Here's why Trump rejected the Manhattan DA's invitation to testify before the New York 'hush-money' grand jury

Donald Trump.
Former President Donald TrumpAlex Brandon/AP
  • Trump has rejected the Manhattan district attorney's invitation to testify before a grand jury this week.

  • Defense lawyer Joe Tacopina says Trump will not participate in an inquiry with 'no legal merit.'

  • Grand jurors are looking at Trump's alleged role in a $130,000 'hush money' payment from 2016.

Former president Donald Trump has rejected an invitation from the Manhattan district attorney's office to testify before a grand jury now hearing evidence in a possible felony indictment for a $130,000 "hush-money" payment to adult actress Stormy Daniels in 2016.

Trump had been invited to testify this week, said his lawyer, Joe Tacopina.

"He won't be participating in that proceeding," Tacopina told Insider on Monday, after meeting with Trump in Florida over the weekend.

"It is a proceeding that we — and most election law experts — believe has absolutely no legal merit," he said.

The defense believes that prosecutors are pursuing charges of falsifying business records, a low-level felony that is punishable by a sentence of as little as probation and no jail, and by as much as four years in state prison.

Just what records prosecutors believe were falsified has been hinted at in "People vs. Donald Trump," an expose published last month by the Trump probe's former lead prosecutor, Mark Pomerantz.

Prosecutors believed that Trump's allegedly falsified records include a 2016 non-disclosure agreement, a document that used false names for Trump and Daniels, Pomerantz wrote.

Other potential documents allegedly falsified by Trump involve reimbursements that the then-president and the Trump Organization made in 2017 to attorney Michael Cohen, Pomerantz wrote.

Cohen fronted the money to Daniels and admitted in federal court in 2018 that the $130,000 was a campaign expenditure meant to influence the election by preventing voters from hearing Daniels' account.

The reimbursements Trump made to Cohen in a series of checks throughout 2017 were falsely processed by Trump Org as "legal expenses," Pomerantz alleged.

Cohen is now one of Trump's most vocal critics.

Cohen began his grand jury testimony in the Manhattan district attorney's hush money case on Monday, and is expected to be the secret presentation's final witness.

Trump's defense team believes prosecutors will try to prove that Trump indeed intended to benefit his campaign when he ordered Cohen to wire the $130,000 to Daniels on October 27, 2016, days before the 2016 presidential election.

In return, Daniels agreed to remain silent about an affair she alleged she had with Trump in 2006, just four months after Melania Trump gave birth to their son, Barron.

Trump has denied that there was ever an affair, and said this week he has done "absolutely nothing wrong."

Joe Tacopina, lawyer for former President Donald Trump
Joe Tacopina, lawyer for former President Donald TrumpInsider

Felony-level falsifying business records is an offense that requires some underlying crime — otherwise it's just a misdemeanor under state law.

In order to hit Trump with that elevated felony, prosecutors may try to prove that the $130,000 was an illegal, unreported campaign expenditure or contribution under state law, Tacopina said.

But a jury would have to find that the hush-money payment was indeed a campaign expenditure, not just money Trump would have paid out anyway, regardless of the election, in order to quiet an ugly — Trump has said false and extortionate — allegation.

"He doesn't have to report it," Tacopina said of the $130,000.

Trump had other reasons not to appear, the lawyer added. Grand juries are solely the purview of the prosecutor, who has free reign to examine all witnesses without a judge or defense lawyer in the room.

Anything the witness says in the grand jury can also later be used against them should the case go to trial.

Cohen left the lower Manhattan office building where the grand jury is meeting shortly after 5 p.m. local time. He said he expects to continue his grand jury testimony on Wednesday.

A spokesperson for District Attorney Alvin Bragg has declined to comment on the case or the grand jury proceeding.

Additional reporting by El Calabrese

Read the original article on Business Insider