As David noted earlier, Trumpmas didn’t arrive last week. It didn’t come yesterday either. And according to the New York Post, it might not come for at least another week — if it all. Late yesterday, “sources familiar with the matter” claimed that the grand jury looking into at least one payoff during the campaign won’t take any further action for at least two weeks on the matter:
A Manhattan grand jury won’t consider evidence against former President Donald Trump in the Stormy Daniels “hush money” case again this week, The Post has learned.
The move means a potential indictment of the ex-president can’t be handed up before next week at the earliest.
But the panel also isn’t expected to take up the Trump case next week, sources familiar with the matter said Tuesday.
The grand jury is scheduled to reconvene Thursday but the Trump case won’t be on its agenda, sources said.
This leaves Alvin Bragg in an embarrassing limbo, because he clearly wants the grand jury to do something. Bragg complained that the attention on a potential indictment last week came from Trump and his legal team, and he’s probably right about that, but … so what? This grand-jury probe has been all about Bragg’s own publicity and political needs. Bragg decided to push this case after getting heat from his progressive supporters for dropping it last year. It’s transparently political, and all Trump did was turn up the heat under Bragg and make him pay for it in some manner.
And now Bragg appears stuck, with “appears” being the operative word, but not without some rational basis. The grand jury clearly hasn’t acted yet; we don’t need “sources” to figure that out. Bragg made some sort of contact with Trump’s legal team recently, as evidenced by (a) Trump’s legal team disclosing it, and (b) the appearance of Robert Costello as an apparent rebuttal witness nine days ago. That apparently opened up a Pandora’s Box regarding Bragg’s central witness in the Stormy Daniels matter, Michael Cohen. The backfire on that move seems pretty substantial, especially in retrospect:
Robert Costello, former Cohen attorney: “[Cohen] stating things that he said he’s going to tell grand jury and had told grand jury that were contrary what he told us when we represented him first time in April 2018… when you are willing to give up your life in order to avoid… pic.twitter.com/Q4gPJTeYgv
— I Meme Therefore I Am 🇺🇸 (@ImMeme0) March 21, 2023
Something interesting happened after that, however. Bragg called David Pecker back to the grand jury after Costello’s testimony, at least reportedly to re-bolster Cohen’s standing with the grand jury. Pecker wasn’t connected to the payoff of Stormy Daniels, however, but was a central figure in another payoff. The CEO of National Enquirer and Michael Cohen reportedly worked together to bury Karen McDougal’s story of an alleged sexual misconduct. National Enquirer bought exclusive rights to McDougal’s story and then refused to publish or report it, a “catch and kill” strategy that had Trump’s cooperation and approval.
What happened in that case? The FEC fined National Enquirer $187,000 for failure to report an in-kind contribution — and dropped the matter in regard to Trump. Pecker and Alan Weisselberg, who was also involved in the payment, both have immunity now, but neither the FEC nor the Department of Justice ever bothered to pursue it then or later.
Five years later, does Bragg want to shift focus from the Stormy Daniels payoff to the Karen McDougal catch-and-kill scheme? That would allow him to avoid calling Michael Cohen, or at least avoid relying on the convicted perjurer as the keystone of a case against Trump. However, there’s nothing illegal about paying someone $150K and then not running their story, and even if this was a campaign contribution issue, the FEC has already handled it. It’s not even within Bragg’s jurisdiction, as presidential campaigns fall under federal authority.
And besides, it doesn’t appear that Pecker’s appearance helped much, given the new delay in the case.
At NRO, former federal prosecutor Andrew McCarthy wonders whether Bragg has run out of gas, even with the possibility of a Stormy-McDougal swaparoo:
It has been widely reported that the other crime Bragg could accuse Trump of concealing is a campaign-finance violation. But, as I elaborated on over the weekend, campaign-finance laws in the context of presidential elections are federal; Bragg does not have jurisdiction to enforce them. Even if he did, it is highly unlikely that Trump’s reimbursement of Cohen with private funds could be deemed an in-kind campaign donation. Moreover, Trump’s obvious motivation for falsifying records – if, indeed, Bragg can prove that Trump knew about the bookkeeping details, which is questionable – was not to conceal another crime (which it’s not clear he committed or knew he was committing), but was to keep the hush money arrangement from his wife, among others (which is why the NDA was done in the first place).
Because grand-jury proceedings are secret and the DA’s deliberations about cases happens behind closed doors, we can’t say for sure what is happening. Bragg appeared poised to charge Trump ten days ago. Now that looks less likely. Bragg has moth-balled the case once before out of concern over its weakness; now it’s just as weak but another year has gone by, so it’s even more stale. …
We’ll continue watching it closely. If the Post is right, though, it may be weeks before we hear of any new developments in Bragg’s Trump investigation, assuming there are going to be any new developments, which is uncertain.
No one knows what specifically happens within a grand jury, unless witnesses publicly disclose their own testimony, as Costello did. What we can see, however, is that the grand jury still hasn’t acted, and that Bragg has apparently stopped presenting whatever his case may be to the panel. That looks like Bragg has run aground in some fashion. One has to wonder whether Bragg will extend this limbo for as long as it takes for Fani Willis to decide whether to indict Trump in Fulton County, GA — and take away the spotlight Bragg once so badly desired.
Update: This isn’t a good sign for Bragg either:
The Manhattan grand jury examining Donald Trump’s alleged role in a hush money payment to a porn star isn’t expected to hear evidence in the case for the next month largely due to a previously scheduled hiatus, according to a person familiar with the proceedings.
The break would push any indictment of the former president to late April at the earliest, although it is possible that the grand jury’s schedule could change. In recent weeks, the Manhattan district attorney’s office hasn’t convened the panel on certain days. But it is District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s prerogative to ask the grand jury to reconvene if prosecutors want the panel to meet during previously planned breaks.
It’s pretty convenient for Bragg if he wants to wait for Willis, no?