Judge in Trump’s Civil Fraud Case Asks If Key Witness Committed Perjury
The judge overseeing Donald J. Trump’s civil fraud case has questioned whether a key witness committed perjury during the former president’s trial, a new court filing shows.
The judge, Arthur F. Engoron, asked Mr. Trump’s lawyers to address the truthfulness of the witness, Allen H. Weisselberg, Mr. Trump’s longtime chief financial officer. Mr. Weisselberg and Mr. Trump are both defendants in the case, which was brought by the New York attorney general, Letitia James.
Justice Engoron, who is expected to issue a decision in the nonjury case this month, cited a recent New York Times article about Mr. Weisselberg’s testimony. The article reported that Mr. Weisselberg, 76, is negotiating a potential agreement with the Manhattan district attorney’s office that would require him to plead guilty to perjury for his testimony.
“I of course want to know whether Mr. Weisselberg is now changing his tune, and whether he is admitting he lied under oath in my courtroom at this trial,” Justice Engoron wrote to the lawyers on both sides of the case in a recent email made public on Tuesday.
A lawyer representing Mr. Trump in the civil case, Christopher M. Kise, declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the attorney general declined to comment, as did a spokeswoman for the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Mr. Weisselberg’s lawyer, Seth Rosenberg, has declined to comment on the negotiations through a spokesman for his firm, Clayman Rosenberg Kirshner & Linder.
The complex situation stems from overlapping criminal and civil cases brought by the two New York law enforcement agencies.
The district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, has jurisdiction over perjury and other crimes committed in Manhattan. In addition to scrutinizing Mr. Weisselberg’s testimony in the civil fraud case, Mr. Bragg is preparing to put Mr. Trump on trial next month for criminal charges stemming from a hush-money payment to a porn star.
In the civil fraud case, the attorney general, Ms. James, accused Mr. Trump, Mr. Weisselberg and others of fraudulently inflating the former president’s net worth and is asking the judge to impose a roughly $370 million penalty. The monthslong trial took place in the fall.
Mr. Weisselberg was one of more than 40 witnesses. While it is unclear which of his statements might have caught the district attorney’s attention, he stopped testifying abruptly after Forbes magazine published an article in which it accused Mr. Weisselberg of having lied under oath about his involvement in valuing Mr. Trump’s penthouse apartment.
In his email, Justice Engoron asked lawyers for Mr. Trump and Ms. James to tell him by Wednesday afternoon what they know about the situation and how they would suggest he address it in his final ruling in the civil fraud case.
“I do not want to ignore anything in a case of this magnitude,” he added, suggesting that he might use the plea negotiations as a reason to disqualify Mr. Weisselberg’s testimony altogether.
Justice Engoron also asked the lawyers on both sides whether Mr. Weisselberg’s negotiations should affect the timing of his decision. The judge, who could bar Mr. Trump from running his own family business and force him to pay a significant financial penalty, had been expected to issue a ruling by Jan. 31.
Mr. Bragg’s prosecutors contacted Mr. Weisselberg’s lawyers soon after the trial wrapped up, setting in motion the negotiation over a potential plea, The Times reported last week.
It is unclear whether Mr. Weisselberg will agree to plead to felony or misdemeanor charges. If he can’t strike a deal with prosecutors, Mr. Bragg could seek to indict him.
This is not the first time Mr. Weisselberg has faced legal jeopardy. In 2022, he pleaded guilty to an unrelated tax fraud case and served about 100 days in the Rikers Island jail complex. The latest negotiations could result in Mr. Weisselberg, a senior citizen who has committed no violent crimes, going to jail for a second time.
Mr. Trump’s legal team has denounced the district attorney’s long-running pursuit of Mr. Weisselberg, calling it a politically motivated effort to attack Mr. Trump, who is the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Bragg, Ms. James and Justice Engoron are all Democrats.
Prosecutors, though, often say that perjury must be stamped out wherever it is found to avoid corrupting the criminal justice system. And Mr. Weisselberg’s testimony came in a high-profile setting, making him more vulnerable to scrutiny.