Manhattan district attorney to present Trump hush money case to grand jury – as it happened

Last modified: 09: 00 PM GMT+0

Alvin Bragg recently empaneled grand jury to look into allegation that he paid off porn star before 2016 election

Closing summary

Donald Trump’s legal trouble have grown even more voluminous, after Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg convened a grand jury to look into the hush money payment made to the adult film actor and producer Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. It’s the latest threat to the former president as he pursues another campaign for the White House, joining the ongoing inquiry in Georgia over his attempts to overturn the state’s vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 election. Meanwhile in Washington, top Republican investigator James Comer outlined his plans to hold the Biden administration to account, while the White House and its allies looked for ways to frustrate him.

Here’s what else happened today:

It’s not just the properties of ex-presidents and -vice-presidents where classified documents are turning up.

The Daily Beast reports that a retired air force lieutenant colonel pleaded guilty last August to charges related to keeping hundreds of classified documents at his Florida home.

According to prosecutors, Robert Birchum kept material related to the National Security Agency (NSA) that “could be expected to cause exceptionally grave damage to the national security of the United States” if it had been made public. The air force works closely with the NSA, and the documents “concerned Department of Defense locations throughout the world, detailed explanations of the Air Force’s capabilities and vulnerabilities, and, among other things, the methods by which the Air Force gathers, transmits, and uses information observed by various Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) platforms,” prosecutors said.

Here’s more about the case, from the Daily Beast:

Birchum pleaded guilty to one count of willful retention of national defense information, a felony carrying up to 10 years in federal prison. It is unclear what, if anything, he was planning to do with the documents he had on hand …

Cedric Leighton, a retired Air Force Colonel, was attached to the NSA and also spent time assigned to the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), of which JSOC—where Birchum worked toward the end of his career—is a subordinate command. Those assigned to JSOC handle “a great deal of extremely sensitive information,” with much of it at the Top Secret/SCI level, Leighton told The Daily Beast.

“Additionally, much of the intelligence and operational information of these commands is within SAP (Special Access Program) channels, which means the handling requirements for this information are much stricter than they are for TS/SCI,” he said on Monday, noting that these materials are “exceptionally sensitive, from both an operational and an intelligence collection perspective.”

“I noted with concern that he had briefing slides in his possession that detailed NSA’s special collection capabilities,” Leighton said. “I used to work with those. Revealing them could potentially cause grave damage to our capability to execute military operations and collect information vital to our national security.”

During the years Democrats spent trying to access Donald Trump’s tax returns, his lawyers filed public record requests with the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) that appeared aimed at delaying the documents’ release, Bloomberg News reports.

The technique was unusual, because federal law already gives the president access to some tax information, and also because Trump’s attorneys stated they would be willing to pay $30,000 in processing fees to get the documents, when the IRS usually charges $25.

According to Bloomberg, the records requests were filed under the Freedom of Information Act around the time Democrats took control of the House in 2019 and set out to make public the tax returns Trump had refused to release ever since first running for office in 2016. Late last year and days before they ceded control of the chamber to the new Republican majority, Democrats made the returns public, while noting in an accompanying report that they believed the records requests were part of an effort to delay their release.

Here more on what Trump’s lawyers were looking for:

In response to a FOIA request from Bloomberg News to see Trump’s FOIA requests, the IRS turned over copies of two requests sent in June 2019, drafted for Trump by attorney William F. Nelson, a partner at Morgan Lewis and a former chief counsel at the IRS during the Reagan administration.

The IRS withheld copies of additional FOIA requests Trump may have filed and declined to share the documents it produced for Trump, if any, on privacy grounds because it involved his tax information.

Nelson didn’t immediately respond to messages seeking comment.

In the first request, Lewis asked the IRS for a wide range of communications from IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig, a Trump nominee, and other top IRS officials “in connection with the disclosure or potential disclosure of any taxpayer materials” related to the Democrats’ request.

Trump’s lawyer also asked for any records the IRS gave to Senator Ron Wyden, the top Democrat on the Senate Finance Committee, about a confidential draft memo the IRS prepared in anticipation of Congress’s requests for Trump’s tax returns. Wyden had earlier sent a letter to the IRS asking if the memo contradicted the Treasury’s Department’s position on disclosure requirements.

