By Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) – A New York City prosecutor who was publicly criticized for declining to charge Donald Trump last year now appears very close to bringing the first criminal indictment against a former president in U.S. history.
Trump on Saturday said that he expects to be arrested this week on charges by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, who is investigating whether Trump falsified business records by concealing his reimbursement of his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen for a $130,000 payment Cohen made to porn star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.
The payment, made during the waning weeks of Trump’s 2016 campaign for the White House, was intended to secure Daniels’ silence about an affair she said she had with Trump, prosecutors said. A spokesman for Bragg declined to comment on Saturday.
Trump said on his Truth Social platform that he expected to be arrested on Tuesday and called on his supporters to protest.
Trump, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, did not say he had been formally notified of forthcoming charges and did not discuss the possible charges in the post.
Thousands of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, after a fiery speech in which he falsely claimed his election defeat was the result of widespread fraud.
Bragg, a Democrat, took office in January 2022, after his predecessor indicted the former president’s family company and its top financial executive over a 15-year-tax fraud scheme.
A prosecutor leading that probe, Mark Pomerantz, resigned in February 2022 after Bragg declined to charge Trump himself for financial crimes. Pomerantz has publicly criticized Bragg’s decision not to bring charges and published a book about the investigation.
Pomerantz has said concerns about potentially losing the case should be weighed against the possibility of “promoting disrespect for the law” by not bringing charges when warranted.
Bragg has defended his decision.
“I bring hard cases when they are ready,” Bragg said in a Feb. 7 news conference. “Mark Pomerantz’s case simply was not ready. So I said to my team, let’s keep working.”
Trump has called the probe a “witch hunt.”
A grand jury began hearing evidence in the case earlier this year.
Cohen previously testified that Trump directed him to arrange the payment, and Cohen pleaded guilty in December 2018 to campaign finance violations and other charges.
“For the DA’s office to charge former President Trump, a victim of extortion, with a crime because his then lawyer, Michael Cohen, a convicted liar, paid the extortionist would be unprecedented and outrageous selective prosecution,” Trump lawyer Susan Necheles said in a statement on March 10.
Proving Trump intended to commit a crime may be one of Bragg’s biggest challenges, said Jennifer Beidel, a partner at law firm Saul Ewing and former federal prosecutor.
“One would think that the former president would try to argue that people independent of him were making their own choices about what to do, maybe out of motivation to please him, but maybe not with his direction,” Beidel said.
Bragg, the first Black District Attorney in Manhattan, previously served as a federal prosecutor and as a senior official in the New York State Attorney General’s office, where he oversaw a lawsuit that forced the former president’s namesake charitable foundation to dissolve.
Shortly after taking office, his critics complained about a plan to refrain from prosecuting some minor offenses, reduce pretrial detention and limit sentence length. Bragg argued that “over-incarceration” has not improved public safety.
In the biggest trial victory so far in his tenure, his office last December won the conviction of the Trump Organization on tax fraud charges. Allen Weisselberg, the organization’s former chief financial officer, had pleaded guilty and testified against the company at trial.
Several observers have defended Bragg against Pomerantz’s criticism.
“Bragg’s decision not to pull the trigger in February 2022 … actually may have been courageous, not cowardly,” Andrew Weissman, a former federal prosecutor, wrote in a review of Pomerantz’s book in the Washington Post. “He hardly had anything to gain and a lot to lose politically by the decision.”
(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; Additional reporting by Karen Freifeld; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Grant McCool and Diane Craft)