Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg began presenting evidence to a grand jury Monday about former President Donald Trump's 2016 hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, The New York Times and other news organizations report. Bragg's predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., considered pursuing charges tied to the $130,000 payment in 2018, but decided to focus on potential crimes tied to Trump's valuation of his company's assets instead.
Bragg secured a $1.6 million tax-fraud conviction of the Trump Organization in December and sent former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to prison for five months. "Now with the trial having ended, we are now moving on to the next chapter," Bragg told The Associated Press after that trial.
Michael Cohen, the former Trump lawyer and fixer who admitted paying Daniels $130,000 to stop her from disclosing her alleged extramarital affair with Trump during the 2016 presidential race, told AP he recently spent more than two hours meeting with Manhattan prosecutors. Cohen served about a year in prison on campaign finance charges tied to the payment, before being released to home confinement during the COVID-19 pandemic. In his 2018 guilty play, he said the payout was done "in coordination with, and at the direction of" Trump, who reimbursed him. Federal prosecutors declined to charge Trump over the hush money.
One presumptive witness, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, was seen Monday entering the Lower Manhattan building where the grand jury is sitting, the Times reports. The National Enquirer helped broker the payment to Daniels and directly paid another Trump accuser, Karen McDougal, $150,000 for her silence ahead of the election. Prosecutors are seeking testimony also from former Enquirer editor Dylan Howard, a former lawyer for Daniels, and two Trump Organization employees who helped arrange reimbursing Cohen.
The Stormy Daniels case is one more legal sword hanging over Trump's head as he makes his third bid for president. If the grand jury indicts Trump, he would mostly likely be charged with falsifying business records by wrongly classifying the payment to Cohen as a legal expense, a misdemeanor deepened into a potential felony because it allegedly violated New York State election law, the Times reports. Trump, who has denied having an affair with Daniels or McDougal, slammed reports of the new grand jury as "a continuation of the Greatest Witch Hunt of all time."