Prosecutors are to present a grand jury with evidence about hush money payments made by Donald Trump, the former US president, to adult film actor and producer Stormy Daniels during the 2016 election campaign, it was reported on Monday.
The surprise move by Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney in New York, revives a long-running investigation that appeared to be drifting and raises the threat of criminal charges, adding to Trump’s already daunting legal troubles.
The report from the New York Times newspaper came two days after the ex-president became the first candidate to hit the 2024 election campaign trail, delivering speeches in the early primary states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.
Daniels, who was born Stephanie Clifford but professes to prefer her stage name, claims to have had sex with Trump in Nevada in 2006 when he was already married to Melania Trump. He denied the allegation but in 2016 his longtime fixer Michael Cohen made a $130,000 hush money payment to Daniels, which Trump reimbursed.
Cohen later pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance violations linked to his role in the hush money payment and alleged that it was made “in coordination with, and at the direction of” Trump. Cohen, who spent time in prison, recently disclosed that on 17 January he met Manhattan prosecutors investigating the matter.
The Times reported on Monday that witness David Pecker, former publisher of the National Enquirer, a tabloid that helped broker the deal with Daniels, was seen entering a building in Lower Manhattan where the grand jury has been empaneled.
Prosecutors have also attempted to interview the Enquirer’s former editor, Dylan Howard, two employees at Trump’s company – Jeffrey McConney and Deborah Tarasoff – and officials at Trump’s 2016 election campaign, the paper added. They have subpoenaed relevant phone records and other documents.
Testimony from Cohen could also prove crucial to the prosecutors’ case if they try to demonstrate that Trump’s company sought to hide the hush money payment from voters just before election day in 2016, when he pulled off an upset victory over his Democratic rival, former secretary of state Hillary Clinton.
The myriad investigations into Trump include one in Georgia looking into his efforts to overturn his 2020 election defeat in the state. A judge in Atlanta is considering whether to release a special grand jury’s report that is expected to include recommendations for a possible criminal prosecution.