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Judge refuses to dismiss tax fraud charges for Trump organization, former CFO

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

At the end of a week of mounting legal problems for former President Donald Trump, here's one more. We learned today that Trump's family business will go on trial on multiple felony counts - that's in October in New York. NPR's Ilya Marritz was in court today for a pretrial hearing in the Manhattan district attorney's case against the Trump Organization. Hey there, Ilya.

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: So it's almost easy to lose sight of this case after a week when we saw at Trump's Mar-a-Lago home searched by the FBI. Trump sat for a deposition. He took the Fifth, like, a gazillion times. Just remind us - this is the Manhattan DA's case. What is it?

MARRITZ: You're right. There are dozens of investigations and cases swirling around the 45th president, but this is the only criminal case he currently faces.

KELLY: OK.

MARRITZ: He is not charged, but his company, the Trump Organization, is and - as is its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. Prosecutors say the Trump Organization and Weisselberg conspired to evade federal, state and local taxes over a decade and a half. One way this worked, allegedly, is that the Trump Organization would cover living expenses, cars, private school tuition for Weisselberg and his family, and that amounted to millions of dollars of income that was never declared. These schemes saved both the Trump Organization and Weisselberg, allegedly, a lot of money that they should have been paying in taxes. The Trump Organization and Weisselberg have pleaded not guilty.

KELLY: Now, you were in court today. What happened? What did you learn?

MARRITZ: Judge Juan Merchan began the hearing by denying defense motions to dismiss the case. He did remove one count against the Trump Organization that had to do with the statute of limitations, but they still face many other counts. Next, the judge ordered jury selection to begin October 24. And it looks likely the trial would begin a few days after that. So what that means is that by Election Day, prosecutors could be producing lots of exhibits and unflattering information about the internal workings of the Trump family business. I mention Election Day, of course, because even though Donald Trump is not on the ballot, a lot of candidates backed by him are. And this trial will likely add to this already heated atmosphere we're seeing where law enforcement and politics are converging around the former president.

KELLY: Right. Just to emphasize what you're saying, this is the Trump Organization, the Trump business, that will be tried. What about Trump personally? Is he insulated, or is there some potential he could be drawn in?

MARRITZ: Well, Donald Trump went to the Supreme Court twice to try to block the investigation that led to these charges. He failed both times. This is Trump's family business, founded by his grandmother, handed to him by his father, so it is personal. However, at one point last year, it really looked like this case was possibly the biggest legal threat to Trump. Local prosecutors here were looking closely at Donald Trump's own actions. It seemed he might be personally charged with financial crimes. But a new district attorney was sworn in at the beginning of this year. Trump hasn't been charged, and his lawyers think he's in the clear now in this case, even if his company is not. Nevertheless, he's got to be spending a lot of money on attorneys to defend his business.

KELLY: OK. So to circle back to this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week that Trump - or at least his lawyers - are having, what are you watching for next?

MARRITZ: Of course, we're all eager to learn more about the FBI search warrant for Mar-a-Lago and what it means and what they found there. But I think it's important to keep an eye on the New York cases. The trial of the Trump Organization could surface a lot of information about Trump's business, from before the time he was in politics right up to the time he was the president. And then there is another related threat to the company, and that's from the New York attorney general, Tish James. Her office is the one that deposed Trump this week. She is close to reaching a decision as to whether to file civil charges. Now civil charges sounds less meaningful than criminal, but if she accuses him of civil charges and wins, she could try to get some punitive damages or even dissolve the Trump Organization. Her office is the one that shut down the Trump Foundation a few years ago.

KELLY: That's NPR's Ilya Marritz in New York. Thank you.

MARRITZ: You're very welcome.

(SOUNDBITE OF RED HOT CHILI PEPPERS SONG, "UNDER THE BRIDGE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ilya Marritz