Prosecutors in the Trump Organization tax fraud trial said in their closing arguments Friday that the former president sanctioned what became a sweeping 15-year scheme to compensate top company executives off the books.
The prosecution's attention on Donald Trump shortly before the jury is handed the case marked a notable shift in a weekslong trial that has largely focused on other top executives at the family business. Trump has not been charged with any wrongdoing.
“Donald Trump is explicitly sanctioning tax fraud. That’s what this document shows,” Assistant District Attorney Joshua Steinglass told jurors in Manhattan Criminal Court on Friday. “This whole narrative that Donald Trump is blissfully ignorant is just not real.”
Attorneys for the defense objected to the late-trial move by the prosecution, which also mentioned Trump at the beginning of closing arguments on Thursday.
Michael van der Veen, who represents the Trump Payroll Corporation in the case, asked the judge for a mistrial.
“We picked a jury ... based on the people’s representations that Donald Trump was not on trial,” he said Friday, adding that the prosecution has now “made him a co-conspirator.”
Van der Veen said raising Trump’s name in association with the crime in this case was wrong. “It is wholly improper, it is a bias that he put on the jury that can’t be undone.”
Steinglass responded, saying, “We have religiously avoided politics.”
Steinglass further argued that he’s allowed to raise the name of the CEO when the case is against his company. “It had nothing to do with the fact he is Donald Trump, but the fact that he is the CEO of the company. If his name was John Doe, there would be no objection here.”
The case is being heard in state Supreme Court, New York’s highest trial court.
The 15-count indictment in the case charges the company and longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg with scheming to defraud, tax fraud and falsifying records. Weisselberg was also hit with a grand larceny charge. Prosecutors say he used his position to get out of paying taxes on $1.7 million in income.
Weisselberg, 75, pleaded guilty to 15 felony charges in August. No one else has been charged.
Trump has publicly blasted the investigation into his company as a politically motivated “witch hunt.”
Acting New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan indicated this week he was surprised by the new attention on Trump in the case, but told prosecutors they could make their accusations during closing arguments because much of the discussion before the trial, and during jury selection, revolved around the fact that Trump was not sitting at the defense table.
Additionally, attorneys for the Trump Corporation and Trump Payroll Corporation invoked the former president’s name several times Thursday and said several times that he had no knowledge of any tax schemes or Weisselberg’s admitted illegal activity.
Merchan on Friday denied the defense's request for a mistrial. "I don’t believe it is necessary to declare a mistrial, nor do I think that’s even a thought," he said.
The jury is expected to begin its deliberations on Monday.