather at the same time.

  • Laurence Geronilla, 19, of Panorama City, takes part in a protest against racism and police violence at Huntington Beach Pier Sunday, June 14 (Eric Licas, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Demonstrtors gather in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign at Huntington Beach Pier Sunday, June 14. (Eric Licas, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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  • Michelle Hattersley, 18, of Huntington Beach, collects hand written letters addressed to Huntington Beach City Hall from demonstrators gathered in support of the Black Lives Matter campaign at Huntington Beach Pier Sunday, June 14. She said she believes counterprotesters opposed to the BLM movement present at earlier events “fly in the face” of the core values of her hometown. (Eric Licas, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • A Huntington Beach Police sergeant asks a man to walk with him and talk after he shouted “all lives matter” at a group of about 100 protesters gathered in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter campaign at Huntington Beach Pier Sunday, June 14. (Eric Licas, Orange County Register/SCNG)

  • Timothy Harvey, 31, of Aliso Viejo, joins a group of roughly 100 people demonstrating against racism and police violence at Huntington Beach Pier Sunday, June 14. (Eric Licas, Orange County Register/SCNG)

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Demonstrators outraged by incidents of excessive force by police and the in-custody deaths of unarmed black people nationwide started gathering at  Huntington Beach Pier at about 2 p.m. What began as a small crowd swelled to include about 100 people by 4 p.m.

The event was dwarfed by a protest held in Los Angeles County that had attracted thousands of people. It was also smaller than similar demonstrations held at Huntington Beach Pier over the past few weeks. However, some traveled more than an hour to take part in the protest.

“I feel like there’s enough people in LA now,” Panorama City resident Laurence Geronilla, 19, said. “My presence might make more of a difference here.”

Chris Pyon, 29, of Anaheim, holds a sign wishing a happy birthday to Bryce James, son of LeBron James. “I think we all know it’s someone else’s birthday too. But I think the James family has done more to uplift people than the current administration.” @ocregister pic.twitter.com/59nVFWVSK4

— Eric Anthony Licas (@EricLicas) June 14, 2020

Earlier gatherings at the pier had been accompanied by pro-law enforcement counter protests. However, those expressing support for the Black Lives Matter campaign did not encounter significant opposition on Sunday.

“There is nothing to counter-protest. There is nothing for them to be out here for,” Aliso Viejo resident Timothy Harvey, 31, said. “Because what we are protesting, is there are still people in this world that believe black lives don’t matter at all, and that’s not OK.”

Earlier, several dozen riders celebrating Flag Day and the president’s birthday assembled at Huntington Beach Pier at about 11:30 a.m., Newport Beach Lt. Eric Little said. American flags and banners bearing the words “Trump  2020” were hoisted onto poles attached to bicycles, and fluttered behind participants as they rode to Balboa Pier. Photos taken along the way at Newport Pier showed at least 40 people who had been a part of the gathering.

Happy Birthday President Trump from Trump birthday bike riders 🇺🇸🇺🇸🙏🙏@realDonaldTrump @Geoclewis @CaliConserv1 @kimberleyUSA11 pic.twitter.com/l962Cp4EHA

— formal protest guy (@ProtestGuy) June 14, 2020

A peace and unity rally in Laguna Beach also took place Sunday. About 25 people joined the gathering, which was described as “completely peaceful,” by Laguna Beach Police Sgt. Jim Cota.

 

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Many GOP House candidates wary of embracing Trump

If you want to know what Republican congressional candidates think about President Donald Trump, you might be out of luck.

Mid-term House elections are often considered a referendum on a first-term president, a dynamic that’s especially true this year. But political veterans say it’s a no-win situation for GOP hopefuls in Southern California to stake out a clear position in support of or opposition to Trump — and many candidates seem to be taking that sentiment to heart.

