Yesterday, New York Attorney General Tish James published a letter from accounting firm Mazars USA LLP breaking up with its longtime client Donald Trump and his eponymous business.
“Dear Alan,” wrote Mazars’s chief counsel to his Trump Organization counterpart Alan Garten, “We write to advise that the Statements of Financial Condition for Donald J. Trump for the years ending June 30, 2011 – June 30, 2020, should no longer be relied upon and you should inform any recipients thereof who are currently relying upon one or more of those documents that those documents should not be relied upon.”
Well, it’s not great when your accountant says that a decade of your financial statements can “no longer be relied on.” And yet, it’s entirely predictable, because every time these geniuses make Tish James drag them back before New York Supreme Court Justice Engoron to force compliance with a subpoena, she enters another piece of extremely embarrassing evidence on the public record.
Just three weeks ago, in the last round of motions to enforce subpoenas on Ivanka Trump, her brother Donald Trump Jr., and the former president, she alleged that Ivanka was “the primary contact for the Trump Organization’s largest lender, Deutsche Bank” and caused “misleading financial statements to be submitted to Deutsche Bank and the federal government.”
If they would just sit for the inevitable depositions already, they wouldn’t wind up getting publicly pantsed once a month. But since these exhibitionists insist upon showing their whole posteriors, they’re facing another round of humiliation on the docket before a Thursday hearing on the motion to quash the subpoenas.
The Trumps’ principal argument is that the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is using civil subpoenas to force them to testify about matters which are the subject of a criminal inquiry by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (DANY). If they were subpoenaed to testify before a grand jury, they would receive an automatic grant of immunity, and they allege that the OAG is making an end run around this immunity via civil subpoena. As evidence for this claim, they point to two attorneys from the OAG who have been seconded to Bragg’s office, which they describe as “the OAG working hand in hand with the DANY, and taking equal responsibility for criminal charges and an ongoing grand jury investigation[.]”
In a reply memorandum filed last night, James responds that she doesn’t control the DANY, and the attorneys she sent over work for Bragg, not the other way around. More to the point, though, she reiterates that witnesses can always plead the Fifth in a civil deposition, as both Eric Trump and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg did upwards of 500 times each during their testimony to her office — a fact we wouldn’t know if these people didn’t keep giving James opportunity to air their business on the public docket.
The fact that it’s embarrassing to invoke the right against self incrimination, or that it allows a fact finder to make a negative inference in the civil context, is of no legal moment. And we can probably ignore the defendants’ howls about selective prosecution (no one is even being prosecuted yet!) and James’s “illegitimate” inquiry, coming as they do three years after the investigation commenced and on the heels of multiple court orders forcing the Trumps to comply with it.
But since they bring it up yet again, the OAG has taken the opportunity to enter the extraordinarily damaging Mazars letter into the public record as further evidence that its investigation is legit. What better proof that the books may be crooked than a letter from the accountants saying no one should rely on these books?
And indeed the letter contains some fun little Easter eggs for the reader. For instance it refers to a “non-waivable conflict of interest with the Trump Organization” which will prevent the accountants from even completing tax returns for Donald and Melania Trump which were due today.
“We believe the only information left to complete those returns is the information regarding the Matt Calimari Jr. [sic] apartment,” the letter explains. “As you know, [Mazars partner] Donald Bender has been asking for this information for several months but has not received it.”
This is probably a reference to Matthew Calamari Jr., the 29-year-old corporate director of security at the Trump Organization and son of Matthew Calamari Sr., Trump’s former bodyguard who rose to become chief operating officer at the family business. And if that sounds familiar, it’s because there are a lot family members working at the Trump Organization.
CFO Allen Weisselberg’s son Barry ran the Wollman Skating Rink for Trump for years. DANY indicted the elder Weisselberg and the company last July for a scheme to pay for perks such as an apartment and town car using pretax dollars, essentially taking the money off the top of his salary every year before the IRS and New York tax authorities could take a bite.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal, Barry Weisselberg appears to have benefited from a similar arrangement, testifying in his divorce proceedings that “It was a corporate apartment, so we didn’t have rent.” He lived in Trump Parc East across from Central Park along with his neighbor Matthew Calamari Jr., whose dad lived at Trump Park Avenue on Manhattan’s East Side and drove a Mercedes leased by the company.
For the record, we have no idea whether these were benefits in lieu of compensation which were appropriately disclosed to Uncle Sam and Uncle New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. But according to the Journal, DANY told the Calamaris that they needed to get separate counsel before the son testified to the grand jury in September. So it is interesting that this should be the sticking point with Trump and his accountants.
Thursday’s hearing should be fun!
Liz Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.
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