NEW YORK (AP) — Lawyers involved in Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial told the judge Wednesday they had no information to share regarding a key witness reportedly negotiating to plead guilty to perjury in connection with his testimony in the case.
Judge Arthur Engoron had asked state lawyers and defense counsel to provide him with letters by Wednesday “detailing anything you know” about the situation involving Allen Weisselberg, the former longtime finance chief at Trump’s company, the Trump Organization.
The New York Times reported last week that Weisselberg was in negotiations with the Manhattan district attorney’s office to plead guilty to perjury and “admit that he lied on the witness stand” when he testified at the civil fraud trial in October. The Times cited “people with knowledge of the matter."
Two people familiar with the matter who were unauthorized to speak publicly about it and spoke on the condition of anonymity told The Associated Press that Manhattan prosecutors were weighing a potential perjury charge against Weisselberg.
Alina Habba, the lawyer representing Weisselberg in the civil fraud case, told Engoron she does not represent him in connection with any criminal matters and has not spoken with the Manhattan district attorney’s office about his reported plea negotiations or a potential perjury charge. Habba declined to provide further detail, citing professional ethical obligations.
Kevin Wallace, senior enforcement counsel in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office, said neither he nor other state lawyers working on the fraud case were involved in Weisselberg’s reported negotiations with the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
Wallace said they weren’t aware of what parts of his testimony were under scrutiny and did not known “whether Mr. Weisselberg has conceded that he testified falsely.”
But, Wallace wrote, there were numerous examples of Weisselberg’s trial testimony being contradicted by other witnesses and evidence. They include the ex−CFO’s claims that he had little knowledge or awareness of how Trump’s penthouse at Trump Tower came to be overvalued on his financial statements based on figures listing it as three times its actual size, 10,996 square feet (1,022 square meters), Wallace said.
Wallace wrote that it was “hardly surprising” that Weisselberg, who served 100 days in jail for tax fraud in an unrelated case, may have lied on the witness stand.
Wallace urged the judge not to delay the verdict, saying that doing so “would have the perverse effect” of rewarding Weisselberg and co−defendants, including Trump, for testimony that may have been false. Court officials have said Engoron’s verdict in the case, which involves allegations Trump inflated his wealth to dupe banks, insurers and others, should be ready by mid−February.
“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,” Wallace wrote. “If true, he should be held to account fully for his actions. But it should not delay a final decision and judgment.”
Defense lawyers said it was “unprecedented, inappropriate and troubling” for the judge to ask them to respond to what they regarded as a “speculative media account," referring to the Times’ story.
Trump lawyer Christopher Kise called concerns about Weisselberg’s testimony the “latest much ado about nothing" in the case, suggesting they were meant “to create a media frenzy” and distract from weaknesses in the state’s case.
“Court decisions are supposed to be made based on the evidence at trial, not on media speculation," Kise said.
Michael R. Sisak, The Associated Press