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Trump grand jury ending in N.Y. with no charges against ex-president

Manhattan DA says probe isn’t over, but people familiar with the situation cite concerns about witnesses

Former president Donald Trump addresses the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando in February. The Manhattan district attorney has been investigating whether Trump manipulated the value of property assets to secure tax advantages or better loan rates. (Tristan Wheelock/Bloomberg News)
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NEW YORK — A six-month grand jury that was convened late last year to hear evidence against Donald Trump was set to expire this week, closing a chapter in a lengthy criminal investigation that appears to be fizzling out without charges against the former president, people familiar with matter said.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D), who took office in January, inherited a probe launched by his predecessor, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who was convinced that there was a case against Trump for crimes related to manipulating the value of property assets to secure tax advantages or better loan rates.

The grand jury was convened in November with a mandate to hear evidence against the former president. But the decision on whether to finish the presentation and ask the panel to vote on charges would ultimately fall on Bragg, who decided to pause the process, according to people with knowledge of the situation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss information that has not been declared publicly.

A key problem, some of those people said, was Bragg’s concern over whether former Trump fixer Michael Cohen should be used as a witness.

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Bragg has said he will announce when the investigation is over, noting that even after the special grand jury disbanded, other grand juries hearing a broad range of criminal cases in New York would be available to take action in this one if needed.

Still, the expiration of the grand jury — and the departure in February of two senior prosecutors who said Bragg was stalling the inquiry — makes any potential indictment of Trump seem unlikely, legal observers have said. By the time Mark Pomerantz and Carey Dunne quit, the grand jury had been inactive for weeks, with jurors being told to stay home, a person with knowledge of the issue previously said.

Lawyers in the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), who is a partner in the probe, are skeptical that any criminal case will be brought, people familiar with the situation said. They also spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter. A spokeswoman for James said the investigation continues.

James is separately running a civil investigation of Trump’s business practices, and a lawyer from her office signaled Monday that a lawsuit could be filed in that case soon. A judge is holding Trump in contempt of court and fining him $10,000 a day for failing to provide records James is seeking or to properly document the nature of his search for those records.

Trump’s lawyers are appealing both that order and a ruling by New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron requiring Trump and two of his adult children to be deposed by the attorney general’s team.

On Friday, Engoron rejected a bid by Trump to purge the contempt ruling after he and his attorneys submitted affidavits. The affidavits “fail to specify” who conducted searches for the requested documents, or where and when searches took place, the judge said. He called Trump’s two-paragraph sworn statement “completely devoid of any useful detail.”

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Trump has long maintained that there was no illegal conduct — criminal or civil — related to the Trump Organization’s asset valuations. His legal team has accused James of a political vendetta.

Asked to comment on the grand jury’s term expiring, a Bragg spokeswoman referred to his April 7 statement, which said in part: “New York County has grand juries sitting all the time. There is no magic at all to any previously reported [grand jury] dates.”

People familiar with Bragg’s thinking said his hesitation in going forward is due in large part to his lack of faith in Cohen, a former Trump attorney and a convicted felon. Cohen wrote a book about his life as a Trump crony, and frequently criticizes the ex-president. He has made clear that he is willing to testify about how business was done at the Trump Organization if a case is brought.

He says that he met with investigators from the DA’s office about a dozen times before Dunne and Pomerantz left, but that no one from Bragg’s team has contacted him since. Pomerantz’s resignation letter, which was obtained by The Washington Post, echoed what Cohen has said publicly about the nature of the evidence, including statements of Trump’s financial condition that were submitted to lenders and other parties.

Trump’s “financial statements were false, and he has a long history of fabricating information relating to his personal finances and lying about his assets to banks, the national media, counterparties, and many others, including the American people,” Pomerantz wrote.

Cohen pleaded guilty to tax evasion, campaign finance violations and giving false information to a bank for his role in negotiating hush-money payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels, allegedly on Trump’s behalf, during the 2016 campaign. Trump has said he was not involved with paying off Daniels and has denied having an affair with her. Cohen also pleaded guilty to lying to Congress about his role in a Trump Organization project in Russia.

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While using witnesses convicted of crimes, especially lying, can be problematic, it is not unheard of for prosecutors to do so, especially when they have few other ways to make their case. Cohen’s prison sentence is complete, so prosecutors cannot offer him a benefit in exchange for his participation, which could boost his credibility before a jury.

Cohen said Friday that he had provided credible information for the probe, adding that “Mr. Bragg’s decision not to indict and prosecute [Trump] is an error that will tarnish his time in office and career.”

The district attorney’s office is believed to have tried to flip other Trump insiders, especially his longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, who was indicted along with the Trump Organization in July on tax fraud charges.

That indictment stemmed from the same criminal investigation that now appears to be winding down. It accuses Weisselberg of a 15-year scheme involving untaxed compensation, such as cars and apartments, for company executives.

Weisselberg has shown no sign of being willing to provide information about Trump to the district attorney’s office. He and the Trump Organization could go to trial later this year.