By Karen Freifeld
(Reuters) -A former National Enquirer publisher testified on Monday before a Manhattan grand jury hearing evidence about former President Donald Trump’s role in a hush-money payment to a porn star, said a person familiar with the matter.
David Pecker, who testified in January, came back for about 45 minutes on Monday, the person said. Pecker could not immediately be reached for comment.
The grand jury’s proceedings are shrouded in secrecy and the timing of a grand jury vote is unclear. If indicted, Trump would become the first U.S. president to face a criminal charge in court.
Pecker had offered to help Trump in the run-up to the November 2016 presidential election by buying rights to unflattering stories and never publishing them, a practice known as “catch and kill.”
The grand jury could indict Trump over a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, the porn star, which she said was to buy her silence about their sexual encounter in 2006 while he was married to his current wife Melania. Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen has said he made that payment at Trump’s direction.
Trump has denied an affair took place, and lawyer Robert Costello, who met with Cohen in 2018, has said Cohen told him he acted alone.
Costello testified before the grand jury last week. Cohen, who testified the previous week, pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges stemming from the payoff and went to prison for campaign finance violations, among other crimes.
In 2018, American Media Inc (AMI), then publisher of the National Enquirer, acknowledged paying $150,000 to a former Playboy magazine model to prevent her from going public ahead of the 2016 election.
Federal prosecutors said, as part of a deal to cooperate and avoid charges, AMI admitted the payment to Karen McDougal was made “in concert” with Trump’s presidential campaign. Cohen pleaded guilty for his role in that transaction, too.
Trump falsely claimed on March 18 that he would be arrested last Tuesday in the New York case. Since then Trump has warned of potential “death and destruction” if he faces criminal charges, repeatedly attacked Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, and posted an online picture of himself holding a baseball bat next to a photo of the New York prosecutor.
Trump faces several other criminal investigations, including one tied to the Jan. 6th assault on the U.S. Capitol. He is mounting a comeback bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld; additional reporting by Luc Cohen; Editing by Howard Goller)