Trump also sought all records from the IRS about a May 21, 2019, story in The Washington Post that first disclosed the existence of the draft memo.

Congress may be just getting to work, but state legislatures are already well into their sessions nationwide, including Utah, where the Republican-led chamber passed a ban on young people receiving gender-affirming healthcare:

Utah’s Republican governor on Saturday signed a bill that bans young people who are transgender from receiving gender-affirming healthcare as other states consider similar legislation.

The governor, Spencer Cox, who had not taken a public position on the transgender care measure, signed it a day after the state legislature sent it to his desk. Utah’s measure prohibits transgender surgery for young people and disallows hormone treatments for minors who have not yet been diagnosed with gender dysphoria.

Republicans controlling Utah’s legislature made the ban a priority and weighed a first draft of the measure less than two days after the state’s lawmakers opened this year’s legislative session on 17 January.

Cox’s signing of the bill comes as lawmakers in at least 18 states consider similar legislation taking aim at young transgender people’s healthcare.

In a statement, Cox said that he based his decision to sign the bill on a belief that the safest thing to do was halt “these permanent and life-altering treatments for new patients until more and better research can help determine the long-term consequences”.

“It was the most terrifying experience of my life, and that’s saying something because I’ve seen Trump naked.”

Readers, #ICYMI, Stormy Daniels did an interview with the Guardian the other day. Now she’s back in the hard news headlines as the scandal around hush money paid to her on behalf of Donald Trump during the 2016 election campaign goes to the next step.

Daniels has long claimed she had sexual relations with that man, in the pre-Potus-past, which Trump denies.

Daniels, who has said herself that she prefers her stage name to her government name of Stephanie Clifford, is the media gift that keeps on giving.

Thank you for the awesome interview! I love pissing off my haters first thing in the morning!

— Stormy Daniels (@StormyDaniels) January 27, 2023

Remember the days of the Daniels-Avenatti double act? Look how that turned out for Michael.

The day so far

Donald Trump’s legal trouble have grown even more voluminous, after Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg convened a grand jury to look into the hush money payment made to the adult film actor and producer Stormy Daniels before the 2016 election. It’s the latest threat to the former president as he pursues another campaign for the White House, joining the ongoing inquiry in Georgia over his attempts to overturn the state’s vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 election. Meanwhile in Washington, top Republican investigator James Comer outlined his plans to hold the Biden administration to account, while the White House and its allies looked for ways to frustrate him.

Here’s what else is going on today:


A few thoughts on the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation into Donald Trump, from former US attorney and current MSNBC contributor Joyce Vance:

4/ Neither a prosecution nor a conviction is a sure thing. Michael Cohen's testimony will be essential but likely not sufficient to prove Trump's guilt. Prosecutors would like cooperation from Trump's CFO Alan Weisselberg, who has refused to implicate Trump personally so far.

— Joyce Alene (@JoyceWhiteVance) January 30, 2023

Allen Weisselberg was earlier this month given five months in jail for committing tax fraud, a short sentence that came about after he provided testimony that helped prosecutors secure a conviction of the Trump Organization itself on similar charges.


Manhattan prosecutor to bring Trump hush money payment case to grand jury

Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg will soon start presenting testimony to a grand jury about Donald Trump’s effort to pay off the adult film actor and producer Stormy Daniels shortly before he won the 2016 presidential election, the New York Times reports.

The case is yet another legal threat to the former president, who could face charges in Georgia over his campaign to overturn the state’s vote for Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election. An Atlanta-area district attorney is considering a grand jury’s report into the effort by Trump and his allies.

According to the times, Bragg recently empaneled the grand jury and will soon begin presenting evidence. The paper said it spotted one witness, David Pecker, and his attorney entering the building where the grand jury sits. Pecker is the former publisher of the National Enquirer tabloid, which was involved in arranging the payment to Daniels.

However the case is far from a slam dunk, the Times reports, and relies on a legal strategy that may not pan out. Here’s more from their report:

The prosecutors have also begun contacting officials from Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, one of the people said. And in a sign that they want to corroborate these witness accounts, the prosecutors recently subpoenaed phone records and other documents that might shed light on the episode.

A conviction is not a sure thing, in part because a case could hinge on showing that Mr. Trump and his company falsified records to hide the payout from voters days before the 2016 election, a low-level felony charge that would be based on a largely untested legal theory. The case would also rely on the testimony of Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer who made the payment and who himself pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the hush money in 2018.


