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Trump indictment becomes more likely in New York

By Sarah May on
 February 6, 2023

Amid reports that New York District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) has empaneled a new grand jury and begun presenting witnesses relating to former President Trump's involvement in payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels, legal observers are suggesting that the chances of an indictment are on the rise, as The Hill reports.

At issue is a sum of $130,000 paid to Daniels in the run-up to the 2016 election by Trump's former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, to keep her from going public with allegations of an affair, an entanglement the former president has continued to deny.

Hush money probed

As the New York Times reported late last month, Bragg has already started presenting evidence to the grand jury on the Stormy Daniels payment, something many view as a sign that a final decision is near on whether criminal charges against Trump are in the offing.

According to the Times, Bragg will attempt to recount for the jury the events leading up to the payment to Daniels, enlisting the help of former employees of the National Enquirer, who assisted in arranging the deal she made with Trump.

Former Enquirer publisher David Pecker was seen entering the building in which the grand jury is working, and Cohen himself told CNN early this month that he has turned over cell phones as well as other records requested by Bragg in order to, as he stated, “extract from it the voice recordings that I had had with Keith Davidson, former attorney to Stormy Daniels before Michael Avenatti...that way it could be used as evidence if in fact they proceed forward, which I suspect they are.”

These developments, according to some experts, suggest that Bragg is approaching a decision on whether Trump should be charged, with Catherine Christian, a former prosecutor in Bragg's office, saying, “If they actually are presenting witnesses, the first thing I said is, 'Oh, this is real. They're going for it.'”

Cohen predicts

The payment to Daniels ultimately led to Cohen pleading guilty to federal campaign finance violations, proceedings in which he claimed that Trump instructed him to facilitate her receipt of the funds and subsequently reimbursed him via monthly disbursements as well as a bonus, as The Hill noted.

That arrangement, it is thought, could result in Bragg pursuing state-level charges against Trump for falsifying business records by intentionally and unlawfully characterizing payments to Cohen as legal expenses.

For a felony charge to apply to Trump, however, prosecutors would need to demonstrate that the fraudulent conduct regarding the reimbursements to Cohen was part of a broader intent to commit a separate crime, such as a violation of state or federal tax or campaign laws.

While some legal experts believe that is a high bar for Bragg to meet, Cohen disagrees, saying, according to Fox News, “I've said all along that I believe the DA's case is by far the simplest to prove, and it is the most destructive to Donald Trump individually and to his business as well. I do believe he will see repercussions for the first time in almost his entire life.”

Trump reacts

In his characteristically outspoken manner, Trump responded to the developments out of Bragg's office, as the New York Post noted, taking to his Truth Social platform to deny allegations of an affair with Daniels and to decry what he views as the transparently political nature of the probes.

“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 declared.

The former president did not leave things there, adding, “Working closely with the Weaponized Justice Department, this is a continuation of the Greatest Witch Hunt of all time.”

Further slamming the very idea that he could face charges in the in Daniels matter, Trump later posted, “Some Radical Left crazies, coupled with 'ratings crushed' and failing Fake News, are trying to get [Bragg] to go the prosecutorial misconduct route, and take on certain very weak cases which are dead anyway based on the Statute of Limitations. FIGHT VIOLENT CRIME!”

Indictments in the balance

As The Hill points out, Bragg's activities represent just one of the many legal battles with which the former president is currently contending, in that he is also in the midst of investigations surrounding mishandling of classified records, facing a civil lawsuit launched by the New York attorney general, and awaiting word on a possible indictment in Georgia over his conduct following the 2020 election.

As The Hill reported separately, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis (D) recently suggested that charging decisions were “imminent” with regard to a telephone call made by Trump to Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger ahead of the Jan. 6, 2020 Captiol unrest, asking if he could “find” the number of votes needed to reverse that state's presidential results.

Though it once appeared that Bragg's chances of indicting Trump had faded significantly after the resignation last February of two top prosecutors exploring the matter, recent activity on the case suggest, in eyes of legal observers, just the opposite.

As former federal prosecutor William Devaney explained to The Hill with regard to the former president's multi-faceted legal concerns, “On one level, I think Bragg doesn't want to be left out of the party if there are going to be additional criminal charges brought against Trump,” but whether any indictments actually materialize in the weeks to come, only time will tell.