February 26. 2024. 5:05

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Donald Trump facing possible criminal charges over hush money payment to Stormy Daniels

The Manhattan district attorney’s office in New York has signalled to Donald 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 US president, according to four people with knowledge of the matter.

The prosecutors offered Mr Trump the chance to testify next week before the grand jury, the people said. Such offers almost always indicate an indictment is close; it would be unusual for district attorney Alvin Bragg to notify a potential defendant without ultimately seeking charges against him.

In New York, potential defendants have the right to answer questions in the grand jury before they are indicted, but they rarely testify, and Mr Trump is likely to decline the offer.

Any case would mark the first indictment of a former US president and could upend the 2024 presidential race in which Mr Trump remains a leading contender.

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The inquiry centres on a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels, who said she had an affair with Mr Trump. The payment was made in the final days of the 2016 presidential campaign by Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s former fixer, who was later reimbursed by Mr Trump from the White House.

Mr Cohen, who has long said that Trump directed him to pay Daniels to keep her quiet, is expected to testify in front of the grand jury but has not yet done so.

Mr Trump, in a long and rambling statement posted on the social media site Truth Social, said, “I did absolutely nothing wrong.” He again denied having had an affair with Ms Daniels, and insulted her appearance. And he painted Mr Bragg’s investigation as part of a broader conspiracy to bring him down, engineered by his political opponents and dating back to his presidency.

“Russia, Russia, Russia, Ukraine, Ukraine, Ukraine, the no-collusion Mueller hoax,” Mr Trump wrote, an apparent reference to the investigation that led to his first impeachment. He and his supporters, he wrote, were “victims of this corrupt, depraved, and weaponized justice system”.

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Even if Mr Trump is indicted, convicting him or sending him to prison will be challenging. The case against the former president hinges on an untested and therefore risky legal theory involving a complex interplay of laws, all amounting to a low-level felony. If MrTrump were ultimately convicted, he would face a maximum sentence of four years, although prison time would not be mandatory. – This article originally appeared in The New York Times.