Charges unlikely Wednesday in Trump hush-money probe as grand jury stays home

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Former President Donald Trump appeared unlikely to face criminal charges on Wednesday after a law enforcement source said a grand jury investigating alleged illegal hush-money payments to a woman would not meet again before Thursday.

The grand jury, a panel of U.S. citizens residing in Manhattan, has been considering evidence in one of many legal probes swirling around Trump as he mounts a comeback bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.

The grand jury was told to stay home on Wednesday, said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss the secret proceedings. It was unclear how much longer the grand jury would meet and uncertain whether it would indict Trump.

The panel, which is believed to meet three times a week, could reconvene as soon as Thursday. The Insider news outlet first reported the news that the grand jury would not convene on Wednesday.

A spokesperson for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office declined when asked to comment on the grand jury.

A conclusion to the year-long investigation had been anticipated as early as this week after Trump announced over the weekend that he expected to be arrested on Tuesday. He would be the first former or sitting U.S. president to face criminal charges in a court.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office has been investigating $130,000 paid in the final weeks of Trump’s 2016 election campaign to Daniels, a porn star who said she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006 when he was married to his current wife Melania.

Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen has said he made the payments at Trump’s direction to buy her silence about the affair.

Trump has denied an affair took place, and others in his orbit have said Cohen acted on his own.

About half of Americans believe the New York investigation is politically motivated, but a large majority find it believable that he paid hush money to a porn star, according to a Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll concluded on Tuesday.

Cohen went to prison after pleading guilty to federal charges stemming from the payoff, but prosecutors in that case did not charge Trump. Manhattan has started and stopped its own investigation into the matter several times.

If charges were filed, Trump would have to travel to New York from his Florida home for a mug shot and fingerprinting. Security officials are bracing for possible unrest, but so far few of Trump’s supporters have heeded his call for protests.

It is typical in a non-violent case like this one for the district attorney to work out timing for a defendant to surrender, a spokesperson for the New York state court system said.

“It could be three days later, it could be a week later, it could be in May,” said the spokesperson, Lucian Chalfen. “There is no prescribed timeframe. There is no predetermined or statutory time frame.”

On Monday, the grand jury heard from a witness, lawyer Robert Costello, who said that Cohen acted on his own. Cohen has publicly said that Trump directed him to make the payments and has appeared twice before the grand jury.

Trump’s fellow Republicans have criticized the probe by Bragg, a Democrat, as politically motivated.

Trump and his political allies also face two criminal investigations, one in Georgia and one by the federal government, stemming from their attempts to overturn his 2020 presidential election defeat.

He faces another federal probe into his handling of sensitive government documents after leaving office, two investigations in New York into his business practices and a defamation case by a woman who claims he raped her in the 1990s, a claim Trump denies.

Trump has escaped legal peril numerous times. In the White House, he weathered two attempts by Congress to remove him from office, including for the Jan. 6, 2021, assault on the U.S. Capitol by his supporters, as well as a years-long probe into his campaign’s contacts with Russia in 2016.

Trump and allied groups have tried to capitalize on news of the probe, sending a flurry of fundraising messages based on the potential indictment over the last few days. One such email, on Tuesday, was titled, “Barricades arrive at Manhattan Criminal Court” and included a picture that appeared to show a metal barrier being unloaded from an NYPD truck.

It was not immediately clear how much Trump may have raised from the indictment-linked fundraising appeals.

(Reporting by Karen Freifeld; Additional reporting by Luc Cohen, Jason Lange, Alexandra Ulmer and David Morgan; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone and Howard Goller)