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The felony tax fraud trial of the Trump Organization is winding down

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

A federal appeals court has ruled that former President Trump is not entitled to a special master independent review of documents that the Justice Department seized from his Mar-a-Lago resort. That ruling removes the hurdle that Justice said was delaying its criminal investigation into the handling of top-secret government information it says that it recovered from Trump's residence.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Meanwhile, prosecutors are expected to make their closing arguments this morning in the felony tax fraud trial of the Trump Organization. Defense lawyers had their turn yesterday.

MARTIN: And that's what we're going to discuss with NPR's Ilya Marritz. He's been watching the Trump Organization trial over the course of the past month. He joins us now from New York. Good morning, Ilya.

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: We're saying again that this is the first time this has happened. A former president's business was charged with crimes in court. What moments have stood out for you as you watched all this?

MARRITZ: It's just really unusual circumstances. The evidence shown to the jury included checks signed by Donald Trump and a lease agreement he signed, both from the time before he became president. If I had to pick a moment, though, it would probably be the testimony of the star witness, former Trump Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg.

MARTIN: Yeah, this is the executive who pleaded guilty to tax crimes last summer, right?

MARRITZ: Yes. And he made a plea deal with prosecutors in August that, in exchange for a lighter sentence, he would testify truthfully at this trial of the Trump Organization. And for hours in the witness box, Allen Weisselberg explained how, as CFO in the company, he found all these ways to cheat on his personal taxes, paying himself in undeclared benefits like cars and an apartment. His demeanor was sober. He showed very little emotion. And then it was the defense's turn to cross-examine him. And right off the bat, Weisselberg was asked about whether he betrayed the Trump family's trust. And he said yes. And his voice broke. He sounded like he might cry as he described his embarrassment. Well, yesterday, the defense reminded the jury of this standout emotional moment because they believe it supports the idea that Weisselberg cheated on his taxes on his own initiative to benefit himself. He wasn't thinking of the company.

MARTIN: So what does that mean for prosecutors? How have they been responding to that?

MARRITZ: Right. So they began their summation late yesterday, and they ridiculed the idea that Weisselberg betrayed the Trump family. And they pointed out yet another unusual thing about the case, which is that Weisselberg, who ostensibly has turned on his codefendant to make a deal with prosecutors, is in fact still employed by the Trump Organization. There was a birthday party for Weisselberg in Trump Tower on the day he pleaded guilty in August. So that's not exactly showing your disappointment with someone who betrayed you. And prosecutors reminded jurors that there's a lot of documentary evidence showing that quite a few company executives were improperly paid as freelancers. That saved the Trump Corporation on Medicare taxes, and it allowed these executives to take tax deductions that are really only intended for truly self-employed people - win-win. So if the defense's story is that there was one executive going way out of line, prosecutors want the jury to see a culture of rampant cheating.

MARTIN: OK, so what do we look for next here?

MARRITZ: Right. Prosecutors will finish their summations this morning. We expect the judge to give jury instructions on Monday. That will be key to helping jurors understand what exactly constitutes criminal liability when the accused is not a person, but a business. And then it will be up to 12 Manhattanites whether Donald Trump becomes the first ex-president to see his business convicted of a crime.

MARTIN: NPR's Ilya Marritz, thank you.

MARRITZ: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Ilya Marritz
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