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Michael Cohen to lead Trump grand jury in Stormy Daniels case

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NEW YORK — Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s investigation into Donald Trump’s 2016 payments to a mistress appears to be winding down, but legal experts say it’s unclear what the criminal case against the former president will look like.

The district attorney could seek indictments in the coming days or weeks from a former Trump confidant, Michael Cohen, to a grand jury that will hear it Monday afternoon. Cohen paid adult film actress Stormy Daniels $130,000 in 2016. Trump denied the affair, calling Daniels an opportunist because of his status and his vulnerability as a presidential candidate.

Bragg (D) investigates Trump violated campaign finance laws by using what appeared to be routine legal fees to reimburse Cohen Daniels.

If Bragg seeks to indict the former president — a move that appears likely based on Trump’s recent call for him to appear before a grand jury — he faces several potential hurdles, legal analysts say. It would be unusual for a prosecutor to allege a violation of federal law, rather than state campaign finance law, as the basis for elevating a misdemeanor case from a misdemeanor to a felony. But it’s unusual for a presidential candidate to be sued for violating state — as opposed to federal — campaign finance laws.

Either way, Bragg must rely on the testimony of Cohen, a staunch Trump critic who served time in prison for Stammy Daniels money laundering, tax evasion and lying to Congress. Trump plans to build property in Russia Trump’s defense attorneys could use those facts to undermine Cohen’s credibility before a jury.

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“If there is an indictment, I look forward to seeing how DA Bragg frames his allegations,” said Jerry H. Goldfeder said. “What seems unexamined is that a state prosecutor is hanging his hat on a state law offense to prosecute a federal candidate.”

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While many political candidates and other officials have been indicted and convicted, no former president has ever been charged — and for some, it hasn’t derailed their political careers. Trump, who failed in his bid for re-election in 2020, is seeking the White House again in 2024.

Bragg has given Trump until Thursday to decide whether to appear before a grand jury — if the man’s lawyer learns of a grand jury and notifies the district attorney, the trial targets a chance in state court in New York. to be invited.

Legal experts have said that extending a grand jury subpoena to a potential defendant is usually the last thing that happens in a grand jury trial. It is considered too risky for any defendant to testify in a grand jury trial.

“Alvin Bragg, by his actions, makes it clear that he is within a yard of impeaching Trump,” Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus R. said Karen Friedman-Agnifilo, who served as chief assistant district attorney under Vance Jr. (D). .

On Friday, Cohen met with the district attorney’s office for the 20th time The investigation into Trump began in 2019, when Vance was the district attorney. The purpose was a “dress rehearsal” for Cohen’s appearance on Monday, a person with knowledge of the session said on condition of anonymity to discuss the confidential process.

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Under Vance, the Daniels case was referred to internally as the “zombie case,” an apparent reference to its lifeless status. Prosecutors instead brought a tax-evasion suit against the Trump Organization, the former president’s family business, which resulted in the company’s conviction in December. Longtime Trump Organization chief financial officer Alan Weiselberg was also charged He confessed to the crime.

After the tax indictment was filed, Vance’s team stepped in to investigate whether Trump and his company illegally misled lenders and insurance companies, inflated property values ​​to get better rates and then lowered those values ​​to lower his tax liability. Neither Vance nor Bragg sought a grand jury indictment on those charges. But New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) last year filed a $250 million civil suit against Trump, his family and the Trump Organization.

Any charges Bragg seeks in Daniels’ case will be relatively low-level. He may also face a charge of falsifying business records, which involves creating false documents to conceal or commit another crime.

Trump, after leaving the White House, is separately under criminal investigation by the Justice Department for handling highly classified material at his Florida home and private club, Mar-a-Lago; and the Department of Justice and the district attorney in Fulton County, Ga., over his efforts to block President Biden’s 2020 election victory.

The status of major investigations involving Donald Trump

At the New York hearing, Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, said his client’s investigation into payments to Daniels by Trump’s own Justice Department five years ago would lay the groundwork for any case Bragg chooses against the former president.

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Documents filed by federal prosecutors in Cohen’s case allege he paid Daniels at Trump’s direction. Trump was not charged in that case, but his alleged role was established in court records. The Justice Department has a longstanding policy of not indicting a sitting president, and the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan has not re-examined the case since Trump left office.

Although Cohen’s plea was an admitted violation of campaign laws, the issue of whether the money paid to Daniels was a donation was never litigated. Trump said he was a victim of extortion It is contended in the inquiry that the giving to her cannot be considered as a donation.

Prosecutors will also have the burden of proving that Trump violated election law, which means showing that Trump was personally aware of the rules. Election laws are complex, and candidates typically rely on lawyers well-versed in campaign finance matters.

The former president could also use a newly published book by a former prosecutor in Prague’s office to try to reduce any charges against Daniels. Marc Pomerantz, who left the district attorney’s office last year to protest Bragg’s decision not to seek fraud charges based on property valuations, included in the book internal discussions about not pursuing charges against Trump related to Daniels.

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