The justice department has again expressed its unwillingness to share details of ongoing investigations with the House GOP.

Here’s the department’s letter, obtained by ABC News, in response to the demand for information from judiciary committee chair Jim Jordan and member Mike Johnson:

DOJ responds to Chairman Jordan’s request for info on the Biden special counsel probe:

“Disclosures to Congress about active investigations risk jeopardizing those investigations and creating the appearance that Congress may be exerting improper political pressure…” 1/2

— Ben Siegel (@bensiegel) January 30, 2023

In their letter sent 13 January, Jordan and Johnson requested a range of document from the justice department, including “all documents and communications referring or relating to the appointment of Robert K. Hur as Special Counsel, including but not limited to any memoranda regarding his appointment” – which is exactly the kind of thing the justice department is loath to discuss.

Memphis relieves sixth police officer of duty after Tyre Nichols death

The Memphis police department has relieved a sixth officer of duty following the beating death of Tyre Nichols, the Associated Press reports.

A police spokeswoman confirmed officer Preston Hemphill was disciplined following Nichols’ 7 January beating, which resulted in his death three days later and the firing and indictment of five officers on murder charges. The city released videos of the attack last week, prompting nationwide protests.

It was unclear what role Hemphill played in the assault, but family and community members say they want to know if prosecutors will pursue charges or discipline against other officers who responded when Nichols was beaten following a traffic stop.

Christian nationalists who were involved in spreading Covid-19 misinformation and promoting Donald Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election have made a new push to win adherents nationwide, the Guardian’s Peter Stone reports:

A far-right project that has helped spread Donald Trump’s false claims about voting fraud in 2020, and misinformation about Covid vaccines, is trying to expand its mission, while facing new criticism from scholars and religious leaders about its incendiary political and Christian nationalist messages.

ReAwaken America, a project of the Oklahoma-based entrepreneur Clay Clark, has hosted numerous revival-style political events across the US after receiving tens of thousands of dollars in initial funds in 2021 from millionaire Patrick Byrne, and become a key vehicle for pushing election denialism and falsehoods about Covid vaccines.

ReAwaken America also boasts close ties to retired Lt Gen Michael Flynn, who in December 2020 met with Trump, Byrne and others at the White House to plot ways to reverse Trump’s election loss. The meeting happened shortly after Trump pardoned Flynn, who was convicted for lying to the FBI about his contacts with the Russian ambassador before serving briefly as Trump’s national security adviser.

Clark’s project also has links to Dr Simone Gold, who served a 60-day jail sentence for illegally entering the Capitol on 6 January and founded America’s Frontline Doctors, an anti-vaccine group that has also touted bogus cures.

“Christian nationalism has deep roots in American history and has gained traction at different points,” said Amanda Tyler, the executive director of the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty. “The ReAwaken America Tour taps into the unholy well of Christian nationalism to sow doubt about the US election system and the safety of Covid vaccines while equating allegiance to Trumpism with allegiance to God.”

Donald Trump spent this weekend campaigning in New Hampshire and South Carolina, where he made a special effort to attack Florida governor Ron DeSantis. There’s a reason for that, the Guardian’s Maya Yang reports:

America’s 2024 presidential race is showing signs of kicking into gear amid reports that Florida’s rightwing Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, is now laying the groundwork for a White House bid as Donald Trump finally hit the campaign trail.

DeSantis’s moves even spurred Trump into attacking him directly as the former US president held relatively low-key events over the weekend in the key early voting states of New Hampshire and South Carolina.

“Ron would have not been governor if it wasn’t for me … when I hear he might run, I consider that very disloyal,” Trump said, before seeking to attack DeSantis’s actions over fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.

DeSantis began his time as Florida’s governor in the shadow of Trump, whose political messaging he closely emulated. But he has since emerged as Trump’s most powerful political rival in the Republican party, increasingly popular with many party officials who are wary of the scandals and chaos that accompanied Trump’s time in office.


The Democrats have several strategies to fight back against the Republican investigation campaign. One of them is the deployment of outside groups, among them Facts First USA, which was set up last year specifically to counter the GOP’s inquiries.

