- Cohen and Daniels have each testified to the grand jury, suggesting a focus is on the hush payment.
- Potential charges include falsifying business records and campaign finance violations.
- Trump has denied wrongdoing and not been charged yet during a years-long investigation.
The Manhattan district attorney’s investigation of Donald Trump has been going on for years and outlasted so many fits and starts that it has been described as the “zombie” case.
With a decision on possible charges now believed to be imminent, public information from witnesses who have been debriefed by prosecutors and provided testimony to a grand jury indicate that a large focus of the investigation has not strayed far from its start — a payment the former president made to a porn actress to silence her in the waning days of his 2016 campaign.
District Attorney Alvin Bragg hasn’t explained his strategy and Trump hasn’t been charged. But the hush-money payment could potentially be used to build a case for falsifying business records and violating campaign finance law.
Here is what we know about the investigation:
How does the Stormy Daniels payment figure in the investigation?
The heart of the New York investigation into Trump appears to focus on a hush-money payment Michael Cohen arranged from Trump to porn actress Stormy Daniels. The $130,000 payment aimed to prevent her from publicizing her claim of having had sex with Trump before the 2016 election.
Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018 to concealing income from the Internal Revenue service, making false statements and “causing $280,000 in payments to be made to silence two women who otherwise planned to speak publicly about their alleged affairs with a presidential candidate,” according to the Justice Department.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison, although he was released early to home detention because of the threat of COVID-19 in prison.
Cohen and Daniels have each testified before the grand jury. Evidence bolstering Cohen’s testimony includes emails, texts and other documents gathered during a search of Cohen’s electronic devices, a source familiar with the investigation told USA TODAY.
Trump has denied wrongdoing but admitted to making the payment to Daniels.
“I did absolutely nothing wrong, I never had an affair with Stormy Daniels, nor would I have wanted to have an affair with Stormy Daniels,” Trump said on his social media site Truth Social. “I relied on counsel in order to resolve this extortion of me.”
Campaign-finance charges would typically come at the federal level. But the Justice Department declined to charge Trump and the Federal Election Commission deadlocked over potentially taking action in the case.
How was the Trump Organization involved?
A New York grand jury in Manhattan has long been investigating Trump and his namesake company.
Two New York prosecutors who had been leading a criminal investigation of Trump quit Bragg’s office in February 2022. The resignations of Carey Dunne and Mark Pomerantz come just over a month into Bragg’s tenure and raised questions about whether he could pursue the investigation.
But the investigation into Trump’s business operations eventually resulted in convictions of two parts of the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, over a tax evasion conspiracy. Trump wasn’t charged in that case.
What is the Manhattan grand jury investigating now?
Bragg’s office hasn’t announced how it is investigating Trump. Based on the witnesses called, the inquiry seems to focus on the hush-money payment, which wasn’t necessarily illegal.
One potential legal strategy is that Trump could be charged with falsifying business records in combination with another criminal violation. Falsifying business records is a misdemeanor, but it would become a felony if linked to a second crime.
The second charge could be an alleged campaign finance violation for failing to report the $130,000 payment to Daniels as a contribution to his presidential campaign.
Three House Republican chairmen criticized the legal strategy Monday in a letter to Bragg, based on Cohen’s “serious credibility problem” and the potential charges involved.
“The legal theory underlying your reported prosecution appears to be tenuous and untested,” Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, Oversight Chairman James Comer of Kentucky and Administration Chairman Bryan Steil of Wisconsin wrote to Bragg.