Of the 11 GOP candidates running for the seats being vacated by retiring Reps. Ed Royce, R-Yorba Linda, and Darrell Issa, R-Vista, only four agreed to rank Trump’s performance on a scale of 1-5. Four others did not respond to any of six Trump-related questions about Trump emailed several times by the Southern California Newspaper Group.

“They aren’t going to come out and denounce him because they don’t want to alienate his supporters. And they don’t want to wholly embrace him because they want to win in November,” said Claremont McKenna University political scientist Jack Pitney, a former GOP congressional aide. “Trump is toxic in the suburbs and he’s probably less popular now than two years ago.”

Royce and Issa won reelection in 2016 and Republicans have the edge in voter registration in those districts. But Trump lost to Hillary Clinton by more than 7-percentage points in both places. While Trump outperformed expectations in some blue-collar areas that often vote Democratic, Pitney and political consultant Mike Madrid both noted that the districts of Royce and Issa feature more college-educated, white-collar voters.

“These are quality-of-life Republicans who have concerns with environmental issues; women’s issues,” said Madrid, who works mostly with Republican candidates. “Additionally, Trump is not a traditional Republican. If you buy into him today, you have no idea what position he’s going to take tomorrow.

“It’s a precarious position for Republican candidates to put themselves in.”

The best-known and most-accomplished GOP candidates in the Royce and Issa districts all declined an invitation to rank Trump’s performance to date. Former state Senate GOP Leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar, Assemblyman Rocky Chavez, R-Oceanside, and San Diego County Supervisor Kristin Gaspar did not respond inquiries. Orange County Supervisor Shawn Nelson of Fullerton, former Assemblywoman Young Kim of Fullerton and Board of Equalization Member Diane Harkey of Dana Point answered other questions about Trump, but declined to give him a score.

Political consultant Dave Gilliard is working with Kim and Harkey.

“Neither felt comfortable giving a score like that so early in his term,” Gilliard said. Kim, Harkey and Nelson all praised regulatory reforms of the president, with Kim and Nelson also applauding the tax-reform package. When prompted, all three also expressed reservations with some aspects of the presidency.

The four candidates who did offer a score were all strongly supportive of the president.

Two of those running for Royce’s seat, Brea Councilman Steven Vargas and accountant John Cullum, were the only respondents who said they supported Trump from the outset of the 2016 presidential campaigns. Cullum gave Trump the highest score of “5” and Vargas offered a “4,” saying, “There is always room for improvement.”

La Mirada Councilman Andrew Sarega, who initially supported Ted Cruz, and San Juan Capistrano Councilman Brian Maryott, who initially backed Marco Rubio, also gave Trump a “4.” Joshua Schoonover, an attorney who’s never held elected office and is running for Issa’s seat, declined to participate.

House control

Democrats are targeting all four Orange County seats held by Republican Congress members, making the region ground-zero for the effort to flip the 24 GOP seats necessary to take control of the House.

The non-partisan Cook Political Report has handicapped the Royce and Issa districts as “leaning Democrat” in this year’s races. Royce’s district reaches from Orange County into Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties’ while Issa’s straddles the Orange-San Diego county line.

The reelection bid of Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa, is rated a “toss up” by Cook and that of Rep. Mimi Walters, R-Laguna Beach, is “leaning Republican.”

With more than three dozen Democrats mounting bids in the four races, an early approach to sizing up the field was to look at who each supported in the 2016 presidential primary. Ten of the 11 Democrats in the Royce and Issa districts agreed to answer the query by the Southern California News Group. They were evenly divided between Clinton and Bernie Sanders.

But the 2016 primary has largely been left behind in voters’ minds, while Democratic candidates continue to focus attacks on Trump.

In the Royce and Issa districts, Democrats had been tying the incumbents to the president by pointing to votes in support of Trump measures — until those incumbents’ January announcements that they would not seek reelection. Faced with no incumbents in those races, and a subsequent surge of new GOP candidates, the Democratic challengers have continued to attack the president directly but have also increasingly sought to define their own candidacies.

