The Manhattan district attorney’s office has jump-started its criminal investigation into former President Trump, breathing new life into an inquiry that once seemed to have reached a dead end. Under new district attorney Alvin Bragg, prosecutors have returned to the long-running investigation's original focus: a hush-money payment to an adult performer who said she had an affair with Trump. The district attorney’s office examined the payment to actress Stormy Daniel, years ago. Bragg and some of his deputies have indicated to associates, supporters and at least one lawyer involved that they are newly optimistic about building a case against Trump. The newfound scrutiny of the hush money comes amid an intensifying swirl of legal and political drama around Trump, reports The New York Times. It is unclear whether Bragg or the newly named Justice Department special counsel will ultimately seek charges against Trump, who has announced a third presidential run.
For Bragg, the hush-money developments suggest the first signs of progress in the case since he took office at the beginning of the year. The idea of building a case around the hush money had resurfaced with such regularity that prosecutors came to refer to it as the “zombie theory,” an idea that just wouldn’t die. Under Bragg’s predecessor, the district attorney’s office rejected the idea of focusing a case solely on the hush money, concluding, with the help of outside legal experts, that it would hinge on a largely untested and risky legal theory. If Bragg were to charge Trump without uncovering any new evidence or relying on a more conventional theory, he would risk having a judge or appellate court throw out the case. To help build the hush-money case, prosecutors are revisiting another strategy that has yet to work: pressuring a top Trump lieutenant, Allen Weisselberg, to cooperate. While Weisselberg has already pleaded guilty to unrelated tax charges and testified last week against Trump’s company at its trial for the same tax crimes, he has not turned on Trump. Prosecutors are considering a new round of charges against Weisselberg in hopes of securing his cooperation against the former president. Those potential charges concern insurance fraud and are unrelated to the hush money.