Daniel Shaviro/Just Security:
The Weisselberg Indictment Is Not A “Fringe Benefits” Case
Grasping the Full Scope of the Alleged Criminal Scheme
In the days before the July 1, 2021 issuance of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Weisselberg-Trump Organization indictment, public anticipation was positively underwhelming. It would just be a fringe benefits case, we were told – meaning, a dispute, of a picayune sort that almost never yields criminal charges, regarding whether or not an employee’s use of, say, a company car or apartment yielded taxable income, in the face of admitted personal benefit but also with plausible claims of business purpose other than the purely compensatory. Everyone does it, we heard, and it shouldn’t be the basis for a criminal fraud charge. What’s more, this ostensibly would just be a New York State or City income tax issue, not federal, thus limiting the scale and monetary significance of the claimed wrongdoing.
Then the indictment dropped, and it turns out that public expectations could scarcely have fallen further short than they were of the magnitude of what was actually being charged. Let me spell out the particulars under several headings:
1. This is no mere fringe benefits case. It is a straight-out fraud case, claiming that the defendants kept double books: phony ones to show the tax authorities, and accurate ones to be hidden from view. The question of whether a given company apartment or car might in theory (with appropriate supporting facts) have been an excludable fringe benefit turns out to be almost completely irrelevant. A better analogy to what is being charged here is the following: Suppose that your employer pays you monthly, through automatically deposited paychecks that end up being included on your annual W-2. But suppose that each month you could stop by the front office, request an envelope full of cash in unmarked bills, and have your W-2 reduced accordingly. So your true income would be the same as if you hadn’t stopped by, but you’d be reporting less salary. If your employer kept careful records of all the cash it gave you, and also still deducted it all, we would basically have this case. That is far different from simple failure to pay taxes on fringe benefits, which is how the indictment has been widely misunderstood, thanks in part to Trump’s defense lawyers’ laying the groundwork before the charges were made public on Thursday.
Rick Hasen/NY Times:
The Supreme Court Is Putting Democracy at Risk
In two disturbing rulings closing out the Supreme Court’s term, the court’s six-justice conservative majority, over the loud protests of its three-liberal minority, has shown itself hostile to American democracy.
In one case, Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the court has weakened the last remaining legal tool for protecting minority voters in federal courts from a new wave of legislation seeking to suppress the vote that is emanating from Republican-controlled states. In the other, Americans for Prosperity v. Bonta, the court has laid the groundwork for lower courts to strike down campaign finance disclosure laws and laws that limit campaign contributions to federal, state and local candidates.
The court is putting our democratic form of government at risk not only in these two decisions but in its overall course over the past few decades.
Jennifer Taub/Washington Monthly:
How to Understand the Trump Tax Indictment
In the days leading up to the indictment being unsealed and Weisselberg being brought before the court in handcuffs, defense lawyers tried to brush it off as small potatoes. Yet, the crimes alleged are quite serious, including a scheme to defraud, conspiracy, grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, and falsifying business records. Weisselberg, 73, appeared before the judge on Thursday and pled not guilty to all charges. A conviction could lead to many years in state prison.
Not only did he apparently effectuate what prosecutor Carey Dunne at the arraignment called a “sweeping and audacious illegal payment scheme,” he was one of its biggest beneficiaries. The indictment reveals that Weisselberg enjoyed luxury automobiles, a swanky Manhattan apartment, private school tuition, and more, all provided by his employer, without paying a penny from his own pocket and without declaring any of it as income. But he was not the only beneficiary. Weisselberg, who has worked for the Trump family for half a century, helped the Trump Organization pay other executives off the books as well.
How One Rural Town Without a Pharmacy Is Crowdsourcing to Get Meds
It’s an hourlong drive over treacherous mountain passes to Laramie, Wyoming, or Granby or Steamboat Springs, Colorado — and the nearest pharmacies. The routes out of the valley in which Walden lies are regularly closed by heavy winter snows, keeping residents in and medications out.
Walden has suffered the fate of many small towns across the United States, as the economics of the pharmacy business have made it difficult for community drugstores to survive. With large pharmacy chains buying up independent drugstores and increasingly controlling the supply chain, towns such as Walden have too few residents to attract a chain drugstore and no great appeal for pharmacists willing to strike out on their own.
With no local access to prescription drugs, the town of mainly cattle ranchers and hay farmers has crowdsourced a delivery system, taking advantage of anyone’s trip to those bigger cities to pick up medications for the rest of the town.
The Trump Organization Is in Big Trouble
The indictments of the business and its CFO allege not some minor technical mistakes, but blatant violations of the law.
Early reports characterized the crime in question as involving “fringe benefits.” This gives entirely the wrong impression. The Trump Organization and Weisselberg aren’t being charged with tripping over some hyper-technical provision on the margins of the tax system. They are being charged with blatantly violating basic tax-law requirements—and bilking New York State and New York City out of hundreds of thousands of dollars along the way.
Alex Burns/NY Times:
Why America’s Politics Are Stubbornly Fixed, Despite Momentous Changes
The country is recovering from a pandemic and an economic crisis, and its former president is in legal and financial peril. But no political realignment appears to be at hand.
“I think we’re open to small moves; I’m not sure we’re open to big moves,” said Mark Mellman, a Democratic pollster. “Partisanship has made our system so sclerotic that it isn’t very responsive to real changes in the real world.”
Amid the mounting drama of the early summer, a moment of truth appears imminent. It is one that will reveal whether the American electorate is still capable of large-scale shifts in opinion, or whether the country is essentially locked into a schism for the foreseeable future, with roughly 53 percent of Americans on one side and 47 percent on the other.