Federal investigators in Manhattan have asked to interview Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, as part of their investigation into President Trump’s former lawyer Michael D. Cohen, according to two people familiar with the matter.
It was not clear whether Mr. Weisselberg was issued a subpoena or was asked to answer questions voluntarily. Either way, the development suggests that federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York are scrutinizing at least some financial dealings of the Trump family business, a line that the president has publicly warned the special counsel in the Russia investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, not to cross.
The New York prosecutors, who are operating on a separate track from Mr. Mueller’s team, are investigating Mr. Cohen on a number of fronts, including payments he arranged before the presidential election to women who had claimed that they had affairs with Mr. Trump. The prosecutors’ interest in Mr. Weisselberg was first reportedby The Wall Street Journal.
The development set off alarm bells within the Trump Organization, an umbrella company for Mr. Trump’s holdings, because of the scope of Mr. Weisselberg’s responsibilities. He has handled its finances for decades, has been involved with the Trump Foundation, has managed the president’s private trust and has at times reviewed the Trump presidential campaign’s books.
Mr. Weisselberg surfaced prominently this week when Mr. Cohen, through his lawyer, released a recording of a September 2016 conversation that he had with Mr. Trump about buying the rights to a former Playboy model’s story. The former model, Karen McDougal, alleges an affair with Mr. Trump and had sold the rights to her story for $150,000 that summer to The National Enquirer.
The newspaper, whose parent company’s chief executive is a friend of Mr. Trump’s, sat on the story, a practice known in the tabloid industry as “catch and kill.” The president has denied an affair.
Mr. Cohen told Mr. Trump he needed to form a company to buy those rights from the magazine. Mr. Cohen repeatedly referred to Mr. Weisselberg.
“I’ve spoken to Allen Weisselberg about how to set the whole thing up,” Mr. Cohen told Mr. Trump. Later, he added, “I spoke to Allen about it, when it comes time to the financing.”
The release of the audio may have accelerated the activity of the New York prosecutors, who are looking into whether Mr. Cohen may have committed bank fraud and violated campaign finance laws by arranging payments to silence women whose accounts could have damaged Mr. Trump’s chances of becoming president. The New York Times revealed the existence and contents of the tape last week; CNN broadcast the recording on Tuesday.
The president, who has long refused to release his tax returns, is especially sensitive to any moves by federal prosecutors to dig in to his business affairs. After his election, Mr. Trump resigned his role in his company but retained his ownership and turned over management to his two oldest sons, Eric and Donald Jr.
Asked by The Times a year ago whether Mr. Mueller would cross “a red line” if he began investigating the family businesses, Mr. Trump replied, “I would say yeah. I would say yes.”
Yet, in some ways, it is harder for the president to criticize the New York prosecutors than it is to attack Mr. Mueller. His most fervent allies portray Mr. Mueller as a runaway prosecutor whose supervisor, Rod J. Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, should be removed from office. Mr. Trump routinely claims that Mr. Mueller is leading “a witch hunt.”
But the United States attorney’s office in Manhattan has no special status, and its investigation into Mr. Cohen’s activities appears to be proceeding like any other criminal inquiry.
So far, the president, who tends to approach legal issues more as public relations problems, has directed his ire toward Mr. Cohen. Over the weekend, Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter that secretly recording him was “perhaps illegal.” He added: “inconceivable that a lawyer would tape a client – totally unheard of.”
Mr. Cohen, who was loyal to Mr. Trump for years, has now publicly broken with him. His lawyer, Lanny J. Davis, has said Mr. Cohen will no longer be Mr. Trump’s “punching bag.”
Mr. Weisselberg’s loyalty to Mr. Trump stood out in a recent deposition he gave for a lawsuit against the Trump Foundation. Filed last month by Barbara Underwood, the New York State attorney general, the lawsuit accuses Mr. Trump and his adult children of improper political coordination with the presidential campaign and other illegal conduct.
One morning in January 2016, Mr. Weisselberg recalled, he was abruptly asked to fly to Iowa with the foundation’s checkbook for a campaign event that also served as a fund-raiser for veterans. He raced through a dental appointment to make the plane that same evening.
He started to explain why the checkbook was necessary, saying, “In case there was any money being collected, which I thought was … .” Then he broke off, saying simply: “It doesn’t matter what I thought. He’s my boss. I went.”