In Trump probe, Manhattan grand jury is back at work

A pivotal figure in the hush money payment investigation of Donald Trump was seen Monday leaving the Manhattan building where a grand jury has been meeting for months, though there was still no word on when the panel might vote on a possible indictment of the former president.

David Pecker, a longtime Trump friend and the former chief executive of the parent company of the National Enquirer, was also seen weeks ago at the same building, suggesting that his testimony could be key as prosecutors continue to push toward potential criminal charges of the ex-president.

This was the first time the panel was hearing testimony in the Trump probe since last Monday, when a witness favorable to the ex-president appeared before the grand jury. The jurors did not meet at all on Wednesday, one of the days when they ordinarily convene, and heard other matters on Thursday.

The grand jury is now back on Trump, according to a person familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss secretive proceedings. The ex-president is being investigated over payments during his 2016 campaign to two women who alleged affairs or sexual encounters with him.

Trump denies being involved with either of the women, the porn actor Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal.

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Among the witnesses the grand jury has already heard from is Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and fixer who has said he orchestrated the payoffs. Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to federal charges arising from the payments and has become a potentially key witness for state prosecutors.

Pecker is seen as relevant to the investigation because his company, American Media Inc., secretly assisted Trump’s campaign by paying $150,000 to McDougal for the rights to her story about an alleged affair with Trump. The company then suppressed McDougal’s story until after the election, a dubious journalism practice known as "catch-and-kill."

Federal prosecutors revealed in 2018 that they had agreed not to bring criminal charges against AMI. Pecker has since stepped away from the company.

Trump raised anticipation that criminal charges were imminent with a March 18 post on his social media platform in which he said he expected to be arrested last Tuesday. He has since used the absence of an indictment to claim, furnishing no evidence, that the investigation is somehow faltering.

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The Republican former president has also escalated his rhetoric, warning that "potential death & destruction" would accompany any indictment. He also posted a photo of himself holding a baseball bat next to a picture of District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat. On Thursday, Trump referred to Bragg, Manhattan’s first Black D.A., as an "animal."

In a memo to staff Friday, Bragg thanked the nearly 1,600 people for persevering in the face of "additional press attention and security around our office" and said their safety remains the top priority.

"We will continue to apply the law evenly and fairly, which is what each of you does every single day," Bragg wrote.

Since then, former federal prosecutors have rallied to Bragg's defense, signing a letter that condemned the verbal attacks.