Is Trump’s Civil Fraud Case Going Criminal?

Keith
3 min readFeb 6, 2024

So folks let’s have some fun with Latin. When Judge Engoron in New York completed the testimony and closing arguments in Trump’s civil fraud trial, he indicated he hoped to have a decision by the end of January. That was always aspirational, and never binding, but January passed with no decision. We may now have indications explaining the delay.

On February 1st the New York Times published an article stating that a key witness, former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, was in discussion to plea to perjury in Judge Engoron’s case.

The testimony involves the Trump Towers square foot inflation that falsely represented its square footage as 30,000 square feet when it was about 11,000 SF. Weisselberg testified he never “focused” on that. Forbes magazine quickly published evidence that he was, in fact, very involved in that issue, and Weisselberg suddenly stopped testifying.

Last Thursday the Times article suggested a perjury plea deal was close, with Weisselberg being required to admit he lied as part of it. Today (Tuesday) Judge Engoron sent the pictured note to both counsels in the case. Engoron gives the attorneys until tomorrow at 5:00pm to respond and advise him what they can say about the matter without breaching professional obligations.

Engoron also suggests it may be appropriate to invoke “falsus in uno” if Weisselberg is “now changing his tune.” The judge is using a shorthand for the longer “falsum in uno, falsus in omnibus,” meaning “false in one thing, false in everything.” The judge is suggesting that committing perjury on the one thing, the Trump Tower Penthouse square footage testimony, creates an inference that undermines the credibility of Weisselberg’s other testimony.

The expression should not be interpreted as literally deeming everything Weisselberg said false. Rather, it decreases the weight given to his testimony. If his other testimony contradicts that of other witnesses, or documents, or is otherwise questionable, the judge may choose to give it less weight as Weisselberg has shown a willingness to lie under oath. That it was proven he lied on the square footage matter suggests he may have lied about other things, it was just the square footage thing that was proven.

So what can the responding attorneys tell the judge without breaching ethics? The truth is that short a signed plea agreement they likely can’t say much as anything before that is speculative and could be prejudicial if no agreement is reached.

However, this may be an excuse for the prosecutor to say “sign or get off the pot.” Or more precisely, something to the effect of, “you have until Noon tomorrow to sign the offered settlement or it is withdrawn.”

Beyond that would be the question of how Weisselberg came to perjure himself and whether he was put up to it. Seems hard to believe he would just Lone Ranger something like that.

This civil case just got a criminal element to it, further tainting Trump, his general defense, and opportunity for appeal. If it turns out that Weisselberg admits his perjury was suborned by others, well, who knows where this could go.

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Keith

Retired lawyer & Army vet in The Villages of Florida. Lifelong: Republican (pre-Trump), Constitution buff, science nerd & dog lover. Twitter: @KeithDB80