On Monday, the Manhattan District Attorney’s office began presenting evidence to a grand jury regarding hush money payments made by the Trump Organization to adult film actress Stormy Daniels.
The grand jury was recently established, and will advise District Attorney Alvin Bragg over whether Trump or other individuals involved in the payments should be charged for falsifying business records in order to conceal Trump’s relationship with Daniels.
Around $130,000 in payments were made to Daniels in late 2016 to ensure that she would keep silent about Trump’s extramarital affair with her, which, if divulged during the presidential campaign season, could have harmed his chances of winning the election against then-Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s personal lawyer at the time, Michael Cohen, has pleaded guilty to federal charges relating to those payments; in 2018, Cohen said that he facilitated the payments “at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” referring to Trump. In exchange for this service, the Trump Organization arranged to pay him $420,000, describing the payment as “legal fees,” which could constitute a crime under New York state law.
It is a felony to falsify business records in the state. A person found guilty of doing so faces up to four years in prison.
According to reporting from The New York Times, the case is considered a long shot, as it is dependent on an “untested legal theory” that might be difficult to prove. But prosecutors have taken a more aggressive approach in recent days, including contacting members of the Trump Organization, the Trump 2016 presidential campaign, and staff from The National Enquirer, which reportedly helped facilitate the hush money arrangement with Daniels.
At least one witness is believed to have met with the grand jury so far: David Pecker, the former publisher of The National Enquirer, was seen on Monday entering the building where the grand jury is convening. CNN also reported that Pecker had met with prosecutors that day.
The impaneling of a grand jury was somewhat surprising, as around a year ago, it appeared that the investigation was becoming dormant. At the time, sources told several media publications that Bragg appeared “disinterested” in the case and expressed doubts over the direction it was going in. His slowing-down of the inquiry led two lawyers in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to abruptly resign in protest.
Trump responded to the re-amping up of the case in a post on his Truth Social website that also referenced the case in Georgia examining his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election, and the special counsel investigation examining his removal of documents from the White House when he left office.
This and other inquiries are only happening to please the “Fake News Media and the Democrat [sic] Party,” Trump said, adding that he also believed the investigations were happening because he is “leading by sooo much” in polls for the 2024 presidential election.
Trump’s polling numbers aren’t as good as he claims, however. An aggregate of polling data collected by RealClearPolitics shows that he’s behind President Joe Biden in a hypothetical rematch by around 1.2 points, on average. Support for him running for president (for a third time in as many presidential election cycles) is even worse: According to an Economist/YouGov poll published just last week, barely over a quarter of Americans (27 percent) said he should run, while 57 percent said they didn’t want him to.
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