Manhattan DA presenting evidence to grand jury about Trump’s role in Stormy Daniels’ hush money payments
NEW YORK — The Manhattan district attorney is presenting evidence to a special grand jury about former President Donald Trump’s connections to hush money payments made to former porn star Stormy Daniels.
The latest development in District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s prolonged probe into Trump has been confirmed to the Daily News by a source familiar with the investigation.
It comes weeks after Trump’s former fixer and lawyer Michael Cohen met with Bragg’s investigators for the first time. Cohen went to federal prison for giving Daniels the money before the 2016 presidential election to keep quiet about allegations she had sex with Trump.
Cohen’s meeting renewed speculation Trump could still face criminal charges in New York after the DA’s investigation went quiet following another grand jury’s expiration and a set of resignations by high-level prosecutors, which fueled rumors the probe was dead in the water.
The hush money payments have long been public knowledge. Cohen served three years in federal custody after pleading guilty in 2018 to breaking campaign finance laws when he bought Daniels’ silence about an alleged affair with Trump in 2006 for $130,000.
Cohen admitted he also paid former Playboy model Karen McDougal $150,000 to stay quiet about alleged liaisons with Trump in 2006 and 2007, which he said was coordinated with the National Enquirer. The New York Times reported Monday that the tabloid’s former publisher David Pecker was seen entering the Manhattan DA’s offices.
The DA’s focus on the payments is the closest sign yet Trump might still face charges stemming from the probe now running on three years. Cohen admitted in his federal case that he made the payments “in coordination with, and at the direction of” Trump, who he said reimbursed him for $420,000 doled out by his family real estate business and at least one payment straight out of his checking account.
Among prosecutors’ areas of interest are how those reimbursements were classified in the Trump Organization’s books and whether they met the threshold of falsifying business records. In his federal case, Cohen said they were designated as legal bills.
To charge Trump with a felony for falsely booking the hush payment as a business expense, prosecutors must find a backup crime. Trump making the payment days before an election for a politically motivated reason could count as one, a source familiar with the investigation told The News.
Cohen met more than a dozen times with prosecutors who worked under Bragg’s predecessor Cyrus Vance. Cohen told The News his phone stopped ringing when the new administration moved in.
Vance’s investigators did not have faith in pursuing a path to bringing charges in state court reliant on federal election law, sources told The News.
Trump has denied the affairs with Daniels and McDougal. In a statement on his social media site, he disparaged Daniels by calling her “Horseface” and wrote, “NEVER HAD AN AFFAIR.” Trump said the grand jury’s impaneling was a continuation of the “Greatest Witch Hunt of All Time.”
On Tuesday, Trump again denounced the probe as “Stormy nonsense.”
“It is VERY OLD & happened a long time ago,” Trump said on his social media site.
When she testified at her former attorney Michael Avenatti’s trial, Daniels said Cohen had paid her on Trump’s behalf to sign statements he penned denying the alleged affair — a sexual encounter she described as “getting cornered coming out of a bathroom.”
The timing of Bragg’s new curiosity in what Cohen has to say comes on the heels of his office’s recent convictions of two Trump-owned entities and his company’s longtime finance chief Allen Weisselberg on tax fraud charges. The company was fined $1.6 million earlier this month, and Weisselberg is serving a five-month sentence on Rikers.
The revived probe also coincides with the upcoming release of former prosecutor Mark Pomerantz’s new book about his role in the investigation and why he quit in February 2022 when Bragg refused to bring charges.
Lawyers for the DA wrote the book’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, on Jan. 18, asking it in vain to halt the release until Bragg’s office could make sure it didn’t reveal confidential information.
Bragg’s request was echoed by Trump’s lawyers last week, who threatened to sue Pomerantz and his publisher if the book hits shelves Feb. 7. Pomerantz, in response, said he stood by his previous comments calling Trump a criminal and everything included in his book.
It remains to be seen whether Cohen will be called in to testify before the grand jury.
A source with knowledge of the earlier stages of the probe said the previous group of prosecutors notified Cohen that he’d be called in to testify, but then Bragg put the case on ice.
Cohen’s lawyer Lanny Davis said he could not discuss any conversations Cohen has had with the DA.
“These are very serious people with a very serious case. For example, this involves the finding of federal prosecutors that’s already a matter of public record — that Donald Trump directed and coordinated a crime for which Michael Cohen pled guilty. A federal crime. And went to jail,” Davis said.
Manhattan DA spokeswoman Danielle Filson declined to comment.
Pecker’s lawyer Elkan Abramowitz did not return a call seeking comment. Daniels’ lawyer Keith Davidson did not respond to a request for comment.