Mon. Nov 28th, 2022

Jury selection began Monday morning in the Trump Organization’s trial on New York state criminal fraud charges, and the judge told potential jurors that former President Donald Trump could be called as a witness in the case.

The company was indicted by a grand jury in July 2021. It faces 14 counts related to allegations it provided untaxed “indirect employee compensation” to executives. The high-end perks, which included in at least one case an apartment and two luxury cars, were described as “secret pay raises at the expense of state and federal taxpayers” by a prosecutor at a hearing last year.

The company has denied wrongdoing and has pleaded not guilty to all charges. Trump has not been personally charged in the case, though Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat whose office is prosecuting the case, has said that he remains under investigation.

As proceedings got underway at the courthouse in lower Manhattan, the judge said potential witnesses in the case may include Trump, his children Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump, and his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen.

Trump posted about the case on his social media site Monday morning, calling it a “witch hunt” and noting that it is going to trial two weeks before Election Day.

Also among the witnesses expected to be called by the government is former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who in August entered a guilty plea in the case.

Weisselberg’s deal with prosecutors calls for a sentence of five months in New York’s Rikers Island jail, followed by five years’ probation. He must also pay $1.9 million in back taxes and fines, and testify under oath as a witness in the company’s trial.

Weisselberg’s son, Barry Weisselberg, who also worked for the company, and his ex-wife Jennifer Weisselberg, are also on the list of potential witnesses.

Cohen, a former Trump “fixer” who is now an ardent critic, told CBS News he was unaware he was on the witness list. Cohen said he met with officials from the Manhattan D.A.’s office for more than 100 hours during their investigation. Trump has previously called Cohen a “fraud” and sought to highlight Cohen’s 2018 guilty plea to campaign finance charges and lying to Congress, for which he served prison time and home confinement.

The jury pool is being whittled down to 12, plus 6 alternates, from a group of about 130 people. 

Trump, a Republican, has called the case a “political witch hunt,” but the company’s attorneys will be unable to make that argument in court, Judge Juan Merchan said during a Sept. 12 pretrial hearing.

Merchan said he would not allow defense attorneys to “in any way to bring up a selective prosecution claim, or claim this is some sort of novel prosecution.”

The Trump Organization, Donald Trump and three of his children — Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric Trump — are facing a separate civil lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James’s office alleging a yearslong scheme to enrich themselves by inflating the values of properties across the country. The Trumps and the company denied all allegations in that case as well, and said through an attorney in September that “absolutely no wrongdoing has taken place.”

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