The charges, expected to be unsealed Thursday, are related to alleged tax crimes over perks and benefits awarded to employees, including rent-free homes, car leases and bonuses, people familiar with the matter told CNN.
The significant legal escalation is also sure to have wider political consequences as Trump seeks to relaunch his political career after his defeat to President Joe Biden and hints at another White House run in 2024.
It will offer the former President a dubious route to more time in the spotlight that he craves, fuel new claims that he’s the innocent victim of establishment witch hunts and prolong the already acrimonious national reckoning over one of the most divisive presidencies in history.
He is weaponizing the charges for political gain — even before they are unsealed.
“They will do anything to stop the MAGA movement (and me), even if it involves prosecutorial misconduct and harassment of a political opponent, which they are using at levels rarely seen before,” Trump said in an incandescent statement on Monday.
“They leak, they lie, and they campaign based on information that has already been gone through in other of the many investigations I have put up with,” Trump said, characteristically manipulating moments when he is held to account to feed the sense of personal grievance he shares with supporters.
CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said the expected unsealing of the charges on Thursday represents a “good news/bad news” situation for the former President.
“The bad news is your company is about to get indicted — the company that bears your name. That means they’re going to have a long, expensive, difficult legal battle and if they’re convicted, that means they could have to pay major fines, restitution, even could spell the end of the Trump Org.”
“The good news if you’re Donald Trump is you’re not going to jail based on an indictment of the Trump Org. No individual can go to jail based on an indictment of a corporation,” Honig told CNN’s Poppy Harlow on Wednesday.
The stakes for prosecutors in what would otherwise be a little-noticed white-collar case are also enormous, since they are sizing up a firm owned by a billionaire former President who is the effective leader of the Republican Party. Claims of political motivations will become even more acute if these charges are the only ones that result from the investigation.
The indictments will come as Trump faces scrutiny on multiple fronts. His lies about election fraud last November are continually being undermined by fresh evidence. And the House of Representatives on Wednesday voted to form a select committee to investigate his incitement of the January 6 attack on the US Capitol. The move comes after Senate Republicans killed off an attempt to set up a bipartisan, independent commission to look into the insurrection. Committee hearings are likely to refresh public memories of the mob assault on the Capitol and of Trump’s wider attack on democracy — just as he heads out onto the midterm election campaign trail.
Trump’s ‘eyes and ears’
The indictment will pile even more pressure on Weisselberg, who once described himself as Trump’s “eyes and ears” at the firm, to cooperate with prosecutors — and set up a fateful test of his loyalty to the former President.
Weisselberg’s lawyers have told prosecutors he will not cooperate and he is expected to plead guilty. Although he is reputed to know all the secrets of the Trump Organization, there is no public evidence so far of wrongdoing that might implicate the former President.
But Weisselberg’s knowledge about almost every aspect of the former President’s finances could provide a valuable resource for prosecutors. His relationship with Trump dates back decades, and he served as the treasurer of Trump’s charity. He helped prepare Trump’s tax returns and is the only non-family member to serve as trustee of the trust that holds the President’s interest in his own companies.
Vance’s probe has been joined by New York state Attorney General Letitia James, who, like Vance, is a Democrat, prompting furious claims by Trump that he is being persecuted by “radical left” officials.
The investigations are ongoing and this week’s developments do not preclude future charges against other members of the Trump Organization’s hierarchy. But it’s also possible that no further charges will follow and that prosecutors do not have sufficient evidence to charge the former President — even if they want to.
Weisselberg is expected to turn himself in to prosecutors Thursday morning, two sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN. The dramatic development came after lawyers for the Trump Organization spent time this week trying to persuade prosecutors not to lay charges in the case.
Mary Mulligan, a lawyer for Weisselberg, declined to comment. A spokesman for Vance also declined to comment. Trump Organization lawyers didn’t respond to a request for comment.
But the details of the indictments against Weisselberg and the Trump Organization may begin to answer some of the questions about the breadth of this probe and how much it threatens Trump.
CNN’s Kara Scannell, Erica Orden and Sonia Moghe contributed to this story.