The charges

New York state prosecutors on Wednesday indicted the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg for tax fraud, the first charges brought as part of Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s investigation into the former president’s company. The indictment was unsealed Thursday.

This isn’t just your run-of-the-mill tax case. Prosecutors said in court that their investigation is ongoing, and they’re reportedly trying to make an even broader case against the company or even the former president himself (Trump has not been charged).

So to understand it, it’s useful to think about it through three separate lenses — the charges themselves, what they mean for the larger ongoing investigation, and the potentially massive consequences for American politics.

The charges allege that Weisselberg and the Trump Organization did not properly pay taxes related to $1.7 million worth of “fringe benefits” Weisselberg received as part of his salary — most notably apartment and car leases for Weisselberg and private school tuition for his grandchildren. The specific charges also include conspiracy and grand larceny, but those too are related to these fringe benefits. Both Weisselberg and the company pleaded not guilty.–167288948/–167289207/–167290002/–167290035/–167290439/–167290443/–167290467/–167291495/–167291500/–167291501/–167288948/–167289207/–167290002/–167290035/–167290439/–167290443/–167290467/–167291495/–167291500/–167291501/–167288948/–167289207/–167290002/–167290035/–167290439/–167290443/–167290467/–167291495/–167291500/–167291501/–167288948/–167289207/–167290002/–167290035/–167290439/–167290443/–167290467/–167291495/–167291500/–167291501/–167291771/–167291771/–167291771/

But reports in recent months have made clear that Vance’s investigation is focused on more than just corporate perks. He has also been probing matters close to the heart of the Trump Organization’s business practices, examining whether the company overvalued certain properties to score favorable loan terms while undervaluing them to pay less in property taxes. He even obtained Trump’s tax returns after a battle that went to the Supreme Court.

It’s this broader investigation that may be the true danger to Trump — if Vance can make a case, that is. And prosecutors have been trying for months to “flip” Weisselberg and turn him into a cooperating witness. They have not succeeded in doing so, and that’s the background to Thursday’s charges.

The stakes here are far higher than in any ordinary corporate tax fraud case, because the possibility that Trump will run for president again in 2024 looms. Charges against his company and, potentially, future charges against him would pose an obstacle to a future campaign. Trump’s many critics view him as a danger to the country and feel certain he’s a habitual lawbreaker, and therefore are hoping he gets “brought to justice” somehow — whatever the details.

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