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Former Manhattan D.A. says federal prosecutors asked him to 'stand down' on Trump hush-money probe

Former President Donald Trump will be arrested and processed in a Manhattan courthouse on Tuesday, and only then will we find out what crimes he is being charged with by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg's office. People following the case closely predict Trump will be charged at least with falsifying business records — a misdemeanor in New York — for improperly recording 2016 hush-money payments made to porn actress Stormy Daniels on his behalf, elevated to felony status by alleging the transaction was disguised to influence the 2016 presidential election. 

Trump's former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who appears to be a key witness for Bragg's prosecutors, pleaded guilty to federal crimes tied to the hush-money payment in 2018 and served jail time. Bragg's predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., investigated Trump's role in the hush-money payments but didn't file state charges before leaving office at the end of 2021. 

Some analysts and Trump supporters have argued that Vance declining to prosecute Trump on this count means Bragg's revived case must be weak or politically motivated. Vance said Sunday that he simply ran out of time, thanks to delays tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump's long but unsuccessful fight to stop Vance from obtaining his tax records — and a request by federal prosecutors in Manhattan.

"I was asked by the U.S. attorney's office in the Southern District to stand down on our investigation," Vance told Chuck Todd on NBC's Meet the Press, "and as someone who respects that office a great deal and believing that they might perhaps have the best laws to investigate, I did so,"

For a year and a half, at the request of the Southern District of New York, the Manhattan D.A.'s office "hit the pause button" on the hush-money case, Vance elaborated on MSNBC's Inside with Jen Psaki. "I was surprised, after Michael Cohen pleaded guilty, that the investigation from the Southern District on that issue did not go forward. By that time we had moved on to other matters," including the "two-year saga" to obtain Trump's tax returns, which led to an indictment of the Trump Organization four months later and guilty verdicts a year after that

Renato Mariotti, a legal analyst and former federal prosecutor, wondered about the federal request to halt Vance's hush-money investigation. "Did then–Attorney General Barr play any role in that request?" he asked. "Did Trump?" Trump's former national security adviser John Bolton separately told CBS's Face the Nation on Sunday that he knows of plenty of cases where the Trump administration "weaponized" the Justice Department. 

Psaki pressed Vance on how close he came to indicting Trump for the hush-money payments or other alleged crimes. If he had approved an indictment before stepping down, Vance said, it was with the understanding that the investigation was ongoing and Bragg would get the final call, because "we had been unable to complete our work."