‘The third man in the room’: Is Allen Weisselberg the ‘missing piece’ in Trump’s trial?

As Donald Trump’s New York hush money trial enters its final phase with closing arguments on Tuesday, the jury’s verdict is expected to largely hinge on their opinions of the prosecution’s star witness: Michael Cohen.

On the stand, Mr Trump’s former attack dog described the moment he met with his boss on the 26th floor of Trump Tower in Manhattan in January 2017 to agree a $420,000 deal for his reimbursement for a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels. Cohen testified that he made the payment on Mr Trump’s behalf to ensure Ms Daniels’ silence about an alleged sexual encounter that had the potential to derail his bid for the White House had it come to light.

But there was a third man in the room during the crucial meeting that day – a man who the jury has not heard from: Allen Weisselberg, the long-time chief financial officer to the Trump Organization.

Mr Trump’s former “fixer” Cohen testified that he had initially met with Weisselberg, 76, to agree the terms of the repayment before they went together to present the deal – which amounted to 12 instalments of $35,000 – to their boss Mr Trump in his office in Trump Tower, just days before his presidential inauguration.

Mr Trump approved the deal on the understanding that the payments would be recorded as a legal expense arising from a “retainer” agreement, Cohen said.

These 34 fraudulent records account for the 34 charges of falsifying business records that Mr Trump is currently facing in court in Manhattan.

While Weisselberg would be uniquely qualified to confirm or deny Cohen’s version of events, he has not taken the stand to testify for either side in the criminal trial.

There is one simple reason for this: Weisselberg is currently serving time in Rikers Island for lying under oath on the stand in Mr Trump’s civil fraud trial, his second stay at the notorious facility after he was previously found guilty of a range of tax crimes.

Donald Trump and Allen Weisselberg at Trump Tower in January 2017 (Evan Vucci/AP)
Donald Trump and Allen Weisselberg at Trump Tower in January 2017 (Evan Vucci/AP)

This left Weisselberg open to serious questions about his credibility and whether or not he would tell the truth should he have taken the stand in the criminal trial.

Just before he was sent to Rikers, he signed a $2m severance deal with Mr Trump that he would receive on the condition that he refused to “denigrate” the Trump Organization “verbally or in writing or any of its entities” by cooperating voluntarily with investigators.

“The problem was neither side could really call him,” white-collar defense lawyer Sarah Krissoff has said.

“He’s in custody for lying in a courtroom in the recent past. It was impossible for him to be a credible witness.”

“The reason Mr Weisselberg is not a witness to either side is because the district attorney’s office initiated a perjury prosecution in the lead-up to this case,” Mr Trump’s attorney Emil Bove claimed to Justice Juan Merchan during the trial.

The judge, however, appeared open to the possibility of summoning the convict from jail to testify in the trial, asking: “Has anyone attempted to get him to come in?”

Neither side said they had and the matter was dropped.

But, according to The New York Times, Mr Trump’s attorneys are now expected to argue in their closing arguments that Weisselberg is “the prosecution’s missing piece” and “an elusive central player in the case”, without whom they are left only with the “untrustworthy” Cohen’s word on which to hang their story.

Former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg being sentenced in New York on 10 April 2024 after being found guilty of perjury (Curtis Means/AP)
Former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg being sentenced in New York on 10 April 2024 after being found guilty of perjury (Curtis Means/AP)

Despite his physical absence, the man Mr Trump once described as “one of the toughest people in business when it comes to money” has continued to crop up during courtroom testimony in the trial.

His phone calls with Cohen in October 2016 and bank statements bearing his handwriting have all been entered into evidence.

He also came up during a crucial question put to Cohen by prosecutor Susan Hoffinger, who asked about the dozen $35,000 reimbursement payouts at the heart of the case

“Did Mr Weisselberg say in front of Mr Trump that those monthly payments would be, you know, like a retainer for legal services?” she asked.

“Yes,” came Cohen’s damning answer.

There is, of course, another man in a position to speak out about what happened in that meeting with Cohen and Weisselberg: the defendant himself.

After a lot of bluster about his determination to testify in his trial, Mr Trump ultimately declined to do so, offering only the vaguest of excuses about the judge imposing “difficult” conditions on him and suggesting his “past” might be used against him by the prosecution.