(NewsNation) — More than six years after Donald Trump’s lawyer paid an adult actress to keep quiet about an alleged affair she said she had with Trump, New York prosecutors are considering whether the former president to press charges in this case.
Trump was earlier this week invited to testify before a Manhattan grand jury in connection with the embezzlement investigation, according to his attorney. On Monday, Michael Cohen, who ultimately made the payments, testified before a grand jury.
Both actions indicate that charges may be filed. If that happens, Trump will become the first former president to ever face criminal charges.
What is it about?
In the run-up to the 2016 election, longtime Trump lawyer Cohen paid porn actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 allegedly to keep quiet about an affair she claimed she had with the former president.
Trump admitted it he paid Cohen “monthly payment” as part of the agreement to “stop Daniels’ allegations of extortion” and denied having an affair with her. The former president said the contract had nothing to do with campaign funds, and his campaign booked the reimbursements as legal fees.
Earlier in 2016, Cohen also arranged through the publisher of the National Enquirer for a $150,000 payment to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to rescind a story about a separate alleged affair with Trump. The former president also denied the accusation.
Cohen pleaded guilty to violating federal campaign finance law in connection with the payments, but Trump was never charged. Federal prosecutors said the payments constituted illegal aid to the Trump campaign without notice. They also accused the Trump campaign of overstating Cohen’s reimbursement for tax purposes.
What charges can be brought against Trump?
Manhattan prosecutors may be considering at least two different options, both of which may be difficult to prove.
If the Trump campaign had a fake rental agreement with Cohen that Trump knew about, then prosecutors could prove that the former president falsified commercial documents. Under New York law, the crime is only a misdemeanor unless prosecutors can prove he falsified records to cover up another crime.
That separate crime, prosecutors may argue, was a violation of state election law. Authorities may allege that Trump paid off Daniels to benefit his campaign.
But legal experts say that can be difficult to prove.
“A felony charge would be new and they would have to show specifically that the winnings were to affect the company,” This was announced by NewsNation journalist Dan Abrams on Wednesday.
Trump’s attorney, Joe Taccapino, maintains that no crime was committed and said the payment was unrelated to the Trump campaign.
“(Trump) would have done it if he was the TV star he was before politics ever entered his world,” Tacopina told Abrams.
The legal case against the former president is further complicated by the fact that the prosecution’s main witness, Cohen, has previously lied to Congress.
On Friday, Cohen said “Good Morning America” that he is “absolutely” ready to be cross-examined in a potential trial against his former boss.
How likely is an indictment?
Trump was invited to testify before a New York grand jury investigating the hush money payments, according to one of his attorneys. The invitation could have signaled that a decision on the charges was imminent.
“(Indictment) becomes more likely, I think, now,” Takapino told Abrams.
Tacopino said that the former president does not plan to participate in the investigation.
A number of key people involved in the Hush Money investigation have already spoken to authorities about the case.
On Monday, Cohen testified before a grand jury investigating the payments. Two days later, Daniels met with the Manhattan prosecutor’s office and answered questions related to the investigation. Her attorney said she is willing to testify if the case goes to trial.
Trump himself also said on Saturday morning that he awaiting arrest on Tuesday, claiming in a post to Truth Social that he learned of the alleged arrest from “ILLEGAL LEAKS FROM THE CORRUPT AND HIGHLY POLITICAL DISTRICTS OF MANHATTAN [sic] OFFICE”.
It’s not entirely clear why Manhattan prosecutors are bringing criminal charges against Trump now after federal prosecutors previously declined to do so, even though Trump was a sitting president at the time.
Manhattan prosecutors began their own investigation into the payments in 2019, revisiting it several times to look at other issues related to Trump’s business dealings.
In December, the Trump Organization was convicted of tax fraud in a separate case unrelated to the money laundering allegations. A jury found two Trump Organization corporate entities guilty on all 17 counts, including charges of conspiracy and falsifying business records, although Trump himself was not convicted.
Tacopina believes that accusing Trump now would be a mistake.
“We will chew up this case,” he said. “It would be the worst stain on the legacy of the prosecution.”
What about Trump’s other affairs?
The “hush money” investigation is just one of many potential criminal charges facing Trump as he makes his third consecutive bid for the White House.
Prosecutors in Georgia may file criminal charges against the former president for allegedly meddling in the 2020 election. A special grand jury in the case wrapped up its work in December, and now the district attorney will decide whether to go to a regular grand jury on one or more indictments in the case.
Trump also faces a federal investigation into the storage of classified documents at his Florida home. US Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed special counsel Jack Smith to oversee the investigation. The Justice Department suggested the documents were deliberately withheld after Trump left office.
Smith’s office is also looking into Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election and his potential role in the Jan. 6 riots at the Capitol.