Stormy Daniels hush-money case could imperil Trump as grand jury allegedly meets
A grand jury in New York is hearing testimony about former US President Donald Trump’s role in hush money payments to adult film artist Stormy Daniels during his 2016 presidential campaign, two sources with knowledge of the matter told Reuters.
A grand jury could lay the groundwork for possible criminal charges against Trump by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office.
This would be a stunning development – no former president has been indicted for criminal conduct. Even the grand jury hearing represents a dramatic twist in a case that appears to have settled with Trump’s former personal attorney serving a prison sentence and the Federal Election Commission (FEC) choosing not to pursue any punishment.
Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified before the grand jury, one source told Reuters. Pecker was seen entering the lower Manhattan building where the grand jury was empaneled, according to the New York Times, which first reported on the grand jury on Monday.
The moves are an indication that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is closer to a decision on whether to indict Trump.
Pecker could not immediately be reached for comment.
Bragg’s office declined to comment to the Times.
Shifting statements from Trump at pay
Daniels said she had a sexual liaison with the married Trump in 2006, later detailed in her book Full Disclosure, and received $130,000 US before the 2016 presidential election in exchange for not discussing it.
Trump denies the case and at first told reporters he knew nothing about a payment to Daniels. Trump then backtracked on that claim, admitting on Twitter in May 2018 that he had paid back Michael Cohen, his personal attorney.
WATCH l Former Trump attorney Cohen testifies in 2019 about hush money payments:
Cohen calls Trump a ‘conman,’ describes payoff to porn star Donald Trump’s former personal attorney describes to a House committee how he paid a woman with whom Trump had an affair to maintain her silence and how the president later compensated.
Trump said the money “had nothing to do with the campaign.” Trump said Cohen received a monthly stipend, which he used to pay Daniels to sign an agreement not to talk about her allegations and “the false and extortionate accusations made by her about an affair, to stop.”
Cohen was sentenced in federal court in New York to three years in prison, largely for orchestrating hush payments to Daniels, as well as to former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who also said she had a months-long affair with Trump before he held office. .
Cohen testified to Congress that Trump was aware of the payments, and that some of the checks were endorsed by Donald Trump Jr., a member of the Trump Organization, and Allen Weisselberg, the company’s chief financial officer.
David Pecker, chairman and CEO of American Media, publisher of the National Enquirer, is seen at a 2014 event in New York City. Pecker was seen at the New York courthouse where a grand jury was empaneled. (AP)
McDougal said she sold her story to American Media Inc (AMI) for $150,000, but it was never published. The incident involved a practice known as “catch and kill” to prevent a potentially damaging article from being published.
Pecker, AMI’s former chief executive officer and a longtime friend of Trump and Cohen, told prosecutors about their hush-money deals with McDougal and Daniels, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2018.
Cohen could be problematic star witness
Cohen told The Associated Press he recently met with Manhattan prosecutors for 2½ hours. Some legal experts have previously told CBC News and the AP that pursuing a criminal case against Trump based largely on the word of Cohen, a convicted felon who has gleefully attacked Trump, including Monday, could be a challenge. .
Bragg’s predecessor as district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr., also investigated the hush money payments before the investigation’s focus shifted to the Trump Organization’s tax and business practices.
The Trump Organization was convicted of tax fraud last month and fined $1.6 million as punishment for an unrelated scheme in which top executives evaded personal income taxes on lavish work benefits.
“With the trial over, we now move on to the next chapter,” Bragg told The Associated Press in an interview after the trial.
Allen Weisselberg, CEO of the Trump Organization, is shown before a court appearance on January 10 in New York. The longtime lieutenant of Donald Trump, who was jailed for tax violations related to the organization, signed off on hush money payments, according to Michael Cohen. (John Minchillo/The Associated Press)
The Trump Organization suggested in a statement Monday that Bragg, a Democrat, was trying to undermine Trump’s fledgling 2024 presidential campaign, calling it “simply reprehensible and vindictive.”
In 2021, the FEC closed its investigation into the matter after a deadlock.
Edwards case may be instructive
The National Enquirer’s treatment of Trump contrasts with another case that illustrated the difficulty of prosecuting a high-profile politician and impaneling an impartial jury.
In 2007, the Enquirer published an article alleging that Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards was involved in an affair. At the time, the candidate and his wife, Elizabeth, received sympathetic coverage because she announced that she was facing another battle with cancer.
Former US presidential candidate and senator John Edwards arrives in federal court on May 25, 2012 in Greensboro, NC. Edwards was ultimately found not guilty of six counts related to campaign finance violations stemming from a case he tried to hide. (Gerry Broome/The Associated Press)
Federal prosecutors alleged in subsequent years that Edwards hatched a plan to use money from two wealthy donors to hide his pregnant mistress while he sought the 2008 Democratic presidential nomination. He could have faced up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if convicted of all charges.
Edwards did not testify at his 2012 trial and was acquitted of a charge of accepting illegal campaign contributions. The jury was deadlocked on other charges, and prosecutors decided not to retry him.
In the case, the judge closed court to discuss unspecified issues with jurors. A number of alternate jurors wore matching colored shirts to court, and one of them was accused of openly flirting with Edwards.