A Trump attorney has confirmed that the former President was invited to testify before the New York grand jury hearing evidence in the investigation into the payment of hush money to the adult film star known as “Stormy Daniels” ahead of the 2016 Election.
The New York Times, which broke the story Thursday evening, has noted that it would be unusual for a District Attorney–in this case, Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg– to put forth an offer to testify without ultimately seeking charges against him.
In New York, the Times points out, potential defendants have the right to answer questions before the grand jury before they are indicted. They rarely testify, however.
Calling it “much ado about nothing,” Trump attorney Joseph Tacopina has said he does not believe prosecutors had committed “one way or another” on a decision whether to charge Trump.
Trump has not been subpoenaed, and he is unlikely to testify. The Times notes that another potential option is for his lawyers to meet privately with Manhattan prosecutors to explore a way to fend off charges.
The D.A. office’s invite to the former President comes after former Trump attorney and self-described “fixer” Michael Cohen met with prosecutors for a 19th time on Tuesday.
Cohen had pleaded guilty in federal court in 2018 for arranging a nondisclosure agreement for which he paid Daniels $130,000, a campaign contribution violation during the 2016 election cycle, since the payment was made in service of the Trump campaign and exceeded the federal limit.
The former Trump fixer has asserted that he paid the hush money out of his own personal funds, then was reimbursed by the Trump Organization and also paid extra bonuses for a total that eventually rose to $420,000.
It was reported on January 30 that Bragg’s office would begin presenting evidence to a grand jury in the case. The District Attorney’s office had previously hesitated to move forward with potential charges against Trump until after he’d left the White House.
Cohen is not the only former high-profile Trump staffer who’s been questioned by Bragg’s office. Trump’s 2016 campaign press secretary and White House communications director Hope Hicks met with Manhattan prosecutors on Monday. And former Trump White House adviser KellyAnne Conway met with Manhattan prosecutors March 1.
Trump, who is running for reelection in 2024, has long asserted that Manhattan prosecutors are engaged in a “witch hunt.” He has also called Bragg, who is Black, a politically motivated “racist.” On his Truth Social site Thursday Trump denied having an affair with Daniels, and characterized Bragg’s investigation as part of a wider conspiracy to bring him down.
It’s unclear what charges prosecutors might be exploring, but legal experts have surmised that 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’s a misdemeanor—unless the falsifying of records is done in conjunction with a more serious felony.
Trump attorney Tacopina has insisted there was “no underlying crime,” further asserting, “There’s no established case law on this campaign finance stuff. It’s ridiculous.”