Written for Vanity Fair Magazine by Bess Levin
As you’ve no doubt heard by now, last week the Trump Organization and its longtime CFO, Allen Weisselberg, were hit with a slew of criminal charges, including conspiracy, grand larceny, and multiple counts of tax fraud and falsifying records, all of which they pleaded not guilty to. Clearly this is extremely bad news for not just the company, which former executives believe is going to be “destroy[ed],” and Weisselberg, who faces more than a decade in prison if convicted on all charges, but the entire Trump clan too. While Donald Trump is obviously the first name that comes to mind when envisioning a scenario in which a Trump family member is sentenced to time in prison, according to numerous experts, his adult children should be extremely concerned as well, starting with his favorite offspring: Ivanka Trump.
Appearing on MSNBC on Monday, former federal prosecutor Cynthia Alksne told host Alicia Menendez that last week’s charges were merely “an opening salvo,” and that the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has sent a message that (1) Weisselberg should really, really consider flipping and cooperating against the Trumps, and (2) Cyrus Vance Jr. is just getting started. “Prosecutors went to an amazing amount of effort to show Weisselberg ‘we have everything we need,’ and they’re really not only pressuring him to flip, but the amount of detail in this indictment tells me that they’re trying to tell other people you have got to flip, because ‘we have everything; we have the double books. We know what you told your tax accountants was a lie. We know that we’re gonna be able to prove these cases,’” Alksne told Menendez. “So I think…first it’s Weisselberg and [then] there are a lot of other people mentioned, ‘individual number one’ or ‘person X signed’ or ‘person Y signed.’ Those people who are mentioned in the indictment, I would expect they’re next and then it builds.” Asked how she would proceed if she were prosecuting the case and “had access to the years of hidden records kept by the Trump Organization,” Alksne said, “I would focus [the investigation] on the kids. Apparently they’ve had some testimony by the comptroller; in the state of New York that means they’ve essentially given him immunity. So I would focus on the kids. My guess is [COO Matthew] Calamari is kind of easy picking and that there are similar ways to give money for the kids. We’ve heard a lot of this reporting about Ivanka Trump getting consulting fees, ‘consulting fees’ for things that she may or may not have done. That looks to me like the next place, but we’ll just have to see.”
(In November, The New York Times reported that both Vance and New York attorney general Letitia James had issued consulting-fee-related subpoenas to the Trump Organization following an investigation by the paper that revealed the president had paid little to no income tax over the last two decades. That report also showed that Trump was able to reduce his taxable income by deducting approximately $26 million in “consulting fees” as business expenses between 2010 and 2018. While the consultants’ identities were not shown on tax records, some of the fees definitely appeared to have been paid to Ivanka, given that on a 2017 disclosure form, she reported having received $747,622 in payments from a consulting company she co-owned, a figure that, per the Times, “exactly matched consulting fees claimed as tax deductions by the Trump Organization for hotel projects in Vancouver and Hawaii.” (At the time the payments were made, Ivanka was an executive officer of the Trump companies that made the payments, meaning she seemingly was treated as a consultant to a company at which she was, wait for it, a full-time employee.)
Also predicting that Princess Purses could be in legal trouble was Trump biographer Michael D’Antonio, who told CNN’s Jim Acosta on Sunday, “The other person who I think is in peril is Ivanka Trump. One of the things that Allen Weisselberg is in trouble for is [allegedly] taking money as a contractor and then claiming self-employed status so that he can get some of the retirement benefits that the tax code allows for self-employed people. Well, we know that Ivanka Trump got quite significant sums paid to her as non-employee compensation. That freed the Trump Organization from paying part of her taxes, and it put her in a status that I think the IRS would have lots of questions about. So these folks don’t know how to play the game straight. I think everything they do is crooked.”
Ivanka Trump has not been accused of wrongdoing; in response to the news that both Vance’s and James’s offices had subpoenaed records related to consulting fees, she issued a very testy statement on Twitter, writing: “This is harassment pure and simple. This ‘inquiry’ by NYC democrats is 100% motivated by politics, publicity and rage. They know very well that there’s nothing here and that there was no tax benefit whatsoever. These politicians are simply ruthless.”
As for whether Trump would sacrifice himself to save his daughter, his former attorney Michael Cohen has a prediction: