David Pecker, the former head of the company that publishes the National Enquirer, is expected to meet with Manhattan prosecutors investigating former President Donald Trump, people familiar with the matter said, indicating the probe is escalating.
Meanwhile, the Manhattan district attorney’s office on Monday started presenting evidence to a grand jury on the issue, The New York Times reported.
Pecker’s meeting is scheduled for this week, sources tell CNN. He was involved in an effort to stop adult film star Stormy Daniels from going public about a past alleged affair with Trump days before the 2016 presidential election. (Trump has denied the affair.)
Earlier this month prosecutors met with Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal attorney, for the first time in over a year. Cohen pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance charges for facilitating the $130,000 payment to Daniels.
The district attorney’s office also reached out to Keith Davidson, who represented Daniels in the hush money deal, in recent weeks, another person familiar with the matter said.
Manhattan prosecutors are looking into whether Trump and his business falsified business records by improperly treating the reimbursement as a legal expense. That charge is a misdemeanor in New York unless it can be tied to another crime, such as campaign finance laws.
Prosecutors working under the previous DA, Cy Vance, had explored bringing charges related to the hush money scheme but some attorneys on the team were not convinced that a charge involving a federal election law violation would survive legal challenges, people familiar with the investigation told CNN.
A spokesperson for Alvin Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, declined to comment. An attorney for Pecker also declined to comment.
Last year a jury convicted two Trump Organization entities of a decade-long tax fraud scheme, which appears to have emboldened prosecutors.
The focus of the DA’s investigation has returned to the Trump Organization’s handling of the hush money payment and whether it violated New York laws, people familiar with the matter said.
Pecker, the then-chairman of American Media Inc., which publishes the Enquirer, was a central player in the hush money payment scheme. He took on a new role as executive adviser in August 2020 after he and AMI came under scrutiny for campaign finance. AMI signed a non-prosecution agreement with prosecutors.
Pecker and another associate received immunity in the federal investigation into the hush money payments in exchange for their testimony before a grand jury. He previously met with prosecutors with the district attorney’s office as far back as 2019.
Pecker’s alleged role in the scheme and his interactions with Cohen were detailed in court filings connected to the federal investigation.
In October 2016, an agent for Daniels contacted AMI and said she was willing to go public with her allegations of an affair with Trump, according to court filings from Cohen’s plea agreement. Pecker then contacted Cohen, who in turn negotiated with Daniels’ attorney to “purchase [her] silence” for $130,000, according to the filings.
With fewer than two weeks to go before the election, Cohen had failed to either execute the agreement immediately or pay Daniels so she threatened to take her story to another publication. Pecker informed Cohen, in part by calling him on an encrypted phone app. He told Cohen that the deal needed to be completed “or it could look awfully bad for everyone,” according to court filings. Cohen then agreed to make the payment and finalize the deal.
After Cohen made the $130,000 payment to Daniels, he was reimbursed, federal prosecutors said in court filings, by the Trump Organization. The company’s executives authorized payments to him totaling $420,000 to cover his original payment and tax liabilities, and reward him with a bonus, according to federal prosecutors. Prosecutors alleged the company falsely recorded those payments as legal expenses in their corporate books.
Cohen said in court that hush-money payments were made at Trump’s direction, and federal prosecutors said that in executing the payments, Cohen “acted in coordination with and at the direction of” Trump.
This story has been updated with additional details.