What convening of New York grand jury means for Donald Trump
Pundits suggest investigators are moving closer to seeking criminal charges against former president
Prosecutors in New York have secretly convened a grand jury to consider evidence in a criminal probe into Donald Trump’s business dealings, according to sources.
“Two people familiar with the development” told The Washington Post that the special grand jury will meet three times a week for six months and is “expected to decide whether to indict” the former president, as well as “other executives at his company or the business itself”.
The move signals that the Manhattan district attorney’s office is “moving toward seeking charges as a result of its two-year investigation, which included a lengthy legal battle to obtain Trump’s tax records”, says The Guardian.
Trump is being investigated by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr over a range of matters including hush-money payments made to women on the former US leader’s behalf, employee compensation, and property valuations.
The probe into his pre-White House business practices is looking at whether “the Trump Organization’s real estate portfolio were manipulated in a way that defrauded banks and insurance companies”, says The Washington Post, as well as “if any tax benefits were obtained illegally through unscrupulous asset valuation” .
Launched while Trump was president, the wide-ranging investigation is also focusing on his “relationship with his lenders, a land donation made to qualify for an income tax deduction, and tax write-offs claimed by the Trump Organization”, Sky News reports.
Vance’s team have quizzed a long line-up of the Republican’s business associates and employees, but “in recent weeks the investigation appears to have focused on Trump’s finance chief Allen Weisselberg”, the broadcaster continues.
Weisselberg’s former daughter-in-law, Jen Weisselberg, is “cooperating with the inquiry” and has “passed on documents” to help the investigators assess suggestions that some Trump employees may have been given unofficial benefits such as housing or school tuition.
In February, the US Supreme Court ruled that Vance could impose a subpoena on Trump’s accountants, resulting in the release of eight years’ worth of tax records for the tycoon and his businesses.
The convening of a grand jury to consider the evidence indicates that Vance has “reached an advanced stage” in the long-running investigation - and “has found evidence of a crime, if not by Trump, by someone potentially close to him or by his company”, says The Washington Post.
In the firing line?
The reports about the grand jury comes days after New York Attorney General Letitia James announced that the civil investigation into Trump had evolved into a criminal matter.
Pundits are speculating that the jurors “could eventually be asked to consider returning indictments”, says The Guardian, which notes that “Vance’s office declined to comment” on the development.
Trump is also staying quiet about the move, but last week released a statement describing the investigation as “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in American history”.
“All I do is get unfairly attacked and abused by a corrupt political system,” he added.
As well as trying to persuade finance chief Weisselberg to turn against his boss, Vance’s team has been “interviewing witnesses including Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen”, The Guardian reports.
Described by The Washington Post as the president’s “attack dog”, Cohen last year bit the hand that used to feed him, during an appearance in front of Congress and in an explosive book, Disloyal: A Memoir.
Weighing up the likelihood of further legal pain for Trump, the newspaper reports that “prosecutors handling cases such as this one can choose to present charges for the grand jury to consider - or not”.
But the latest “huge development” in the probe against Trump could prove to be historic, says The Telegraph, which notes that no former US president has ever been charged with a crime.
If found guilty of any criminal wrongdoing, Trump would be barred from running for public office for a second time.