Trump Org. employees could now face questions from Congress
As Michael Cohen shed new light on the inner workings of President Donald Trump’s family business Wednesday, he rattled off a list of Trump Organization officials who are now likely to face congressional scrutiny of their own.
Under questioning by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, Trump’s former personal attorney and fixer pointed to three little-known Trump Organization officials who could have knowledge of potential crimes.
Cohen replied “yes” when Ocasio-Cortez asked him if he had knowledge of Trump providing “inflated assets to an insurance company.” Asked who else knows Trump did this, Cohen said: “Allen Weisselberg, Ron Lieberman and Matthew Calamari.”
On Thursday, House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings told CNN that he, and perhaps other committees, would be inclined to follow up with the officials Cohen had named.
“All you have to do is follow the transcript. There were names that were mentioned, or records that were mentioned during the hearing,” the Maryland Democrat said. “They have a good chance of hearing from us.”
A lawyer for the Trump Organization declined to comment.
Weisselberg: The man who ‘knows every deal’
At least one of those officials, Weisselberg, has already been swept up in an investigation led by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York. Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, was granted immunity by federal prosecutors for providing information on Cohen’s role in hush money payments to women alleging affairs with Trump. The President has denied the affairs.
Cohen has since pleaded guilty to eight counts of tax fraud, false statements to a bank and campaign finance violations. Separately, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe, Cohen also pleaded guilty to making false statements to Congress.
But Weisselberg’s limited cooperation and immunity deal may not spare him from additional inquiries from Congress or prosecutors looking into other matters involving the Trump Organization.
A fixture in the Trump family enterprise, Weisselberg began as an accountant under patriarch Fred Trump and quietly rose to become chief financial officer and close confidant of the Trumps. He is one of only two people named as trustees of the Trump Organization, and the only non-family member. He also served as treasurer for Trump’s charity and has even helped prepare Trump’s personal tax returns.
Trump has publicly lavished praise on Weisselberg. “He’s been with me for thirty years and keeps a handle on everything, which is not an easy job. He runs things beautifully,” Trump wrote in his 2004 book, “How to Get Rich.”
In his testimony Wednesday, Cohen said Weisselberg played a key role in helping to determine how Cohen would be reimbursed for the $130,000 that Cohen shelled out as a hush money payment to adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, known professionally as Stormy Daniels.
“I obviously wanted the money in one shot. I would have preferred it that way but in order to be able to put it onto the books, Allen Weisselberg made the decision that it should be paid over the 12 months so that it would look like a retainer,” Cohen said.
He said Weisselberg was also aware of Trump’s alleged efforts to inflate his assets and revenues for insurance purposes and to undervalue his assets in order to avoid paying taxes.
Cohen also claimed Weisselberg would have been read in on any other agreements Trump had with David Pecker, the head of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, to “catch and kill” unflattering stories.
One former Trump Organization employee previously told CNN that Weisselberg “knows where all the financial bodies are buried,” although the source was not making any specific allegations about the Trump Organization’s finances.
“Allen knows every deal, he knows every dealership, he knows every sale, anything and everything that’s been done,” the person said.
Weisselberg has been described to CNN as the number two man in command of the Trump Organization, someone who oversees every dollar that has gone in and out of the company.
While he holds a lofty position within the Trump Organization and maintains close ties to the Trumps, Weisselberg prefers a low profile — a stark contrast to his boss.
His former colleagues told the Wall Street Journal in 2016 that he is quiet, prefers to eat salads and tuna sandwiches in the lunchroom, and has been married to the same woman for 46 years. “He fits in with the wallpaper,” one person told the Journal.
Despite his low profile, Weisselberg is not afraid to take his cues from the boss and play hardball.
In one instance described by The New York Times, a law firm seeking outstanding legal bills from the Trump Organization accidentally included paperwork from another client. Weisselberg was quick to pounce, threatening to tell the other client about the mistake unless the firm offered a 50% discount on the outstanding bills. The matter was eventually resolved, but it reveals how the quiet accountant from Brooklyn didn’t shy away from bare-knuckle tactics in business.
Calamari: The man who moved from security guard to COO
Cohen pointed to two other little-known employees of the Trump Organization when he was asked to name others who would have known that Trump was overvaluing his assets for insurance purposes. One of the men Cohen identified was the company’s chief operating officer, Matthew Calamari.
Trump discovered Calamari at the 1981 US Open tennis tournament after the businessman liked the way Calamari handled hecklers at a match. Trump hired him, without so much as an interview, to help out with security.
Calamari got his start, essentially, as a security guard. But he rose through the ranks to become the director of security and grew close to Trump during a stint serving as his personal bodyguard. Eventually, Calamari was promoted to chief operating officer.
“After getting to know Matthew, I realized he had a lot more to offer than his job title warranted, and he has proven me right,” Trump wrote in “How to Get Rich.”
Barbara Res, a former Trump Organization executive, said she made the initial phone call to Calamari — at Trump’s direction — to offer him the security job.
“He’s in a position that is remarkable given his qualifications and experience,” Res told CNN. “When I left, he was the bodyguard. When I heard he was the COO, I had to pull myself off the floor.”
While employed by the Trump Organization as a security director and later as chief operating officer, Calamari has been accused of questionable force and lax security policies. A lawsuit from the 1990s alleges that Calamari shoved and threatened a 12-year-old boy and his mother — while other members of security held them against their will — after the woman’s husband, a Trump Organization employee, promised to go public with damaging allegations about the company, according to a report from BuzzFeed.
In response to BuzzFeed’s reporting on the incident, a Trump Organization spokesperson said, “The allegations, from over 20 years ago, are completely inaccurate, ridiculous and utterly false.”
Calamari was also named in a 2017 Politico article that reported that the campaign’s private security force — which he frequently relied on to staff campaign events — lacked concrete procedures, giving security free rein to handle journalists and protesters in any way it deemed fit. The Politico story cited a deposition from Calamari, who was responsible for hiring and overseeing the security force, in which he acknowledged the Trump operation hadn’t produced a security procedures document in decades.
Calamari got a brief taste of the limelight in the 2004 live finale of NBC’s “The Apprentice.” He stood up to say a few words about the contestants, but after two stuttering starts and the admission, “Not doing too good are we,” he eventually sat back down.
The clip has received another wave of attention since Cohen’s public testimony Wednesday.
Lieberman: The man behind the Bronx golf course
Cohen alleged that a third Trump Organization official, Ron Lieberman, was privy to Trump’s purported efforts to overstate his assets for insurance purposes.
Lieberman is a relatively recent hire to the Trump Organization, but he’s been closely tied to the company for years. Lieberman worked for the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation until 2007, when he was hired by the Trump Organization as executive vice president in charge of management and development.
He works closely with Weisselberg on financial matters, including on insurance issues, according to a person with knowledge of the firm’s operations.
Lieberman has helped the Trump Organization win high-profile contracts with the city, including the Central Park Carousel and the Ferry Point golf course in the Bronx.
The deal Lieberman negotiated between the city and the Trump Organization during Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration over the Ferry Point golf course was especially sweet. The financial perks he helped the Trump Organization secure from his former employer included decades of low revenue-sharing with the city, free water and no concession fees for the first four years, according to a report from the New York Daily News.
Ocasio-Cortez drew attention to the Ferry Point deal when she questioned Cohen in the hearing Wednesday. She highlighted a 2016 Washington Post report, noting that New York City taxpayers spent $127 million to build the Trump golf course but Trump was allowed to keep nearly all the proceeds.
“And this doesn’t seem to be the only time the President has benefited at the expense of the public,” Ocasio-Cortez said.