The Manhattan district attorney's office on Monday began presenting evidence to a new grand jury about former President Donald Trump's role in hush money payments to adult film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign, according to The New York Times.
The grand jury was recently impaneled and District Attorney Alvin Bragg appears to be "laying the groundwork for potential criminal charges against the former president in the coming months," sources told the outlet.
David Pecker, the former publisher of the National Enquirer who helped broker the deal with Daniels, was seen entering the building where the grand jury is sitting on Monday.
Former Trump attorney and fixer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the hush money payment "in coordination with, and at the direction of" Trump in 2018, has said he has repeatedly spoken with prosecutors.
Prosecutors also intend to interview former National Enquirer editor Dylan Howard and Trump Organization employees Jeffrey McConney and Deborah Tarasoff — who helped arrange for Cohen to be reimbursed the $130,000 he paid to Daniels, according to the report. Prosecutors are also expected to meet with former Daniels attorney Keith Davidson. Prosecutors have also contacted former 2016 Trump campaign officials and subpoenaed phone records and other documents in a sign prosecutors are seeking to corroborate witness accounts.
Bragg empaneled the new grand jury after facing criticism for seemingly backing off Trump after replacing former D.A. Cy Vance, who first opened the probe. Bragg initially abandoned plans to present evidence against Trump himself, prompting two top prosecutors on the team to resign in protest. But after securing a tax fraud conviction against the Trump Organization last year, Bragg renewed his scrutiny of the hush money payment to Daniels, which first triggered the original probe. The renewed probe is focused on whether Trump's company falsely classified the reimbursement to Cohen as a legal expense. To charge Trump with a felony, prosecutors would need to show that Trump falsified the records to help commit to conceal a second crime — a violation of New York state election law — though the theory is largely untested in court.
Trump lashed out over the report, calling the case "old news" and insisting he "NEVER HAD AN AFFAIR."
"With murders and violent crime surging like never before in New York City, the Radical Left Manhattan D.A., Alvin Bragg, just leaked to the Fake News Media that they are still going after the Stormy 'Horseface' Daniels Bull….!" Trump wrote on Truth Social, claiming that Bragg was "working with the Weaponized Justice Department" in a "continuation of the Greatest With Hunt of time."
But legal experts say the move shows that Bragg likely has a good reason why he shifted course in the probe.
Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.
"Bragg initially made a decision not to pursue charges against Trump, and it appears to he now has reversed course," tweeted former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. "I suspect there is more to this story and we'll learn about that in the months to come."
Former federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, who served on special counsel Bob Mueller's team, called the investigation the "sleeper case to watch" as Trump also faces potential legal trouble in a Fulton County DA probe looking at his post-election efforts to overturn his loss and a DOJ investigation into classified documents he refused to turn over in response to a grand jury subpoena.
"It may be that they have been able to uncover objective evidence that corroborates it... that makes him feel this is a stronger case than they did back when Alvin Bragg first came to office," former U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade predicted during an appearance on MSNBC.
Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman told the network that the decision to impanel a new grand jury shows that Bragg is "going for the kill."
Trump could face up to four years in prison if he is convicted of first-degree falsifying business records, former district attorneys told Insider, though securing a conviction could be complicated.
"You're falsifying your records to show that it is a business expense, as if you're paying a lawyer to do legal work, and this wasn't that at all," Josh Moscow, a former senior financial crimes prosecutor at the Manhattan DA's office, told the outlet. "This was a conduit payment."
Prosecutors would have to link Trump himself to the payment but a recording Cohen made of Trump discussing a hush-money payment to another woman, Karen McDougal, could be "pretty incriminating," Daniel Alonso, a former chief assistant district attorney at the Manhattan DA's office, told the outlet.
"It always struck me as incredibly unfair that Michael Cohen is the only person that was charged in this crime," he added. "The idea that the bag man is the only one that goes down and the principal gets away scot-free just doesn't really square with justice."
about the Manhattan DA's Trump probe