In a statement released following James Comer’s event, Facts First criticized the GOP oversight chair for acknowledging that the Treasury department’s reporting system for suspicious financial transactions needs reform. As part of his investigation into the president, Comer had demanded from the Treasury suspicious activity reports related to Hunter Biden, but at the event acknowledged the reporting system is flawed.

“We probably need suspicious activity reform … because there are too many suspicious activity reports file. There’s so many, the bank examiners don’t have time to thoroughly go through them all,” Comer said. “But I will say this, if they’re no big deal, then why won’t they let us have access to it? Because I couldn’t tell you. I would find it very surprising that a bank would file a suspicious activity report on the son of the sitting vice president United States unless they were pretty certain that there had been some type of major violation committed with that suspicious activity report.”

Here’s what Facts First USA president David Brock had to say about that:

Comer just admitted that one of his previous key rationales for launching an inquisition into the private life of Hunter Biden was actually based on a lie and a flawed reporting system that he now says needs reform. The fact that Comer is already being forced to backtrack from his own lies before he even held his first hearing is clear foreshadowing that his investigations into conspiracy theories are already headed towards the inevitable crash landing as Durham and Barr’s failed four-year investigation for Trump chasing the fake deep state.

John Durham was the special counsel appointed by Trump’s attorney general William Barr to investigate the origins of the investigation into the former president’s ties with Russia – an inquiry that has so far turned up little.


As far as James Comer is concerned, Donald Trump has been investigated enough, and his committee doesn’t plan to look into the former president’s conduct.

“If someone can bring me evidence that Trump was using documents or was influenced peddling with inside information, then we will investigate that. But I believe that Donald Trump has been investigated for the past six years for just about everything imaginable,” Comer said. “And now there’s a special counsel that’s coming around, the second special counsel, that’s coming around and investigating his mishandling of classified documents and probably everything else.”

The comment isn’t a big surprise, given how Republican generally remain in lockstep with Trump. And though Hunter Biden may be a name you will hear from Comer and other Republicans in the months to come, the oversight chair made clear Joe Biden is their target.

“This isn’t a Hunter Biden investigation. This is an investigation of the president,” he said.

James Comer’s committee won’t just be focused on investigations. He also said it could play a role in negotiating an increase in the debt ceiling.

“We’re sincere about trying to be the leader in Congress in coming up with proposed cuts,” the Republican oversight committee chair said. “There’s a lot of talk about the debt ceiling. And let me say this, we will never default. That’s not going to happen. But I do think we need to be serious about finding spending cuts, and we can cut spending without cutting Social Security and Medicare.”

So what would Republicans have cut in exchange for their votes to increase the government’s ability to pay its bills?

“Everything except Social Security, Medicare is gonna be on the table … including defense,” Comer said. That last part may be controversial among Republicans, many of whom favor keeping the military well funded.

The Republicans are determined to probe two potential scandals involving Joe Biden: the president’s possession of classified documents, and the business dealings of his son, Hunter Biden.

Or are they, in fact, one scandal? At the National Press Club, Comer made the case that they are. Here’s what he said:

It’s really one investigation. It’s not really two, because the reason that that I’m concerned about the Biden documents is because there’s some reason that China has donated so much money to the different Biden interests. I don’t think they’re doing it out of the kindness of their heart. Look, China’s an adversary.

According to, there is no evidence that China was able to see the classified material, or that the country funded the Penn Biden Center at the University of Pennsylvania. Biden’s former office at the center was one of the locations where the secret documents from his time as vice president were discovered.

'I'm just an average guy with average ability': top GOP investigator strike bipartisan tone

In his speech at the National Press Club, James Comer, the Republican chair of the House oversight committee, cast his inquiries as an important part of Congress’ oversight, regardless of who is in the White House.

“There’s going to be a lot written that says this committee’s partisan or whatever, I believe … I have demonstrated, I’ll do what I think is right, what I think is best. That doesn’t mean that’s the right decision, that doesn’t mean I’m going to be right 100% of the time,” Comer said. “But I’m sincere about trying to do the right thing, and I’m just an average guy with average ability, at best, that’s fed up with the process in Washington DC. I’m fed up with the public corruption. I’m fed up with the excessive spending, and I want to do something about it.”

