The New York attorney general’s office and lawyers for Donald Trump agree on one thing: they want the judge overseeing the former president’s civil fraud trial to issue his decision despite a possible perjury deal involving former Trump lieutenant Allen Weisselberg.
Last week, CNN and other news organizations reported that Weisselberg, the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, is in talks with the Manhattan district attorney’s office to potentially plead guilty to a perjury charge related to his testimony as part of the attorney general’s fraud investigation.
The information prompted Judge Arthur Engoron to ask the lawyers for Trump and the attorney general’s office whether he should consider the possible perjury admission and if it should impact the timing of his decision, which is expected this month.
Trump’s attorneys say it’s inappropriate for the judge to consider news reports about a potential perjury charge, while the state lawyers say they don’t think the criminal investigation should delay the judge’s decision in this case. The attorney general’s office is seeking $370 million as the result of improper gains and to ban Trump from doing business in the state.
Attorneys representing the defendants in the case said it was “unprecedented, inappropriate and troubling” for the judge to inquire of the parties about Weisselberg’s plea talks and it should not be considered because it was not evidence put before the judge during the trial.
“The only evidence that the Court can consider in rendering its decision is that adduced during the trial,” wrote Cliff Robert, an attorney for the Trumps and Trump properties. “Consideration by the factfinder of matters outside the record, especially speculative news accounts, is simply improper and calls into question the impartiality of the Court,” he added.
Lawyers for New York Attorney General Letitia James said a criminal investigation into perjury could go on indefinitely before it’s resolved, adding that Engoron could later amend his findings.
“At this time, we are not involved in any negotiations and are unaware of what specific trial testimony may be the subject of the plea negotiations or whether Mr. Weisselberg has conceded that he testified falsely,” wrote Kevin Wallace, an assistant attorney general.
“OAG does not, however, believe that this development should result in any delay of a final decision,” Wallace added. “The Court should hold them to account and impose necessary measures to prevent further fraud, including industry bars and the appointment of a monitor with robust oversight, as soon as possible. If additional sanctions are necessary to address any potential perjury, the Court can retain jurisdiction to address those issues.”
Alina Habba, an attorney representing Weisselberg in the civil fraud case, said she doesn’t represent him in the criminal investigation and has not spoken with prosecutors from the Manhattan district attorney’s office conducting the perjury inquiry. A criminal defense lawyer for Weisselberg has not returned calls seeking comment about plea negotiations.
Habba said Weisselberg has the presumption of innocence and “therefore, it would be wholly improper, and unconstitutional, for this Court to presume that Mr. Weisselberg engaged in any criminal wrongdoing in Your Honor’s courtroom based solely on the publication of an unsourced and unverified news article.”
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