NEW YORK (AP): Former President Donald Trump has been invited to testify next week before a New York grand jury that has been investigating hush money payments made on his behalf during his 2016 presidential campaign, according to a news report.
The New York Times cited ” four people with knowledge of the matter ” in reporting that the invitation was made by the Manhattan district attorney’s office. Such an invitation often indicates a decision on indictments is near.
The district attorney’s office declined to comment. A Trump spokesperson issued a statement that disparaged the investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, as politically motivated.
Any indictment would mark the first time any former US president has been charged with a crime. It would come as Trump is ramping up a run to regain the White House in 2024 while simultaneously battling legal problems on multiple fronts.
The district attorney in Atlanta, Georgia, has said decisions are “imminent” in a two-year investigation into possible illegal meddling in the 2020 election by Trump and his allies. A US Justice Department special counsel is also investigating efforts by Trump and his allies to undo the election as well as the handling of classified documents at his Florida estate.
The New York grand jury has been probing Trump’s involvement in a $130,000 payment made in 2016 to the porn star Stormy Daniels to keep her from going public about a sexual encounter she said she had with the Republican years earlier.
The money was paid out of the personal funds of Trump’s now-estranged lawyer, Michael Cohen, who then said he was reimbursed by the Trump Organization and also paid extra bonuses for a total that eventually rose to $420,000.
Cohen pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2018 that the payment, and another he helped arrange to the model Karen McDougal through the parent company of the National Enquirer tabloid, amounted to an illegal campaign contribution.
Federal prosecutors at the time decided not to bring charges against Trump, who by then was president. The Manhattan district attorney’s office then launched its own investigation, which lingered for several years but has been gathering momentum in recent weeks.
Several figures close to Trump have been spotted in recent days entering Bragg’s office for meetings with prosecutors, including his former political adviser Kellyanne Conway and former spokesperson Hope Hicks.
Cohen has also met several times with prosecutors, saying after a recent visit that he thought the investigation was nearing a conclusion.
Under New York law, people who appear before a grand jury are given immunity from prosecution for things they say during their testimony, so potential targets of criminal investigations are generally invited to testify only if they waive that immunity. Lawyers generally advise clients not to do so if there is a potential for a criminal case.
It isn’t clear what charges prosecutors might be exploring.
Legal experts have said one potential crime could be the way the payments to Cohen were structured and falsely classified internally as being for a legal retainer. New York has a law against falsifying business records, but it is a misdemeanor unless the records fudging is done in conjunction with a more serious felony crime.
Separately, the district attorney’s office has also spent years investigating whether Trump and his company inflated the value of some its assets in dealings with lenders and potential business partners. Those allegations are the subject of a civil lawsuit, filed by the state’s attorney general.