According to Madrid, the large primary field of Republicans will come down to the same sort of candidate identity, not the degree to which they support Trump.

“If there were only two Republicans in a race, with one tied closely to Trump, it could make a difference,” said Madrid. “But in a large field, it’s not going to make any difference what they think. It’s going to come down to their experience in the district, where they stand on local issues and their personal connections. I would recommend candidates campaign on local issues.”

Republican Nelson, hoping win Royce’s post, seems to be embracing that approach.

“It’s intellectually lazy to label a person simply by whether you equate them to another person,” said the second-term county supervisor. “Every one of these races and every one of these districts is unique. I can only be me.

“How about you give me the issue and I’ll tell you where I stand?”

Trump vs. Pelosi

November’s general election presents a broad range of scenarios depending on what happens in June. The top-two style of open primary means voters can cast a ballot for any candidate, regardless of party affiliation, and that the two top finishers advance to November even if they’re from the same party.

Both parties have large primary fields right now — at least six Republican and seven Democrats are running for Royce’s seat, with five from each party vying for Issa’s post. The filing deadline is March 9, meaning two weeks remain for the candidate field to shrink or grow.

If both sides have similar-sized fields, it increases the likelihood of a Republican and Democrat advancing. If one party has just two strong candidates and the other has a large field with support spread somewhat equally, it increases the possibility of a general election with two candidates from the same party.

Currently, the most likely scenario for November is a Republican and a Democrat in both races. GOP consultant Madrid doesn’t see Republicans or GOP-leaning independents voting against the Republican candidate, regardless of their support for Trump. By backing a Democrat, they’d be voting to help Democrats and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi take control of the House — and possibly launch impeachment proceedings.

“If this is a referendum on Donald Trump, it’s a referendum on whether your prefer Donald Trump to Nancy Pelosi,” Madrid said.

Madrid himself left the presidential ballot blank in 2016 and is supporting Democrat Antonio Villaraigosa for governor. “As a Latino, I can’t support anybody who supports Donald Trump,” he said of his aversion to the GOP governor candidates. But he doesn’t see many other Republicans taking that posture.

A key factor come November will be which party sends the most voters to the polls.

With the current fields for statewide offices, Democrats could wind up with two candidates on the state’s general election ballot for both governor and U.S. Senate, similar to 2016 when two Democrats faced off for U.S. Senate. That would dilute Republican motivation to vote while Democrats could be particularly motivated by those races and a broad dislike of Trump, Pitney said.

“It’s very likely Republican turnout will crater in November,” he said. “Democrats have reason to be optimistic.”

 

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Federal judge issues injunction blocking ban on transgender troops

LOS ANGELES >> A federal judge in Los Angeles today issued the fourth nationwide preliminary injunction halting President Donald Trump’s attempt to ban transgender individuals from openly serving in the military while it is challenged in the courts.

Federal District Judge Jesus G. Bernal ruled the ban was discriminatory and unlawful.

The suit was filed by seven transgender individuals either serving in the armed forces or intending to enlist and the lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender and questioning civil rights organization Equality California.

California is a co-plaintiff in the case filed in the Central District of California.

Federal courts in Maryland, Washington and the District of Columbia previously issued injunctions against the ban.

“Discriminating against capable soldiers because of their gender identity does not represent the values of our great nation,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said. “We are pleased that today’s ruling proves that discrimination against transgender Americans will not be tolerated.

“The president’s disgraceful ban on transgender people serving in the military not only compromises our national security, but it marginalizes transgender Americans who are willing to sacrifice everything to keep us safe. We are proud to be part of the fight to protect the rights of this honorable group of brave people defending our country.”

In a series of tweets July 26, Trump wrote that “After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail.”

Trump issued a memorandum in August, extending the policy prohibiting transgender individuals from serving openly in the military beyond Jan. 1.

Rick Zbur, Equality California’s executive director, said in September the costs to the government of transition-related care would be negligible.

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