Protesters and media gather outside the office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on Wednesday. Bragg continues to investigate charges related to hush-money payments allegedly made by former President Donald Trump to porn star Stormy Daniels. Photo by Louis Lanzano/UPI | License Photo
March 21 (UPI) -- A grand jury investigating former President Donald Trump's alleged hush-money payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels reportedly was told not to come in on Wednesday, meaning any vote on a possible indictment won't come before Thursday.
The case stretches back to 2016, when Daniels was paid $130,000 just before the presidential election over her claim that she had an extramarital affair with Trump.
Trump's former attorney, Michael Cohen, paid Daniels and was then reimbursed by Trump. For his role in the scheme, Cohen pleaded guilty in August 2018 to an unlawful campaign contribution. He was sentenced to three years in prison but was released early because of COVID-19.
Cohen and Daniels reportedly have testified to the New York grand jury. Trump was invited to testify by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg but declined to do so.
One of Trump's attorneys, Joseph Tacopina, has said the ex-president would turn himself in to face the charges in Manhattan if he is indicted by the New York grand jury, Politico reported.
Charging a prominent politician for hush money payments would not be unprecedented. In 2011, former Democratic Senator and 2008 presidential candidate John Edwards was charged with five counts of campaign finance violations for paying hush money to cover up an extramarital affair. The jury deadlocked on the five counts and in 2012 the Justice Department dropped the case.
The Justice Department in 2019 declined to charge Trump with campaign finance violations and the Federal Election Commission decided not to take action.
Another potential charge, falsifying business records, is a felony under New York state law, punishable by up to four years in prison. In this case, the true nature of the payments were allegedly concealed as being made for a legal retainer.
The Guardian reported that Trump's lawyers are expected to argue that the payments were not a crime because he would have paid Daniels irrespective of the 2016 campaign to avoid the embarrassment because he was a public figure.
The New York Times reported that the grand jury heard from a witness on Monday until 5 p.m. and may still hear from one more witness. There was no reason given as to why Wednesday's grand jury meeting was cancelled.
Trump and his allies in Congress have repeatedly characterized the probe as a partisan witch hunt.
"The Manhattan district attorney's threat to indict President Trump is simply insane. For the past five years, the DA's office has been on a witch hunt, investigating every aspect of President Trump's life, and they've come up empty at every turn -- and now this," a Trump representative said in a statement to NBC News earlier this month.
House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called a potential indictment of Trump an "outrageous abuse of power" by Bragg.
"Here we go again -- an outrageous abuse of power by a radical DA who lets violent criminals walk as he pursues political vengeance against President Trump," McCarthy said in a statement.
Former Vice President Mike Pence said during an interview with the far-right political website Breitbart on SiriusXM that the Manhattan investigation "reeks of the kind of political prosecution that we endured back in the days of the Russia hoax."
House Republicans on Monday penned a letter to Bragg demanding testimony before his decision.
"You are reportedly about to engage in an unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority: the indictment of a former president of the United States and current declared candidate for that office," the letter states.
However, in a sign that authorities are anticipating a possible arrest and protests, all New York Police officers were required to wear their uniforms and prepare for deployment starting Tuesday, NBC New York reported.