On the surface, the charges against Allen Weisselberg did seem like “smaller fish”. In an interview with Politico, Donald Trump’s lawyer Ronald Fischetti said: “It’s like the Shakespeare play Much Ado About Nothing. This is so small that I can’t believe I’m going to have to try a case like this.”
But surfaces can be deceptive.
After three years of subpoenas, supreme court hearings and existential legal rows about the legality of charging a president of the United States with wrongdoing, New York’s fearsome prosecutorial team have charged a little-known 73-year-old accountant with defrauding taxpayers of $1.7m over 15 years. That is big money for most people, but not an amount that would worry Trump, who Forbes calculates is worth $2.4bn.
Downplaying the significance of this week’s indictment would, however, be a mistake. Alongside Weisselberg, Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance, and the New York state attorney general Letitia James also charged the Trump Organization with tax fraud, the start of a process that could crack the secretive Trump empire wide open.
The salvo in the long-brewing legal battle will, at the very least, wrap up Trump for years in legal woes, and at worst could destroy his family business and put not just Weisselberg but the Trump family members who run his business and Trump himself in the dock.