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Grand jury ends day without vote on whether to indict Trump

New York Police Department (NYPD) patrol inside criminal court in New York, US, on Monday, March 27, 2023.

Angus Mordant | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The New York grand jury hearing testimony in Trump’s criminal probe ended the day without voting on whether to indict the ex-president, NBC News reported.

Grand jurors earlier heard testimony by David Pecker, the former publisher of The National Enquirer supermarket tabloid and CEO of American Media.

Pecker, who had been a Trump ally, has now appeared twice before the panel.

The grand jury is next expected to meet Wednesday in lower Manhattan. It is possible that the panel that day could vote on a request by prosecutors to indict Trump.

Pecker is a key witness in the investigation of a $130,000 hush money payment that Trump’s then-lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen made to porn star Stormy Daniels right before the 2016 presidential election to buy her silence about an alleged tryst with Trump.

Federal prosecutors have said Pecker and Dylan Howard, the Enquirer’s editor at the time, warned Cohen in October 2016 that Daniels was prepared to go public with her account.

Cohen ended up paying Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, after Pecker and Howard contacted him a second time and said they had been told that Cohen had not finalized the payoff deal.

American Media, in a cooperation agreement with the Department of Justice, admitted that Pecker in August 2015 — more than a year before Daniels was paid off — met with Cohen and at least one other member of Trump’s campaign.

“At the meeting, Pecker offered to help deal with negative stories about that presidential candidate’s relationships with women by, among other things, assisting the campaign in identifying such stories so they could be purchased and their publican avoided,” the company admitted.

— Dan Mangan

Most Americans think Trump has done something illegal or unethical, poll shows

Former US President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event in Waco, Texas, US, on Saturday, March 25, 2023. 

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

Three in four U.S. adults believe Trump has done something either illegal or unethical when asked about the numerous investigations he’s facing, a new poll found.

Most Americans also think the probes of Trump — which are ongoing at the local, state and federal levels — are fair, according to the latest NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Monday.

The survey of 1,327 adults was conducted from March 20 through March 23. The survey of national adults has a margin of error of 3.5 percentage points. The surveys were taken after Trump wrongly declared on social media that he expected to be arrested within the week in connection with an investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

Forty-six percent of national adults in the poll said that they think Trump has done something illegal. That includes 78% of Democratic respondents and 41% of independents, as well as 10% of Republicans. Another 29% of those surveyed said they believe Trump has done something unethical, but not illegal, leaving just 23% of Americans who said they think he has done nothing wrong.

Meanwhile, more than half of respondents, 56%, said they think the probes of Trump are fair, versus 41% who viewed them as a “witch hunt.” Eighty percent Republicans shared that view of the Trump-focused investigations, according to the poll.

Kevin Breuninger

National Enquirer’s former publisher makes second appearance at Trump grand jury

David Pecker

Francois Durand | Getty Images

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified before the Trump grand jury, his second appearance at that panel, NBC News reported.

Pecker, who previously served as CEO of American Media, was involved in a 2016 deal in which that company paid $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal to buy her silence about an alleged affair with Trump that she said began a decade earlier.

Trump’s then-lawyer Michael Cohen separately in 2016 paid porn star Stormy Daniels $130,000 to keep her quiet about an alleged sexual tryst with Trump.

Both payments were done to avoid the women’s claims from damaging Trump’s chances of winning the presidential election that year.

Trump has denied having sex with either woman.

Pecker, who had been a friend of Trump’s first visited the grand jury in late January.

In 2018, federal prosecutors in New York gave American Media immunity in its criminal investigation of Cohen for facilitating the payments to McDougal and Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

Both Pecker and American Media’s former chief content officer Dylan Howard reportedly also received immunity from prosecutors in connection with the McDougal payment.

Such immunity deals are typically granted to people and entities that provide useful information or testimony in a criminal probe with the understanding that that information will be true.

