Donald Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen is scheduled to testify Monday before a Manhattan grand jury investigating hush money payments on the former president’s behalf, two people familiar with the matter told The Associated Press. They were not authorized to speak publicly about grand jury proceedings and did so on condition of anonymity.
Cohen is a key witness in Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s investigation, and his testimony comes at a critical time as prosecutors are nearing a decision on whether to press charges against Trump. Prosecutors sometimes keep their key witnesses until the end of a grand jury investigation.
Cohen has met regularly with Manhattan prosecutors in recent weeks, including a day-long session on Friday, to prepare for his appearance before the grand jury, which has been hearing evidence in the matter since January.
Cohen declined to comment to reporters as he left the meeting, saying he will “take a little time now to remain silent and allow the prosecution to build their case.”
The Manhattan Attorney’s Office, which has so far declined to comment on the investigation, also declined to address whether Cohen would testify before the grand jury.
Trump continued to lash out at the probe on social media on Friday, calling the case “fraud, injustice, ridicule and the complete and complete arming of law enforcement to sway a presidential election!”
Prosecutors appear to be investigating whether Trump committed crimes in arranging the payments or how they were settled internally at Trump’s company, the Trump Organization. A possible charge would be falsifying business records, a misdemeanor unless prosecutors could show it was done to cover up another crime.
No former US President has ever been charged with a crime.
Prosecutors this week invited Trump to testify before the grand jury in another sign that the investigation phase is drawing to a close. The appearance of the subject of investigation before a grand jury is usually one of the last steps before a possible indictment.
Trump has the right to testify under New York law, although legal experts say he probably won’t because it wouldn’t help his defense and he would have to relinquish a mantle of immunity automatically granted to grand jury witnesses by law.
Cohen was serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty to federal charges, including campaign finance violations, in 2018 for arranging payouts to porn actor Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal to keep them from going public. Trump has denied the affairs.
Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 through his own firm and was then reimbursed by Trump, whose firm logged the reimbursements as “legal expenses.” McDougal’s $150,000 payment was made through the editor of the supermarket tabloid National Enquirer, who suppressed her story in a dubious journalistic practice called “catch-and-kill.”
According to federal prosecutors filing criminal charges against the attorney in connection with the 2018 payments, the Trump Organization “extrapolated” Cohen’s reimbursement for the Daniels payment for “tax reasons.” Cohen received $360,000 plus a $60,000 bonus for a total of $420,000.
Federal prosecutors said during Cohen’s criminal trial that Trump knew about the payments to the women. At the time, however, the US Attorney’s Office in New York refused to file criminal charges against the then incumbent President.
Cohen, now estranged from Trump, has met with prosecutors 20 times in multiple iterations of the hush money probe. In January, he gave his cellphones to Manhattan prosecutors so they could gather evidence, including voice recordings of conversations he had with an attorney for Daniels — real name Stephanie Clifford — as well as emails and text messages.
Other members of Trump’s inner circle have met with Manhattan prosecutors in recent weeks, including his former political adviser Kellyanne Conway and former spokeswoman Hope Hicks.
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