Donald Trump speaking with reporters outside his civil fraud trial in New York.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/Pool/Getty Images
A Trump fraud-trial witness’s possible perjury should not delay a verdict, NY officials argue.They say it’s “hardly surprising” if Trump co-defendant Allen Weisselberg lied on the stand.Weisselberg “lacks credibility” anyway, the officials, from the NY AG’s office, wrote Wednesday.
With a potentially corporation-crippling verdict still looming in Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial, New York officials are now asking the judge to please not let an inconsequential and “hardly surprising” potential perjury slow things down.
It’s no big deal that Trump co-defendant and former CFO Allen Weisselberg may have lied on the witness stand, a lawyer for the New York Attorney General’s Office wrote Wednesday in arguing against any delay in a verdict.
“The fact that a defendant who lacks credibility and has already been to prison for falsifying business documents may have also perjured himself in this proceeding or the preceding investigation is hardly surprising,” wrote Kevin Wallace, a senior enforcement counsel for the AG’s office.
“If true, he should be held to account fully for his actions,” Wallace wrote of Weisselberg. “But it should not delay a final decision and judgment,” he added.
State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron has been working on a verdict since closing arguments in the fraud trial nearly a month ago.
The AG’s office has accused Trump of fraudulently inflating his net worth by as much as $3.6 billion a year in annual financial statements used to secure great interest rates on bank loans.
He faces a menu of possible civil punishments that include $370 million in cash penalties, being banned from running a business in New York, and even the outright forced sale of his properties in the state and beyond.
But as Engoron drafts his verdict, a potential monkey wrench has been thrown into the works: news, first reported last week in the New York Times, that Weisselberg is in negotiations with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for a possible plea deal on a charge of perjury.
The charge may stem from Weisselberg’s October 10 testimony at the Manhattan civil fraud trial, during which he called the tripling of Trump’s penthouse square footage a “de minimus” mistake that he had very little involvement in.
Engoron was not amused. In an email to the parties made public Tuesday, the judge demanded the parties tell him if the Times report was true.
“I of course want to know whether Mr. Weisselberg is now changing his tune, and whether he is admitting he lied under oath in my courtroom at this trial,” the judge wrote.
Wallace’s response Wednesday, on behalf of state AG Letitia James, came in response to that angry judicial query.
“At this time,” Wallace wrote, “we are not involved in any negotiations and are unaware of what specific trial testimony may be the subject of the plea negotiations or whether Mr. Weisselberg has conceded that he testified falsely,” Wallace wrote.
But James “does not, however, believe that this development should result in any delay of a final decision,” Wallace continued.
It’s already pretty clear, just from the trial record, that Weisselberg lacked credibility, particularly in his denial of involvement in the triplex valuation, the AG lawyer wrote.
Besides, he added, there’s no way to know when, or even if, a perjury plea might happen. If, some time down the road, there is a perjury admission, the judge can just wait until then to decide if any additional sanctions are necessary, Wallace offered.
“Delaying the final determination in this action to await the outcome of plea negotiations would have the perverse effect of rewarding Defendants if Mr. Weisselberg is indeed guilty of perjury,” he wrote.
The AG lawyer ended his letter to the judge by citing the statutory obligation that Trump’s defense lawyers have to come forward if they find the judge was misled by any of their clients.
“The alternative — for the lawyer to become a willing participant in ‘deceiving the court [and] thereby subverting the truth-finding process,’ is untenable,” the letter states.
The Trump defense team’s response to the Weisselberg perjury matter was filed just in time for the judge’s 5 p.m. Wednesday deadline.
In it, defense lawyer Alina Habba, who reps Weisselberg, said she has not spoken to the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
“Further, in an abundance of caution, I have conferred with my ethics counsel and have been advised that I am constrained by my professional ethical obligations from providing further detail,” she wrote.
In a rare moment of agreement, Habba, like the AG’s lawyer, said that in drafting his verdict, the judge should just stick to the trial record and pay the unverified perjury-plea rumor no mind.
It would be “inappropriate,” she wrote, for the judge to base his verdict on “matters outside the record such as outside media sources,” she wrote.
“We urge you to render your decision based solely on the evidence now before you,” she wrote.