— Dan Mangan

Meet the DA who could bring the first criminal charges against a former president

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks during the National Action Network National Convention in New York City, April 7, 2022.

Eduardo Munoz | Reuters

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has been thrust into the national spotlight as the grand jury hearing evidence in his hush money case appears poised to make a decision on whether to indict Trump.

If they do, Trump will become the first former U.S. president in history to face criminal charges. But the 49-year-old Bragg, who was sworn in as DA just last year, has already achieved other firsts.

Born in Harlem, Bragg attended New York City’s elite private Trinity School and went on to obtain a degree in government from Harvard and a JD from Harvard Law School.

When he won his race for DA in November 2021, the Democrat became the first Black person elected to that office. He succeeded Cyrus Vance Jr., inheriting a grand jury investigation into Trump and his businesses that had already resulted in charges against the Trump Organization and its then-top financial officer, Allen Weisselberg.

But Bragg seemed to show reservations about pursuing charges against Trump himself in that probe of the former president’s business and financial practices, according to one of two prosecutors who resigned from the DA’s office in protest of that view.

Bragg’s office replied at the time that the probe was ongoing. The prosecutor clinched guilty verdicts against subsidiaries of the Trump Organization in December; Weisselberg pleaded guilty to multiple tax crimes and in January was sentenced to five months in jail.

That same month, news outlets reported Bragg had convened a new grand jury to hear evidence about a 2016 hush money payment to a porn star who alleges she had an affair with Trump years earlier. The $130,000 payment was made shortly before that year’s presidential election, which Trump won.

Bragg has come under intensifying fire from Trump and his allies, who have accused the DA of being closely tied to, or controlled by, George Soros. The billionaire donor has become a regular target of some antisemitic conspiracy theories.

Those accusations, which apparently stem from Soros’ donation to a nonprofit that backed Bragg’s campaign for DA, have been decried as bigoted by Bragg’s defenders. “This disgraceful attack is not a dog-whistle but a bullhorn of incendiary racist and anti-semitic bile,” a group of New York leaders said after Trump called Bragg a “Soros-backed animal.”

Kevin Breuninger

NYC officials rally against ‘vile racist attacks’ on DA Bragg amid Trump probe

An officer from the New York City Police Department (NYPD) Canine Unit checks outside the Manhattan Criminal Court in New York City, U.S., March 27, 2023. Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office is investigating $130,000 paid in the final weeks of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign to Stormy Daniels, a porn star who said she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 when he was married to his current wife Melania. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

A group of political officials in New York City came out swinging against Trump at a press conference in defense of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who has become the former president’s primary target as his hush money probe heats up.

“We stand strong! No racism!” one speaker said at the press conference in Harlem led by Rep. Adriano Espaillat, D-N.Y. “We will not have it. We stand strong with Alvin Bragg,” that speaker said.

“Now everyone in the country knows how it feels to be in an abusive relationship,” said another speaker, who identified herself as a leader of an anti-domestic violence organization.

Espaillat and other New York leaders previously accused Trump of racism after he attacked Bragg as an “animal” in one of numerous social media posts attacking the DA.

The Monday morning press conference was billed as a chance for Bragg’s supporters to “speak out against the Republican-backed racist and hate-based rhetoric” against the DA.

“We are here as a community to show support for him and the process,” Espaillat said. He added that he expected developments from the grand jury hearing evidence in the probe “hopefully this week.”

Kevin Breuninger

Witness expected to testify before Trump grand jury

Former President Donald Trump listens as he speaks with reporters while in flight on his plane after a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport, in Waco, Texas, Saturday, March 25, 2023, while en route to West Palm Beach, Fla.

Evan Vucci | AP

A witness is expected to testify to the grand jury today in connection with the investigation into Trump, NBC reported.

That scheduled appearance, which is subject to change, would come a week after the last witness testified about the probe. The identity of the expected witness is not known.

Grand jury proceedings are secret.

