Cyrus Vance Jr., the Democratic district attorney for New York’s Manhattan District, is more than happy to go on a fishing expedition against former President Donald Trump and the Trump Organization. When it came to being tough on Harvey Weinstein and Jeffrey Epstein, however, Vance’s office couldn’t be bothered.
According to The Wall Street Journal, a New York grand jury indicted the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization — as well as the organization itself — for allegedly evading taxes on fringe benefits such as car leases and apartments.
The indictment, unveiled Thursday, alleged Allen Weisselberg, who has worked for the Trump organization for 48 years, evaded taxes on $1.76 million since 2005.
“There’s no clearer example of a company that should be held to account,” prosecutor Carey Dunne told the court. “It’s not about politics.”
This was a bit of an anticlimax, though, after a long investigation by Vance — one that has looked at possible fraud by the Trump Organization for years, going so far as to secure Trump’s tax returns by taking the case to the Supreme Court two times.
The message sent by the indictment is that Vance wants Weisselberg to turn, something he hasn’t done despite pressure from Vance’s office.
However, as former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy noted in a piece at National Review, relying on Weisselberg to make a case against Trump is a tacit admission they don’t have much of a case against Trump himself.
“After lavishing time and resources on a quest to acquire years of Trump’s financial records — a quest attended by media leaks about supposedly imminent bank fraud, insurance fraud, and tax-fraud charges — Vance is left trying to squeeze out of the CFO the case he apparently can’t make on the documents,” McCarthy wrote Thursday. “And understand, if there were a case here, it would be in the documents.”
McCarthy wrote that “documentary evidence doesn’t lie. Financial records can’t be cross-examined, they are not looking to cut a deal with prosecutors, and they don’t have an ax to grind. If there is fraud in them, it can be proved by lining them up against other records and figuring out whether the books have been cooked. If they have, you don’t need the CFO as a star witness.
“Whatever Donald Trump’s financial records say, Vance has thus far not been able to whip them into a prosecutable case … so now he’s trying to get Weisselberg to tell him something that can’t be seen in the black-and-white of the documents. Good luck with that.”
Another sign that this is a political witch hunt: Vance has been less willing to go after Weinstein and Epstein, two convicted sex criminals who came under his jurisdiction at various times.
In 2015, The Daily Caller reported, Vance didn’t prosecute Weinstein for a misdemeanor sex crime even though he had incriminating evidence on the film mogul.
When model Ambra Battilana Gutierrez came to the New York Police Department alleging she had been groped by Weinstein, the NYPD set up a sting whereby she would talk to him the day afterward. Despite the fact Weinstein made incriminating remarks on the audio, released in 2017 by The New Yorker, Vance declined to prosecute him.
Vance would later accept a donation from David Boies, an attorney for Weinstein, shortly after he decided to drop charges.
The district attorney’s office would eventually charge Weinstein, but only after he became the most prominent and prolific offender exposed by the #MeToo movement.
Even after the 2020 verdict convicting Weinstein on two felony sex crime charges, Jumaane Williams, New York City’s public advocate, said Vance was “irreparably tarnished” by the affair, according to The New York Times.
In the case of Epstein, Vance argued to the Manhattan Supreme Court on behalf of Epstein in 2011 that his sex offender status should be downgraded from Level 3, the most-dangerous classification, to Level 1, the lowest. Epstein had to register as a sex offender after a 2008 guilty plea in Florida for procuring a person under 18 for prostitution and felony solicitation of prostitution.
“I have never seen the prosecutor’s office do anything like this,” Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Ruth Pickholz told Assistant District Attorney Jennifer Gaffney, according to the New York Post. “I have done many [cases] much less troubling than this one where [prosecutors] would never make a downward argument like this.”
His status wasn’t downgraded, and the court escapade caused further embarrassment for Vance when the Post reported on it in 2018. Vance said his office “was not aware” of the 2011 hearing when it happened.
“Our prosecutor made a mistake,” Vance spokesman Danny Frost said.
In the Weinstein case, one prosecutor who stepped in and lent the gravitas of the law to an accusation against the mogul could have started the avalanche of allegations against him years earlier.
In the case of Epstein, if Vance had convinced a judge, he could have reduced the financier’s sex offender level in a way that enabled the rapaciousness of one of recent history’s most notorious serial predators.
But in the case of Weisselberg and the Trump Organization, Vance and his office are pulling out all the stops to indict the CFO and the company he works for on rather mundane charges.
Why? Because, as Dunne said, “There’s no clearer example of a company that should be held to account”?
If Dunne was able to say that with a straight face, that would be the biggest accomplishment Vance’s witch hunt would have produced Thursday.