Why do so many seemingly sentient adults remain loyal to former President Donald Trump, even as the disgraced former president proves himself a world-class backstabber over and over?
It’s a futile and rhetorical question. But it still keeps me up at night. And it resurfaced Thursday with the high-profile indictment of the Trump Organization, Trump Payroll Corp. and especially Allen Weisselberg, the 73-year-old chief financial officer of the benighted Trump Organization. They’ve been collectively charged with 15 felony counts in connection with an alleged tax scheme that started in 2005.
Trump himself was not among the handcuffed.
So Weisselberg, as expected, appears to be taking it on the chin rather than flipping on the capo. For now. This makes sense, since Trump once praised Weisselberg for doing “whatever was necessary to protect the bottom line” — the Trump personal fortune.
For insight, I texted Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, who once said he’d “take a bullet” for Trump — and then flipped.
In his book, “Disloyal: A Memoir: The True Story of the Former Personal Attorney to President Donald J. Trump,” Cohen describes this self-defeating loyalty to Trump better than anyone else has.
Cohen called me back from house arrest, where he’s serving time for tax evasion and campaign finance violations, misdeeds that benefited Trump. (Cohen says he committed these crimes at the behest of his boss.)
“I guess I was missing something in my life,” he said, explaining why he stuck with the man he calls a racist, a con man and a cheat. “I was looking for excitement. I’m a deal junkie. I didn’t need the money.”
Reflecting further on why he’d been loyal, Cohen also said, with commendable honesty: “I don’t know.”
The unknowable mystery of Trump’s barnacle loyalists remains. Weisselberg has carried water and dirty laundry for the Trump family for nearly 50 years — and he’s still doing so, all the way to the clink.
The indictments, unsealed Thursday afternoon in Manhattan, charge the Trump Organization with a range of offenses. They include copious documentation. Among other things, the company is accused of destroying business records in September 2016 — two months before Trump was elected president.
Also mentioned are heaps of top-dollar tax-free swag that reportedly went to Weisselberg and other unnamed Trump Org employees.
Sometimes this stuff is referred to as “fringe benefits.” The examples allegedly include cars, an apartment and more than $359,000 for private school tuition for Weisselberg’s grandchildren. None of this seems very fringe.
Still, the indictments are not the kind likely to bring down a whole company — or a former president. Trump can always claim he didn’t know what his lackeys were doing.
But Cohen, who worked closely with Weisselberg, has long said that nothing happened at the Trump Org without Trump’s signoff — and he doesn’t believe the current indictments are the whole enchilada.
Indeed, prosecutors have been mounting this case against Weisselberg for months, in an effort to pressure him into cooperating with their bigger investigation into Trump’s business dealings. They seem to be after far more than the septuagenarian accountant.
“They did the right thing when they gave him the opportunity to come in, retaining whatever dignity he may have left,” Cohen said of Weisselberg’s arrest.
“Obviously, one of the hopes is that they’re showing him some goodwill to make it clear to Weisselberg that he is not the keystone to this investigation or its outcome. His participation and cooperation only benefits him, and potentially his sons, as the DA has more than ample documentation to see this investigation to the end.”
To the end. We’ve heard that before.
When it looked like the feds might get cooperation from Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign manager, it seemed for a minute as though Trump would never remain standing. He’d be indicted because of the Russia investigation — or after one of his impeachments. The prosecution looked like it would go to the end.
It did not. Trump, of course, is still a free man, and we’ve seen him slip the knot of justice in so many close calls that it’s hard to believe he’ll pay for any of the misdeeds that have come to light in the last four years.
But the Trump Organization as an entity is closer to Trump than any of his campaigns, his gig as president, his wives, his henchmen, even his children. People like Cohen insist that the Trump Organization — a tangle of shell companies that is the sum total of Trump’s fortune and legacy — is Donald Trump.
In this view, everything in Trump’s life, including the presidency and his personal actions, has been in the service of the company he inherited from his father.
So the Thursday indictments really might represent a crucial turn of the screw. Even if President Joe Biden’s Justice Department doesn’t prosecute Trump for federal crimes — maybe to avoid the appearance of vengeance — this prosecution of Trump’s company could expand to include some of his misconduct while in the White House, since all of Trump’s enterprises in business and politics are hopelessly entangled.
Cohen is firmly convinced that the world hasn’t heard the end of his former colleague Weisselberg.
“There’s a big difference between being under investigation and under indictment,” Cohen said.
Sometimes I need this mob-style stuff spelled out, so I asked, “This indictment might make Weisselberg flip on Trump?”
“Correct,” said Cohen.