The prior witness, ex-federal prosecutor Robert Costello, had told the grand jury about his interactions with Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen. Costello had acted as a legal advisor to Cohen when Cohen was under federal criminal investigation in connection with a hush money payment to a porn star for Trump’s benefit.

That payment and how the Trump Organization recorded a reimbursement to Cohen for it, is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which has been presenting evidence to the grand jury.

— Dan Mangan

In separate probe in Georgia, judge considers hearing over Trump’s bid to block prosecution

The Fulton County court in Atlanta, Georgia, US, on Monday, Feb. 13, 2023.

Dustin Chambers | Bloomberg | Getty Images

A judge overseeing a grand jury probe centered on Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia has ordered prosecutors there to respond after the former president sought to quash their case.

The latest filing from Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney ordered District Attorney Fani Willis to respond to Trump by May 1. That response should also include the DA’s view on whether there should be a hearing to resolve the dispute, McBurney wrote in his order Monday.

A week earlier, Trump asked to block that grand jury’s final report and disqualify Willis’ office from continuing the case.

The new calendar item suggests the Fulton County probe, which is separate from the Trump-focused investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, could continue for at least several more weeks.

Willis said in January that charging decisions in the probe “are imminent.” The forewoman of the Atlanta-area grand jury told news outlets last month that jurors had recommended charges against multiple people in the probe.

Meanwhile, Bragg’s probe of a 2016 hush money payment to a porn star who alleges she had sex with Trump is believed to be in its final stages, following news that Trump had been offered the chance to testify before the grand jury.

Kevin Breuninger

Trump rails against DA Bragg as officials condemn threats

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks to supporters in New York, Nov. 2, 2021.

Craig Ruttle | AP

Trump in a series of early morning social media posts attacked Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg and other prosecutors for investigating him, accusing Democrats of using those prosecutors as pawns to damage the former president politically and legally.

“Great job by Congressman James Comer,” Trump wrote on his Truth Social site of the Kentucky lawmaker who as chairman of the House Oversight Committee has demanded Bragg testify to Congress about the criminal probe of Trump.

“The Democrats are using Prosecutors for purposes of Election Interference. It is their new way of CHEATING on Elections!” Trump wrote.

Fifteen minutes after that, Trump wrote that Democrats as “the lowest of the low” by using PROSECUTORS to CHEAT.”

Shortly afterward, Trump misspelled the last name of porn star Stormy Daniels in writing, “Never had an ‘affair’ with her, and would never have wanted.” He also crowed in the same post of being awarded hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees from Daniels in her failed defamation lawsuit against him.

Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid $130,000 by Trump’s then-lawyer in 2016 to buy her silence about her account of having once had sex with Trump.

Finally, at 1:11 a.m., Trump made the false claim that the U.S. Department of Justice is “running the local Manhattan D.A.’s prosecutor.”

“They just don’t want their ‘fingerprints’ on it,” he wrote.

— Dan Mangan

Grand jury set to resume work after two unexpected days off

New York State Courts Officer sets a barricade outside the District Attorney’s offices, as Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office investigates $130,000 paid in the final weeks of former U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign to Stormy Daniels, a porn star who said she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 when he was married to his current wife Melania, in New York City, U.S. March 23, 2023.

Andrew Kelly | Reuters

The grand jury that has been hearing testimony for the criminal probe of Trump is scheduled to return to a lower Manhattan courthouse today after not working on the case for most of last week.

The last time the panel heard testimony related to Trump was March 19, when Robert Costello, an attorney who acted as a legal advisor to Michael Cohen, appeared before the grand jury and blasted the former lawyer and fixer for Trump as someone who could not be trusted.

The grand jury then was given Wednesday off unexpectedly. It returned Thursday but did not do work on the Trump case.

Prosecutors can use grand juries to review evidence for multiple criminal investigations.

It was not clear if the Trump grand jury will begin the week with work on his case, or another one.

— Dan Mangan