By any fair measure, Donald Trump is one of the most scandalous political figures in modern American history. The scope and scale of the controversies surrounding the former president — the corruption, the abuses, the brazen deceptions and fraud — rival anything we’ve seen in recent memory.
With this in mind, it’s tempting to think if and when the Republican is finally held accountable with a criminal prosecution, it would be in response to a grand disgrace of enormous historic significance. It’s increasingly likely, however, that it will be one of Trump’s relatively obscure scandals that leads to his first indictment. The New York Times reported:
The Manhattan district attorney’s office recently signaled to Donald J. Trump’s lawyers that he could face criminal charges for his role in the payment of hush money to a porn star, the strongest indication yet that prosecutors are nearing an indictment of the former president, according to four people with knowledge of the matter.
For what it’s worth, Trump’s attorneys told NBC News that he was not told charges would be forthcoming. Then again, the former president’s legal team makes all kinds of assertions, and it’s often difficult to know which ones to find credible.
The same NBC News report added that while the Manhattan district attorney’s office has not subpoenaed Trump, he has been invited to testify next week before the grand jury that’s currently hearing evidence on the hush money case.
Chuck Rosenberg, a former U.S. attorney, senior FBI official, and legal analyst for NBC News, said the invitation — which Trump might very well ignore — suggests the investigation is near its end and that prosecutors are “seriously considering charges.”
“If the Manhattan district attorney was simply shutting the case down, that’s easy to do without inviting Mr. Trump to testify,” Rosenberg added.
If it seems as if you’ve been hearing quite a bit about this controversy lately, after years of relative silence, it’s not your imagination. District Attorney Alvin Bragg convened a grand jury in January, and there’s been a flurry of activity since.
Indeed, while there were some indications of relative passivity from Bragg in the recent past — a year ago this month, a former prosecutor on the district attorney’s team said he resigned in frustration when Bragg didn't charge Trump — the Manhattan D.A. is facing no similar criticisms now. He’s brought in key members of the former president’s inner circle to answer questions as part of an increasingly aggressive investigation.
In case anyone needs a refresher, let’s quickly revisit our earlier coverage and review how we arrived at this point.
In a normal political environment, it would’ve been a career-ending scandal. Then-candidate Trump, in the run-up to Election Day 2016, allegedly paid illegal hush money to Daniels, a prominent porn actress, in the hopes of keeping secret an alleged extramarital affair. The Republican’s fixer took the lead in orchestrating the illegal payment.
Cohen was ultimately charged, prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced to prison, even as his former client was rewarded with the presidency.
It’s long been an open question as to why Trump wasn’t also charged in the case. If the latest reporting is correct, the door isn’t just open to an indictment, charges are reportedly increasingly likely.
The former president, who’s struggled to explain away this mess, isn’t taking the news well. About a week ago, the Republican tried to make the case that Bragg — who is Black — is a “racist” who’s being influenced by Democrats, journalists, and the Justice Department to pursue the hush money case. (Trump has a curious habit of calling Black prosecutors “racist” after they examine his suspected wrongdoing.)
Last night, the Republican’s spokesperson said Trump is “the victim of extortion” — I'm not sure what that means in this context — which was soon followed by a seven-part series of missives on the former president’s social media platform in which he insisted, among other things, that he “did absolutely nothing wrong.”
The anxious tone of the messages was unsubtle. Watch this space.
This post revises our related earlier coverage.