NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York grand jury is expected on Wednesday to resume its closed-door investigation into whether Donald Trump made illegal hush-money payments to a porn star, which could yield first-ever criminal charges against any US president. .
The panel has been meeting regularly on Mondays and Wednesdays to consider evidence in one of the many legal probes swirling around the former president as he mounts a comeback bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office has been investigating $130,000 paid to porn star Stormy Daniels in the final weeks of Trump’s 2016 election campaign. Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen has said he made the payments at Trump’s direction to buy her silence about Trump’s extramarital affair.
Trump has denied the affair took place, and others in his orbit have said Cohen acted on his own.
About half of Americans believe the New York investigation is politically motivated, but a large majority find it believable that he paid hush money to a porn star, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll concluded on Tuesday.
Cohen went to prison after pleading guilty to federal charges stemming from the payoff, but prosecutors in that case did not charge Trump. Manhattan has started and stopped its own investigation into the matter several times.
If charges were filed, Trump would have to travel to New York from his Florida home for a mug shot and fingerprinting. Security officials are bracing for possible unrest, but so far few of Trump’s supporters have heeded his call for protests.
On Monday, the grand jury heard from a witness, attorney Robert Costello, who said that Cohen acted on his own. Cohen has said publicly that Trump directed him to make the payments and has appeared twice before the grand jury.
Trump’s fellow Republicans have criticized the probe by Bragg, a Democrat, as politically motivated.
Republicans in the House of Representatives launched an investigation of Bragg’s office on Monday with a letter seeking communications, documents and testimony related to the effort. Bragg’s office said that would not affect its work.
Trump and his political allies also face two criminal investigations, one in Georgia and one by the federal government, stemming from their attempts to overturn his 2020 presidential election defeat.
He also faces another federal probe into his handling of sensitive government documents after leaving office, two investigations in New York into his business practices, and a defamation case by a woman who claims he raped her in the 1990s, a claim Trump denies.
Trump has escaped legal peril numerous times. In the White House, he weathered two attempts by Congress to remove him from office as well as a years-long probe into his campaign’s contacts with Russia in 2016.
Trump and allied groups have tried to capitalize on news of the probe, sending a flurry of fundraising messages based on the potential indictment over the last few days. One such email, on Tuesday, was titled, “Barricades arrive at Manhattan Criminal Court” and included a picture that appeared to show a metal barrier being unloaded from an NYPD truck.
It was not immediately clear how much Trump may have raised from the indictment-linked fundraising appeals. Some moderate Democrats worried that an indictment would carry political risk.
“You have to be very careful. The court system should not be perceived to be involved in the political process,” Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat, told reporters. “I think it’d have the reverse effect of what people might be thinking. It just emboldens him. I mean, he’s the type of person that’s sometimes emboldened by more outrageous things.”
(Additional reporting by Jason Lange, Alexandra Ulmer and David Morgan; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)
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