Headed into this afternoon, we knew a fair amount about the criminal investigation into Donald Trump's core private-sector business, the Trump Organization. We knew there was a New York grand jury maintaining an aggressive pace. We knew the grand jury had issued indictments. We knew the company's chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, appeared to be in real trouble.
What we didn't know, however, was the biggest piece of the puzzle: what specific crimes do prosecutors believe the former president's business committed?
In recent days, the Trump Organization's lawyers have quietly suggested to reporters that the case is small potatoes -- so trivial that they're amazed New York prosecutors would even bother with such piddly offenses.
But this afternoon, the public finally got to see the case against the business and its CFO, and those who expected the charges to be trivial were quite wrong. The New York Times reported:
The Trump Organization, the real estate business that catapulted Donald J. Trump to tabloid fame, television riches and ultimately the White House, was charged Thursday with fraud and tax crimes in connection with what prosecutors said was a 15-year-long scheme to compensate a top executive off the books. The Manhattan district attorney’s office, which has been conducting the investigation, also accused the executive, Allen H. Weisselberg, Mr. Trump’s long-serving and trusted chief financial officer, of avoiding taxes on $1.7 million in income. He faced grand larceny, tax fraud and other charges.
The general counsel for the Manhattan district attorney characterized the allegations as "a sweeping and audacious illegal payments scheme" orchestrated by the former president's business.
Daniel Shaviro, a professor of tax law at NYU, responded, "I've read the Weisselberg indictment. If we take its assertions as true, this is no ticky-tack, or foot fault, or debatable case of tax fraud. You might as well repeal the federal, state, and city income taxes as discover this sort of conduct and not prosecute it."
The assessment was more than fair: at issue are first-degree felonies, not misdemeanors.
Both the company and Weisselberg pleaded not guilty. The former president, who has not been indicted in this case -- at least not yet -- issued a statement describing the criminal allegations as a "political Witch Hunt" that is "dividing our Country like never before!"
Nevertheless, not only are the charges serious, they may be the start of other criminal allegations. The Wall Street Journal reported, "The charges ... could be the first in a series of charges in the future, particularly if prosecutors are able to gain the cooperation of Mr. Weisselberg to bolster their broader investigation."
New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), whose office was directly involved in the indictment, added in a written statement that the investigation is ongoing, "and we will follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead."
Today's indictment also pointedly refers to Weisselberg as “one of the largest individual beneficiaries" of the Trump Organization's alleged tax scheme, leaving unanswered the question of how many other individuals were also large beneficiaries.