Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign stop to unveil his leadership team, at the South Carolina State House in Columbia, South Carolina, U.S., January 28, 2023.
Shannon Stapleton | Reuters
A Manhattan grand jury began hearing evidence Monday in a criminal probe of a 2016 hush money payment that former President Donald Trump authorized to porn star Stormy Daniels, a new report said.
A witness in that investigation, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, was seen with his attorney entering the courthouse Monday where the grand jury is meeting, according to The New York Times.
The newspaper also reported that prosecutors from Manhattan’s District Attorney’s Office have recently contacted officials from Trump’s 2016 campaign about it.
A lawyer for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, also known as Stormy Daniels, poses for pictures at the Gossip Gentleman club in Long Island, New York, February 23, 2018.
Eduardo Munoz | Reuters
The move to present evidence to a grand jury is the latest event in a dramatic about-face by Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, who as of last year was widely believed to have dropped serious efforts to potentially charge Trump with crimes related to the Daniels payment or to other acts.
Bragg reportedly revived the probe of Trump last fall, after his office obtained criminal convictions of his company, the Trump Organization, and its former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg for a scheme to avoid paying taxes on executives’ compensation.
Two weeks ago, Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen met personally with Bragg.
“It appears that I’ll probably be meeting with them again,” Cohen told CBS News on Jan. 17.
Cohen is a key witness in the probe.
In the fall of 2016, when Trump was the Republican nominee for president, Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her agreement to keep quiet about her claims that she had sex with Trump one time in 2005.
Cohen later admitted he made that payment at Trump’s behest, to avoid Daniels damaging his chances of winning the White House. Trump has denied having sex wih Daniels.
Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to a federal campaign finance violation related to the Daniels payment and other financial crimes.
Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, when asked if Cohen would be testifying before the grand jury, told CNBC, “We’re not requested to do anything at the moment, but we’re fully cooperating”
Most felonies in New York state have a five-year statute of limitations, which normally would protect Trump from being prosecuted in connection with the payment to Daniels, as it occurred more than six years ago.
But under state law the clock on the statute can be suspended an extra five years if a defendant is “continuously outside this state.”
Trump spent four years in the White House, and since leaving office in January 2021 has lived in Florida and New Jersey.
In addition to the New York grand jury, Trump is being eyed for possible criminal meddling in Georgia’s 2020 election by a prosecutor in that state. A special grand jury in Atlanta recently issued a still-private report in that investigation, and the prosecutor, Fulton County DA Fani Willis, is expected to make a decision soon on whether to file charges in that case and against whom.