The historic indictment of Donald Trump was the culmination of a four-year investigation marked by unexpected twists and unusual characters. Here is a list of some of the key players:
The woman at the centre of the story. Daniels, 44, is an adult film star. (Her birth name is Stephanie Gregory). She claims to have met Trump in 2006 at a charity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe, California. By her telling, Trump invited her to his suite. What ensued “may have been the least impressive sex I’d ever had,” Daniels has said, claiming Trump offered her a role on his reality television show, The Apprentice. (Trump denies any liaison, and now calls Daniels “horse face”). Daniels sought to sell her story in 2016, by which time the former reality television star was heading for the White House.
The one-time king of America’s supermarket tabloids and publisher of the National Enquirer is a longtime Trump friend and Palm Beach denizen. When Trump entered politics Pecker, 71, offered to look out for potentially damaging stories, according to prosecutors. In a tabloid dark art known as “catch-and-kill”, he could buy these but never publish them. When Daniels’ team approached the Enquirer to sell her story in 2016, Pecker redirected them to Trump’s then-fixer, Michael Cohen, to broker a deal.
Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer was once so devoted to his boss that he pledged to “take a bullet” for him, if need be. By his own account, the ‘Mini-Me’ Cohen, 56, was mesmerised by Trump when he went to work for him, even buying several apartments in his buildings. The Trumps appear to have viewed Cohen, who was involved in the taxi medallion trade, more as a lackey.
It was Cohen who arranged to pay Daniels $130,000 for her story. He did so, he has said, on Trump’s orders. He pleaded guilty in 2018 to tax fraud and campaign finance violations related to the pay-off, and was sentenced to three years in prison. Since breaking with Trump, he has been reborn as his zealous antagonist. Cohen has testified before the grand jury but his value as a government witness may be impaired by his record of perjury. He lied to Congress, for example, about the Trumps’ now-infamous Moscow tower project.
The former longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization was hired by Donald’s father, Fred Trump. More than anyone, Weisselberg, 75, knows the family business and so has been the holy grail for prosecutors. They have been unable to flip him, in spite of winning a guilty plea on tax charges that landed Weisselberg in the Rikers Island prison for a five-month sentence. He will be released in late April.
Prosecutors are still pressing Weisselberg on a separate front: Trump’s alleged practice of inflating the value of his assets to win favourable loan and insurance arrangements. They are hoping that the threat of fresh criminal charges may yet prompt Weisselberg to break his decades-long allegiance to the Trumps.
Cyrus Vance, Jr
The man who succeeded the legendary Robert Morgenthau as Manhattan district attorney and launched the Trump investigation in 2018. Vance, 68, the son of a Democratic Party mandarin, was prompted by Cohen’s testimony to Congress about the “hush” money payments to Daniels. His investigation then broadened into the Trump Organization’s business practices.
Vance’s office was frustrated at every turn by the Trump legal team’s epic delaying tactics, which necessitated a Supreme Court fight to force the president’s accountant to comply with a subpoena for his tax records. His top prosecutors, the veteran New York lawyers Mark Pomerantz and Carey Dunne, thought the “hush” money case was weak but that they had a stronger one against Trump related to his inflation of assets. They failed to bring it before Vance’s third and final term expired in January 2022.
The son of both working-class Harlem and Harvard Law School took over from Vance a little more than a year ago and so inherited the office’s most combustible case. Black and progressive, Bragg, 49, has become a punching bag for the right for ordering his staff to refrain from prosecuting many non-violent offences while, at the same time, pursuing Trump for allegedly paying off a mistress. Bragg is smart and well-liked by his peers. But even admirers wonder if he has the political gifts to justify such a consequential case to a doubting public.