Former Manhattan DA finally reveals why Trump wasn’t charged earlier in hush money case

Hush payments were first revealed in 2018, half a decade before Manhattan prosecutors acted

John Bowden
Washington DC
Monday 03 April 2023 09:18 BST
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

The former district attorney for Manhattan has finally shed some light on why Donald Trump is just now being charged over allegedly criminal activity which occurred as far back as 2016.

Cy Vance appeared on NBC’s Meet the Press on Sunday to discuss news of the criminal indictment against the former president, which a grand jury voted to approve a few days earlier. During the interview, he was asked why his office did not empanel a grand jury during the Trump presidency to hear evidence related to Mr Trump’s hush payments to Stormy Daniels.

Mr Vance replied that the Department of Justice, which typically holds seniority when it comes to investigating crimes, had asked his office to stand down its investigation into numerous aspects of the former president’s activities, presumably including the hush payments to Ms Daniels. Mr Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen would end up going to prison as a result of those payments, which prosecutors argued were illegal campaign contributions for reasons of both their size and secrecy.

The exact charges Mr Trump now faces are set to be unveiled on Tuesday at his arraignment; it has been reported that he faces 32 counts in total.

“Why didn't you charge the hush money case?” asked host Chuck Todd. “Why didn't you ever charge it in 2018, 2019, 2020?”

“[A]s I believe you know, I was asked by the US Attorney's Office in the Southern District to stand down on our investigation, which had commenced involving the Trump Organization,” said Mr Vance. “And as, you know, as someone who respects that office a great deal, and believing that they may have perhaps the best laws to investigate, I did so.”

But Mr Vance went on to say that he was surprised by – and apparently disagreed with – the decision of federal prosecutors not to pursue criminal charges against Mr Trump over the matter at the time.

“I was somewhat surprised after Mr Cohen pleaded guilty that the federal government did not proceed on the areas in which it asked me to stand down,” said the former DA.

The comments were surprisingly candid for a former prosecutor. Statements about internal deliberations leading to the decisions behind prosecutorial discrection are rare, even for retired professionals in the field. Much of the news about such deliberations in the current Manhattan case being headed up by Alvin Bragg has come in the form of leaks from individuals connected to the probe, which has infuriated Mr Trump’s legal team and led to more accusations of bias.

Former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.
Former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

Mr Trump famously escaped any criminal charges stemming from the years-long investigation into his 2016 campaign; that probe famously ensnared a number of others connected to his first presidential bid, including his campaign chairman and first White House national security adviser. That decision enraged many Democrats who had been hoping the Justice Department would break its longstanding protocol and charge a sitting president with criminal offences.

The former president now faces a cascade of criminal and legal battles as he campaigns once again for the presidency, several of which stem from his actions taken to prevent Joe Biden’s lawful victory in 2020.

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