He said the oversight committee could “play a huge role in investigating this administration,” and named “the Biden family influence peddling” as among his priorities. But he also cited the business activities of Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top aide Jared Kushner in saying, “I think there was a problem in the last administration with influence peddling.”

“If we don’t do something about influence peddling. It’s probably only gonna get worse,” Comer said.

Elsewhere in Congress, Black lawmakers want to revive stalled police reform talks following the beating death of Tyre Nichols, the Guardian’s Adam Gabbatt and Edwin Rios report:

An influential group of Black elected officials has called for a meeting with Joe Biden to discuss police reform, as calls for changes to American policing intensify after officers’ deadly beating of Tyre Nichols.

The chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, Steven Horsford, said the group of 60 members of Congress had asked to meet with the president this week to “push for negotiations on much-needed national reforms to our justice system – specifically, the actions and conduct of our law enforcement”.

The appeal to Biden, who has called for Congress to pass police reforms, came as protests prompted by Nichols’s killing continued in Memphis over the weekend.

Nichols, a Black man, died on 10 January, three days after Memphis police officers beat him by a traffic stop. Nichols’s parents, who have been invited to attend Biden’s State of the Union speech on 7 February, said the 29-year-old was driving home after photographing the sunset.

Video footage released by Memphis officials last week showed officers kicking and punching and Nichols and hitting him with a police baton.

In addition to House oversight chair James Comer, another Republican who will be leading the investigation campaign against the Biden administration is Jim Jordan.

The judiciary committee chair is one of the best-known conservatives in the chamber, and made headlines earlier this month by leading the creation of a subcommittee to investigate the “weaponization of the federal government”. He has already sent a flurry of demands for documents and testimony to the justice department, but in a five-page response, a top attorney cited longstanding practice in refusing to share details of ongoing investigations with Jordan, one of Donald Trump’s closest allies in Congress.

In an interview with Punchbowl News today, Carlos Uriarte, the justice department’s point man for legislative affairs who authored the letter to Jordan, elaborated on its approach. He told the outlet that the point of the letter “was to really demonstrate our interest and willingness to cooperate with [Republicans] in their investigations”, but only to the extent it kept with historical norms that he said dated back to the 1940s.

Asked if he sees Jordan as an “honest broker”, Uriarte replied, “I think Representative Jordan, just like any member of Congress, has a set of goals that he wants to accomplish as chair.”


The Democrats retook control of the House of Representatives midway through Donald Trump’s term, and did what the party not in the White House often does: used its power in Congress to hold the president to account.

Its most potent investigation came after Trump left office in the form of the January 6 committee, which spent months unveiling shocking revelations about the former president’s conduct as the Capitol was attacked, and his attempts to undo his 2020 election loss.

The GOP is now back in the majority in the House for the first time since 2018, and plans to give Democrats a taste of their own medicine. They’ve already jumped on the revelations that Joe Biden had classified documents in his personal possession, as well as the surge of migrant arrivals at the US border. The 2024 presidential election looms large here: should Biden run again, the Republicans hope they will have unearthed enough damning details that people who supported him in 2020 change their minds.

GOP to kick off investigation campaign against Biden administration

Good morning, US politics blog readers. Today will start with a 10am eastern time speech from James Comer, the Republican chair of the House oversight committee, who is to detail the party’s plans to use its control of Congress’s lower chamber to hold the Biden administration to account. The GOP has made no secret of its plans to put a campaign of investigations against the Biden administration at the center of its strategy in Congress, since finding bipartisan agreement with the Democratic-led Senate may otherwise prove challenging. Comer and other committee chairs have already kicked off inquiries into a range of White House affairs, including the classified documents found in Joe Biden’s possession and the alleged “weaponization of the federal government”. We’ll see what else Comer has in store when he speaks at the National Press Club.

Here’s what else is going on today:

  • Biden is heading to Baltimore to discuss how the infrastructure package he signed in 2021 will help pay for the replacement of an aging rail tunnel, one of several events promoting the law the president has planned this week.

  • Democratic congressman Eric Swalwell and the Congressional Integrity Project – a group formed to hit back at the Republican investigation campaign – hold a press conference at 12pm eastern time.

  • Vice-President Kamala Harris will be in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she’ll talk about the Biden administration’s efforts to help small business owners.



Chris Stein in Washington

The GuardianTramp

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