According to one of his attorneys, former President Donald Trump has been asked to appear before a New York grand jury that is looking into hush money payments made on his behalf during his 2016 campaign.
As prosecutors near a decision on whether to move forward with what may be the first criminal case ever brought against a former U.S. president, Trump’s attorney Joseph Tacopina confirmed on Thursday that the Manhattan district attorney’s office has invited the former president to testify the following week.
Tacopina told the Associated Press, “To me, it’s much ado about nothing,” adding that he didn’t believe prosecutors had made up their minds “one way or another” over whether to charge Trump. He claimed such a case would be without legal support.
“It’s just another instance of them using the legal system as a weapon against him. It’s also somewhat unjust,” he stated.
Democratic district attorney Alvin Bragg‘s office in Manhattan declined to comment. An invitation to testify before a grand jury of this nature frequently denotes the imminence of an indictment decision.
The New York Times was the first to report on the invitation to testify.
Any indictment would occur as Trump intensifies his bid to win the presidency back in 2024 while also dealing with legal issues on several fronts.
Trump criticized the inquiry as a “political Witch-Hunt aiming to take down the top candidate, by far, in the Republican Party” and decried the legal system as “corrupt, perverted, and militarized” in a long statement that was posted on his social media platform.
I did nothing wrong at all, he declared.
A two-year investigation into potential illegal intervention in the 2020 election by Trump and his friends has led to decisions being “imminent,” according to the district attorney in Atlanta, Georgia. A special counsel from the U.S. Justice Department is also looking into Trump’s and his supporters’ attempts to rig the election and the handling of sensitive papers at his Florida resort.
The New York grand jury is looking into Trump’s role in a $130,000 payment made to porn star Stormy Daniels in 2016 to prevent her from disclosing details of an alleged sexual encounter with the Republican years earlier.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s now-separated lawyer, said he was compensated by the Trump Organization and received additional bonuses, bringing the total to $420,000. The money was paid out of Cohen’s personal accounts.
In 2018, Cohen entered a guilty plea to federal charges alleging that the payment and another he assisted in arranging to the model Karen McDougal through the National Enquirer tabloid’s parent business amounted to an unauthorized campaign donation.
At the time, federal prosecutors opted not to file charges against Trump, who was already the president. The Manhattan district attorney’s office then started its own inquiry, which dragged on for a while but recently gained steam.
Recent days have seen a number of Trump associates, including his former political advisor Kellyanne Conway and former spokesperson Hope Hicks, entering Bragg’s office for talks with prosecutors.
Cohen has also had numerous meetings with the prosecution, and during one of those meetings, he declared that he believed the probe was almost over.
Potential targets of criminal investigations are often only invited to testify if they renounce their immunity, which is a requirement under New York law for those who come before a grand jury. Whenever there is a chance that a criminal prosecution could be brought, attorneys typically advise clients not to do that.
What charges prosecutors might be looking into are unclear.
The way the payments to Cohen were structured and incorrectly categorized internally as being for a legal retainer, according to legal experts, could be one potential felony. Falsifying company records is illegal in New York, but unless it is done in combination with a more serious felony violation, it is only a misdemeanor.
According to Tacopina, there was no crime.
“This has never happened before. On the subject of campaign money, there is no established case law. It is absurd. Also, there is no underlying crime” he added.
In a separate investigation, the district attorney’s office has been looking into whether Trump and his firm exaggerated the worth of some of its properties while interacting with lenders and prospective business partners for years. The state’s attorney general has brought a civil action based on such claims.