Ex-prosecutor warns DA may be looking at “other charges” against Trump as key ally testifies

Former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker testified Monday before the grand jury investigating former President Donald Trump’s alleged role in a 2016 hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels, according to The New York Times

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s investigation centers around a $130,000 payment made by Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who was reimbursed by the Trump Organization.

Daniels first considered selling her story about the alleged affair to the National Enquirer, when Pecker was the tabloid’s publisher, according to federal prosecutors. But Pecker and the tabloid’s editor, Dylan Howard took that information to Cohen, who negotiated with Daniels’ attorney to purchase her silence for $130,000. 

When he was slow to pay, Howard pressed Cohen to get the deal done to keep Daniels from revealing their discussions about suppressing her story, according to The Times. 

The prosecution needs to establish that Pecker can corroborate Cohen’s story and prove that Trump was aware that the money was going toward paying off Daniels, said William “Widge” Devaney, former assistant U.S. attorney in the District of New Jersey.

“What Pecker can possibly offer is that this was all part of a larger scheme,” he told Salon.

Pecker also served as the former chairman of American Media Inc., which publishes the Enquirer. He took on a new role as an executive adviser in August 2020 after he and AMI came under campaign finance scrutiny, CNN reported

AMI signed a non-prosecution agreement with prosecutors, which ruled out charges for the tabloid publisher over its role in securing hush money from Cohen.

AMI admitted to paying $150,000 to former Playboy model Karen McDougal in cooperation with members of Trump’s presidential campaign to prevent her from making her claims of an affair with Trump public during the 2016 race.

A longtime ally of Trump, Pecker agreed to monitor potentially damaging stories about the former president during his 2016 campaign, according to The Times.

“On August 5, 2016, McDougal signed a limited life-story rights agreement granting A.M.I. exclusive ownership of her account of any romantic, personal, or physical relationship she has ever had with any ‘then-married man,'” the New Yorker reported.

AMI had exclusive rights to McDougal’s story, which it never ran, a practice known as “catch and kill.”

At least nine witnesses have testified since the grand jury that was impaneled earlier this year by Bragg. It has heard twice from Pecker, who also testified in January. 

The DA’s office has signaled to Trump’s lawyers that the former president could be facing charges soon by offering him the chance to testify before the grand jury, which almost always indicates an indictment is close.

“The timing is very much up to Alvin Bragg on when they ask the grand jury to vote the indictment,” Devaney said. “It may be that he’s also looking at potentially other charges to try to bolster this.”

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Trump has repeatedly denied wrongdoing in connection with the payment to Daniels and her claims of an affair. If charges are filed against him, it would be the first time in U.S. history a former president is criminally indicted.

He is also facing multiple criminal investigations, including a DOJ probe into his handling of classified documents and a Georgia investigation into his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Trump could potentially face other charges in the hush money probe for threatening the district attorney, Devaney pointed out.

In recent weeks, he has attacked Bragg on social media calling him an “animal” and alleging the Manhattan DA’s office is “corrupt & highly political.” Trump even encouraged his supporters to “protest” his widely anticipated arrest.

Some critics have compared his violent rhetoric around his potential indictment to his rhetoric ahead of the deadly Jan. 6 Capitol riot.

“What Trump is doing with respect to fomenting potential violence against the district attorney and law enforcement and just in general, is really horrendous,” Devaney said. “We rely in this country, on the unfettered operation of our justice system. And when people really start trying to throw wrenches into the cogs, that’s problematic. When people are threatening or fomenting violence against prosecutors and law enforcement, that is really problematic.”

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