New York prosecutors have offered Donald Trump an opportunity to testify to a grand jury – signalling an investigation into hush money the former president allegedly paid a porn star may soon end in a criminal case.
The New York grand jury investigation is said to involve a $130,000 payment made just before the 2016 presidential election to an adult film actress known as Stormy Daniels, The New York Times reported on Thursday.
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Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, has said she had an affair with Trump years before he became president.
The Times reported such offers to testify “almost always indicate an indictment is close”. It quoted people with knowledge of the proceedings led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat who took office in January. His office did not respond to a request for comment.
If an indictment were to be filed, it would mark the first time a former US president has been charged with a crime.
‘Sort of unfair’
Trump’s lawyer Joseph Tacopina confirmed the Manhattan district attorney’s office invited the former president to testify.
“To me, it’s much ado about nothing,” Tacopina told The Associated Press news agency, adding he did not think prosecutors had committed “one way or another” on a decision on whether to charge Trump. He said there was no legal basis for a case.
“It’s just another example of them weaponizing the justice system against him. And it’s sort of unfair.”
Trump, who has already declared another bid for the White House, is facing several criminal investigations at the state and federal levels over possible wrongdoings before, during and after his first term in office. He has not yet been charged for any of them.
Trump lashed out on Thursday at his Truth Social page, calling the New York investigation “a political Witch-Hunt, trying to take down the leading candidate, by far, in the Republican Party”.
“I never had an affair with Stormy Daniels, nor would I have wanted to have an affair with Stormy Daniels,” he said. “I did absolutely nothing wrong.”
Trump’s legal woes
Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr, also a Democrat, launched an investigation into Trump’s finances in 2019, which resulted in a years-long legal battle over the billionaire’s tax documents.
In Georgia, a prosecutor is investigating Trump and his allies’ efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the southern state. The district attorney in Atlanta has said decisions are “imminent”.
The former president is also the subject of a federal investigation into his handling of classified documents as well as his possible involvement in the January 6, 2021 assault on the US Capitol. That investigation was handed to an independent special counsel shortly after Trump formally announced his new candidacy for the White House.
The hush money payment, made two weeks ahead of the November 2016 election, was allegedly intended to stop Daniels from publicly disclosing her affair with Trump.
It was made by a close Trump aide, the lawyer Michael Cohen, who said he was later reimbursed.
The payment to Cohen, if not properly accounted, could result in a misdemeanour charge in New York, but that could be raised to a felony if the false accounting was to cover up a second crime, such as a campaign finance violation, the Times said.
Trump said on Truth Social in the “Daniels matter”, he had “relied on counsel in order to resolve this Extortion … which took place a long time ago”.
It was not immediately clear if he was admitting that the payment had been made.
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.
Tacopina said there was no crime.
“There’s no precedent for this. There’s no established case law on this campaign finance stuff. It’s ridiculous. And there’s no underlying crime,” he said.