Manhattan DA lawyers feared Stormy Daniels case against Trump was too weak to bring without other criminal charges, report says

Donald Trump.
Donald Trump.Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
  • Manhattan DA lawyers worried about indicting Trump over "hush money" payments to Stormy Daniels.

  • Three lawyers thought the case wouldn't work as standalone charges, according to the Daily Beast.

  • The expected charges have numerous weaknesses, experts say.

Three attorneys who worked on the Manhattan district attorney's criminal investigation into Donald Trump believed the anticipated indictment against the former president over hush-money payments to Stormy Daniels was too weak to bring as a standalone case, according to the Daily Beast.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is expected to ask grand jurors to charge Trump with falsifying business records over payments made to Michael Cohen, his former fixer, who in turn paid Daniels $130,000 to keep quiet ahead of the 2016 presidential election about an affair she said she had with Trump.


In order to convict Trump on felony charges, prosecutors would need to prove Trump intended to commit or wanted to conceal a separate crime through the payments.

That's a significant hurdle that poses several challenges. Prosecutors could argue that Trump tried to conceal violations of federal campaign finance laws — something Cohen pleaded guilty to in 2018. But a judge might believe the Manhattan district attorney's office is overreaching by enforcing federal law. If the case gets to a jury, jurors may wonder why federal prosecutors didn't bring charges against Trump, or they might not believe Cohen's testimony.

"The Stormy case was the easiest, the most straightforward, but had the risk of being nothing more than a misdemeanor," one source told the Daily Beast.

According to the lawyers who worked on the matter, the "hush money" charges were meant to be part of a broader business fraud case against Trump.

The investigation into Trump began in 2017 under Bragg's predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., triggered by Cohen's congressional testimony about the payments to Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

It grew to encompass the finances of the Trump Organization. Prosecutors ultimately brought tax fraud charges against the company and executive Allen Weisselberg — and won in court — but didn't charge Trump with the scheme.

Bragg's resistance to charging Trump with financial crimes frustrated former top prosecutor Mark Pomerantz and led him to quit in early 2022. (Bragg's office has maintained that the evidence collected by Pomerantz wasn't strong enough to bring a winnable case.) Since then, the investigation has moved back to the hush-money payments.

A representative for the Manhattan district attorney's office didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Experts say the case is far from a slam-dunk

Mark Bederow, a criminal defense attorney and former prosecutor for the Manhattan district attorney's office, said a case against Trump solely on the hush-money payments was "likely to fail."

The relatively low stakes and convoluted nature of the anticipated charges could give "reasonable doubt" to jurors hearing the case, according to Bederow.

"They have to demonstrate that his intent was to defraud and also that his intent was also to cover up another crime," Bederow told Insider.

stormy daniels stephanie clifford
Stormy Daniels.Phillip Faraone/Getty Images

There are a number of possible reasons why Trump might want to hide the payments to Daniels aside from covering up a campaign finance violation, Bederow said.

"What if he did that to protect his own reputation, to protect his wife from humiliation, or some personal reason?" Bederow said. "That's not an intent to defraud."

Trump has already laid the groundwork for this defense, calling the payments to Daniels part of an "extortion plot" in a video posted to social media on Monday. Trump has maintained that he's done nothing wrong and has derided Bragg's investigation as illegitimate. Joe Tacopina, an attorney for Trump, has said he expects any potential charges against his client to "eventually get tossed aside."

Another hurdle, according to former prosecutors, is that the case rests largely on the testimony of Cohen, who pleaded guilty to charges that he lied to Congress about Trump's business plans. Cohen has since sought to change his image as someone who's come clean about Trump, but jurors might view him as someone with an axe to grind.

"The more the case relies on documents instead of the testimony of Michael Cohen, the stronger it will be," Barbara McQuade, the former US attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, previously told Insider's Sonam Sheth.

Bederow had more blunt terms about relying on Cohen's testimony in light of his previous guilty plea.

"That's a disaster as a prosecutor," he said. "You wouldn't rely on Michael Cohen to tell you the time of day unless you corroborated it with a clock. That's how awful a witness he is."

Read the original article on Business Insider