The former publisher of The National Enquirer testified on Monday before the Manhattan grand jury investigating Donald J. Trump’s role in a hush-money payment to a porn star, according to people with knowledge of the matter.
The publisher, David Pecker, also testified in January, soon after the grand jury was impaneled. The grand jury has heard from at least nine witnesses — including Mr. Pecker twice — and is expected to vote on an indictment soon.
Mr. Pecker was a key player in the hush-money matter. He and the tabloid’s top editor helped broker the deal between the porn star, Stormy Daniels, and Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s fixer at the time.
Ever since Mr. Trump predicted his arrest a little more than a week ago, all eyes have turned to the grand jury, which operates in secret.
And while the grand jurors could vote to indict the former president as soon as this week — in what would be the culmination of a nearly five-year investigation — the exact timing of any charges remains a mystery.
It is subject to the quirks of the grand jury process in Manhattan, which includes scheduling conflicts and other potential interruptions.
This particular grand jury meets on Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, though it typically has not heard evidence related to the Trump investigation on Thursdays. The panel need not meet each of those days, but only convenes when the Manhattan district attorney’s office summons the jurors.
The timing of an indictment might also depend on the availability of the jurors. Sixteen of the 23 grand jurors must be present to conduct any business (and a majority must vote to indict for the case to go forward). For the prosecutors to seek a vote to indict, the jurors in attendance that day must previously have heard all key witness testimony.
Still, the prospect of an indictment has raised a number of questions about the contours of the potential case facing Mr. Trump, who would become the first former American president to be indicted.
Alvin L. Bragg, the district attorney, is focused on the $130,000 payment to Ms. Daniels, who agreed to keep quiet about her story of an affair with Mr. Trump in exchange for the payoff. Mr. Cohen made the payment during the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign.
In recent weeks, Mr. Bragg’s office signaled to Mr. Trump’s lawyers that the former president could face criminal charges by offering him the chance to testify before the grand jury, people with knowledge of the matter have said. Such offers almost always indicate an indictment is near; it would be unusual for prosecutors to notify a potential defendant without ultimately seeking charges against him.
In New York, potential defendants have the right to answer questions in front of the grand jury before they are indicted, but they rarely testify, and Mr. Trump declined the offer.
Prosecutors have now questioned almost every major player in the hush-money matter, again suggesting that the district attorney’s presentation is nearing an end.
Mr. Trump has denied all wrongdoing — as well as any sexual encounter with Ms. Daniels — and unleased a series of escalating attacks on Mr. Bragg. Mr. Trump has referred to the investigation as a “witch hunt” and called Mr. Bragg, who is Black and a Democrat, a “racist” and an “animal.”
In a post this month on his social network Truth Social, Mr. Trump declared, without any direct knowledge, that his arrest was imminent, calling on his supporters to “PROTEST, TAKE OUR NATION BACK!” — rhetoric reminiscent of his posts in the lead-up to the assault on the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.
While the focus of Mr. Pecker’s testimony is unclear, he could provide valuable information for prosecutors. A longtime ally of Mr. Trump, he agreed to keep an eye out for potentially damaging stories about Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign.
For a brief time in October 2016, Ms. Daniels appeared to have just that kind of story. Her agent and lawyer discussed the possibility of selling exclusive rights to her story of a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump to The National Enquirer, which would then promise to never publish it, a practice known as “catch and kill.”
Mr. Pecker didn’t bite. Instead, he and the tabloid’s editor, Dylan Howard, decided that Mr. Cohen would have to deal with Ms. Daniels’s team directly.
And when Mr. Cohen was slow to pay, Mr. Howard pressed him to get the deal done, to prevent Ms. Daniels revealing their discussions about suppressing her story. “We have to coordinate something,” Mr. Howard texted Mr. Cohen in late October 2016, “or it could look awfully bad for everyone.”
Two days later, Mr. Cohen transferred the $130,000 to an account held by Ms. Daniels’s attorney.
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