Trump Faces Criminal Risk as New York Investigation of His Business Moves Into Grand Jury Phase: Reports
"It certainly doesn't indicate that charges are necessarily forthcoming, but he believes he's got enough evidence to move forward," one outside prosecutor said of the development
At least one of the investigations into Donald Trump and his eponymous company has moved into the next phase, with New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance convening a grand jury to consider possible criminal allegations against the former president or his associates, according to reports this week in the Associated Press, USA Today and The Washington Post,
The assembling of a grand jury may indicate that Vance believes he has a case against Trump or someone else involved in the company. The Post, citing two people familiar with the development, reports that the grand jury will sit three days a week for six months and will look into other cases in addition to the one being made against Trump.
A spokesperson for district attorney declined to comment on or confirm the reports to PEOPLE.
In his own statement, Trump called it "a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in American history" — echoing how he has criticized many other past investigations. He insisted it was "purely political" and blamed "highly partisan Democrat prosecutors."
New York prosecutors are reportedly investigating whether the Trump Organization misled lenders and insurance companies about the value of its properties and if it paid the appropriate amount in taxes.
It is one of two ongoing investigations into the former president's business dealings in New York, where the state attorney general's office is also pursuing a civil investigation into the Trump Organization.
The attorney general recently joined the Manhattan district attorney's office in its probe — another indication that the criminal case seems to be intensifying.
In a statement to PEOPLE last week, a spokesperson for Attorney General Letitia James confirmed their investigation had expanded beyond a civil case.
"We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the organization is no longer purely civil in nature," the spokesperson said. "We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA. We have no additional comment at this time."
While a civil case could result in a lawsuit or fines, a criminal investigation could result in charges.
The district attorney's investigation began in 2018, after former Trump attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to lying to Congress regarding so-called "hush money" payoffs to women who claimed they had affairs with Trump years earlier. Cohen admitted to a federal judge that he made the payments "for the purpose of influencing the election." (Trump has called Cohen a "fraudster.")
Over time, Vance's investigation expanded, with the district attorney seeking to examine millions of pages of Trump's tax records.
The district attorney's office scored a major legal victory in February, when the Supreme Court ruled that it could review years' worth of financial records — including the former president's tax returns — and present them to a grand jury.
According to the AP, Vance recently hired former mafia prosecutor Mark Pomerantz to help with the investigation, and that the DA's office has interviewed witnesses including Cohen.
One central figure in Vance's investigation is Trump's long-serving chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg. The New York Times reported recently that prosecutors have sought Weisselberg's cooperation and subpoenaed records from his bank and the private school in Manhattan his grandchildren attended.
Legal experts say that the convening of a grand jury is significant, in that it signals the district attorney has seen enough evidence of criminal conduct that he feels comfortable presenting it to a grand jury.
As former federal prosecutor Randall Eliason explained to USA Today: "It certainly doesn't indicate that charges are necessarily forthcoming, but he believes he's got enough evidence to move forward to use a grand jury. The result of that process is whether to bring charges or not."