Manhattan DA convenes grand jury to evaluate Trump role in hush money to adult film star, sources say
The Washington Post January 30, 2023
NEW YORK — The Manhattan District Attorney's Office has convened a new grand jury to evaluate former president Donald Trump's role in 2016 hush money payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, part of a long-running probe that had previously seemed dormant for many months, people with knowledge of the investigation confirmed.
The team headed by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) has refocused on the payments to Daniels by former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who has said in federal court that he gave Daniels $130,000 at Trump's behest to keep her quiet about an alleged affair she had with the then-candidate for president years before his campaign, one of the people said. The individual spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss an ongoing investigation.
A spokesperson for Bragg's office declined to comment. Ron Fischetti, a criminal defense attorney for Trump, also declined to comment.
The development, first reported by the New York Times, comes as Trump is pursuing a third bid for president and recently held campaign events in New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Cohen, who was recently at the district attorney's office in Lower Manhattan for an interview with investigators, pleaded guilty in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan in 2018 to campaign finance fraud charges related to the payments. Trump has denied involvement in the payoff and has denied having a sexual encounter with Daniels.
Past long-term grand juries convened by the district attorney's office in its Trump investigation have heard evidence and issued subpoenas. One panel indicted the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg in connection with a 15-year tax fraud scheme.
The company was convicted at trial in December and has been ordered to pay a $1.6 million fine. Weisselberg pleaded guilty to all counts in August and was sentenced to five months in jail. He had been facing up to 15 years in prison.
Bragg's predecessor Cyrus R. Vance Jr. (D) opened a probe into Trump and his business activities in 2019, initially taking an interest in the Daniels payment but seemingly deciding it was not a viable avenue for prosecution. Since then, the case has focused on the tax issues and also on the company's alleged practice of manipulating the value of Trump's assets to obtain better loan and insurance rates while reducing asset values to minimize tax liability.
Shortly after Bragg took office in 2021, two veteran prosecutors on the Trump case resigned over a disagreement with the new district attorney over how to proceed. Those prosecutors, Mark Pomerantz and Carey Dunne, were intent on asking a grand jury to indict Trump on asset valuation-related crimes.
Under Bragg, the focus has come back to Daniels and the payments. His administration appears less inclined to pursue a criminal case on the asset valuation elements of the probe, which would require a high burden of proof to reach a conviction.
New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) has a pending $250 million lawsuit against Trump, three of his adult children, Weisselberg and the company over the alleged asset valuation conduct. A trial has been scheduled for later this year.