Where Things Stand: More Signs That Bragg Is Going Somewhere With Hush Payments Case

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PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 15: Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on November 15, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump announced that he was seeking another term in off... PALM BEACH, FLORIDA - NOVEMBER 15: Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during an event at his Mar-a-Lago home on November 15, 2022 in Palm Beach, Florida. Trump announced that he was seeking another term in office and officially launched his 2024 presidential campaign. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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Late last year we reported on a few surprising developments in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s inquiry into Donald Trump — developments that signaled Bragg was breathing new life into his office’s criminal probe of Trump that, up until that point, appeared to have stalled out.

In November, The New York Times reported that Bragg was taking another look at the hush-money payments that were made to actress Stormy Daniels, who alleged she had had a sexual relationship with Trump. As you’ll recall, Michael Cohen took the heat for that particular scheme when he was sentenced to three years in prison for campaign finance violations tied to the hush money. Trump still denies the affair took place.

While many legal experts believed the DA’s office should use the hush-money payments case to go after Trump, the office ended up building a case around Trump’s broader business practices. The investigation into Trump’s businesses turned into a tax fraud case and ended with prison time for CFO Allen Weisselberg and a $1.6 million fine for the Trump Organization.

After the Times report in November, the DA’s office signaled once again that Bragg was looking more seriously at the hush payments — in December, just before Weisselberg’s sentencing, the DA’s office hired a former Justice Department official to join the office’s criminal probe into Trump. The new hire was Matthew Colangelo, whose background provided some context clues on what’s to come. From my colleague Kaila Philo last month:

Colangelo’s appointment adds momentum to the DA’s inquiries: He previously served as the acting associate attorney general at the Justice Department before civil rights attorney Vanita Gupta permanently took over the role.

He also overlapped with Bragg at the New York attorney general’s office, where he oversaw dozens of lawsuits against the Trump administration as chief counsel for federal initiatives—including a suit that led to the dissolution of the Trump Foundation when they found the former president had used the charity to coordinate with his 2016 campaign.

Today, the Times reported that Bragg’s office had begun sharing evidence with a grand jury about Trump’s role in the hush payment saga. Prosecutors have reportedly already started contacting people who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign as well.

People with knowledge of the matter told the Times that the type of witness testimony presented to the grand jury is a clear sign that Bragg will soon decide whether to charge Trump. Per the Times:

On Monday, one of the witnesses was seen with his lawyer entering the building in Lower Manhattan where the grand jury is sitting. The witness, David Pecker, is the former publisher of The National Enquirer, the tabloid that helped broker the deal with the porn star, Stormy Daniels.

As prosecutors prepare to reconstruct the events surrounding the payment for grand jurors, they have sought to interview several witnesses, including the tabloid’s former editor, Dylan Howard, and two employees at Mr. Trump’s company, the people said. Mr. Howard and the Trump Organization employees, Jeffrey McConney and Deborah Tarasoff, have not yet testified before the grand jury.

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