According to two sources with knowledge of the situation, a grand jury in New York is hearing testimony regarding the former president Donald Trump’s role in hush-money payments to adult film actor Stormy Daniels during his 2016 campaign.
A grand jury could establish the framework for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office to consider filing criminal charges against Trump.
The fact that no prior president has been charged with a crime would be a startling development. With Trump’s former personal lawyer currently serving a prison term and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) choosing not to pursue any penalties, the issue appeared to be resolved. Even the grand jury’s sitting indicates a drastic reversal in the case.
According to a source who spoke to Reuters, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker has testified before the grand jury. The New York Times, which broke the news of the grand jury on Monday, said that Pecker was observed entering the lower Manhattan building where the grand jury is empanelled.
The actions suggest that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s decision on whether to charge Trump is getting closer.
Shifting statements from Trump on payment
In her book Full Disclosure, Daniels said she had a sexual relationship with the married Trump in 2006 and was paid $130,000 US to keep it a secret before the 2016 election.
Trump initially told reporters he was unaware of any money made to Daniels while denying the relationship. Trump later reneged on that assertion, admitting on Twitter in May 2018 that he had compensated his personal attorney, Michael Cohen.
The funding “had nothing to do with the campaign,” according to Trump. According to Trump, Cohen was paid a retainer on a monthly basis, which he used to pay Daniels to sign a confidentiality agreement and “cease the false and extortionist charges made by her about an affair.”
In part due to coordinating hush payments to Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who both claimed to have had a lengthy affair with Trump prior to his election, Cohen was given a three-year prison sentence in federal court in New York.
Cohen had testified before Congress that Trump was aware of the payments and that Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, and Donald Trump Jr., a member of the organisation, had signed some of the checks.
McDougal claims that although she paid American Media Inc (AMI) $150,000 for her story, it was never published. The episode featured a tactic known as “catch and kill” to stop the publication of a potentially damaging article.
The Wall Street Journal reported in 2018 that Pecker, the former CEO of AMI and a close friend of Trump and Cohen, disclosed to prosecutors their hush-money agreements with McDougal and Daniels.
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Cohen could be problematic star witness
Cohen recently met for two and a half hours with Manhattan prosecutors, according to The Associated Press. Legal professionals have previously warned CBC News and the AP that it could be difficult to prosecute Trump in a criminal case based primarily on the testimony of Cohen, a convicted felon who has criticised him repeatedly, including on Monday.
Before turning the investigation’s attention to the Trump Organization’s tax and commercial procedures, Bragg’s predecessor as district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., looked into the hush-money payments as well.
The Trump Organization was found guilty of tax evasion last month and sentenced to pay a $1.6 million fine as punishment for a separate scam in which senior employees avoided paying personal income taxes on generous benefits from their jobs.
After the trial, Bragg spoke with The Associated Press and said, “With the trial having concluded, we are now moving on to the next step.”
In a statement released on Monday, the Trump Organization said that Democrat Bragg was attempting to derail Trump’s nascent 2024 presidential campaign. They described this as “just despicable and nasty.”
In 2021, the FEC had closed its inquiry into the matter after a deadlocked vote.
Edwards case could be instructive
Trump’s treatment by The National Enquirer contrasts with another case that shown how challenging it is to charge a prominent leader and choose a fair jury.
In a 2007 report, The Enquirer claimed that Democratic presidential contender John Edwards was having an affair. When Elizabeth disclosed she was going through another cancer struggle at that time, the candidate and his wife garnered sympathy coverage.
Federal prosecutors claimed Edwards orchestrated a scheme to utilise funds from two rich donors to conceal his pregnant lover as he ran for the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination in the years that followed. If found guilty of all charges, he could have spent up to 30 years in jail and paid fines of $1.5 million.
Edwards was found not guilty of an allegation of taking improper campaign contributions in 2012 because he chose not to testify in court. On other charges, the jury was deadlocked, thus the prosecution decided against retrying the defendant.
The judge had already adjourned the hearing to meet with the jury to address unnamed matters. One of the alternate jurors was charged with openly flirting with Edwards while the others were accused of wearing matching coloured shirts to court.
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