The key figures in Donald Trump's indictment
As Donald Trump fought his way to victory in the 2016 presidential campaign, key allies tried to smooth his bumpy path by paying off two women who had been thinking of going public with allegations of extramarital encounters with the Republican.
The payoffs, and the way that Mr Trump’s company accounted for one of them, are believed to be at the centre of a grand jury investigation that led to a criminal indictment and could result in the first-ever criminal prosecution of a former US president.
Here is a look at key figures in the case:
A porn actor who has also had bit parts in mainstream films like The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, Ms Daniels was paid 130,000 dollars to keep quiet about what she says was an awkward and unexpected sexual encounter with Mr Trump at a celebrity golf outing in Lake Tahoe in 2006. Mr Trump denies having sex with Ms Daniels.
Ms Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, was paid the money in the final weeks of Mr Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign after her representative said she was willing to make on-the-record statements to the National Enquirer or on television confirming a sexual encounter with Mr Trump.
Ms Daniels attempted to capitalise on her newfound notoriety after news of the payment became public, embarking on a nationwide strip club tour in 2018.
During a stop in Columbus, Ohio, Ms Daniels was arrested on suspicion of inappropriately touching an undercover officer, but the charges were dropped hours later.
Her former lawyer, Michael Avenatti, is serving 11 years in prison for extortion and fraud, including a conviction for stealing 297,000 dollars in proceeds from Ms Daniels’ 2018 book Full Disclosure.
A former Playboy model who said she had a 10-month affair with Mr Trump in the mid-2000s, Ms McDougal was paid 150,000 dollars in 2016 by the parent company of the National Enquirer for the rights to her story about the alleged relationship. Mr Trump denies any affair.
The story never ran. The company suppressed Ms McDougal’s story until after the election, a dubious journalism practice known as “catch and kill”.
American Media Inc has acknowledged that its payments to Ms McDougal were done specifically to assist Mr Trump’s election bid and were made “in concert” with his campaign.
Ms McDougal has said Mr Trump tried to pay her after their first sexual tryst at a bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel in 2006. Ms McDougal said she continued the relationship with Mr Trump for about 10 months and broke it off in April 2007 because she felt guilty.
A lawyer by training, Mr Cohen worked for the Trump Organisation from 2006 to 2017, serving as Mr Trump’s fixer. He once proudly proclaimed he would “take a bullet” for his boss.
Mr Cohen took the lead in arranging the payment to Ms Daniels, passing it through a corporation he established for the purpose. He says he was then reimbursed by Mr Trump, whose company logged the payment and related bonuses as “legal expenses”.
A few months earlier, Mr Cohen had also arranged for the publisher of the National Enquirer to make the similar 150,000 dollar payment to Ms McDougal for the rights to her story about an alleged affair with Mr Trump.
Mr Cohen made recordings of a conversation in which he and Mr Trump spoke about the arrangement to pay Ms McDougal through the tabloid publisher. At one point, Mr Trump said: “What do we got to pay for this? One-fifty?” Mr Trump denies the affair.
After Mr Trump became president, Mr Cohen held himself out as someone who could potentially advise corporate clients on the new administration, collecting hefty fees from companies seeking influence in the new White House.
Federal prosecutors in 2018 charged Mr Cohen with evading taxes related to his investments in the taxi industry, with lying to Congress and with campaign finance violations related to the hush money payments.
Mr Cohen, who blamed Mr Trump for his legal problems, pleaded guilty and served about a year in prison before being released to home confinement because of the Covid-19 pandemic. He pleaded guilty and served federal prison time and is now a key prosecution witness in the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation.
The long-time chief financial officer at the Trump Organisation, Mr Weisselberg made key decisions in how the company kept its books, but did not appear to be cooperating with the hush-money investigation.
During testimony before Congress in 2019, Mr Cohen said it was Mr Weisselberg who decided how to structure his reimbursement for the payment to Stormy Daniels. Mr Cohen said Mr Weisselberg paid the money out over 12 months “so that it would look like a retainer”.
Federal prosecutors gave Mr Weisselberg limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for his grand jury testimony in their investigation of the payments.
But the Manhattan district attorney’s office ultimately brought unrelated charges against Mr Weisselberg for dodging income taxes on job perks he got from Mr Trump’s company, including a rent-free apartment and a luxury car.
He pleaded guilty and is serving a short jail term set to expire in April.
The National Enquirer’s former publisher and a longtime friend of Mr Trump, Mr Pecker testified twice before the grand jury about the tabloid’s involvement in suppressing negative stories about Mr Trump.
Mr Pecker met with Mr Cohen during Mr Trump’s 2016 campaign and said the Enquirer’s parent company would help buy and bury potentially damaging stories about Mr Trump’s relationship with women.
Mr Pecker, who was the Enquirer’s chairman and chief executive at the time, agreed to keep Mr Cohen apprised of any such stories. In June 2016, he alerted Mr Cohen that Ms McDougal’s lawyer had approached the publication seeking to sell her story about an alleged affair with Mr Trump.
The Enquirer’s owner at the time, American Media Inc, then agreed to pay Ms McDougal for “limited life rights” to the story of her relationship with “any then-married man”.
The publisher said it would feature her on two magazine covers and print more than 100 of her articles in exchange for 150,000 dollars.
Mr Cohen signed an agreement to buy the nondisclosure part of Ms McDougal’s contract for 125,000 dollars through a company he formed, but Mr Pecker later called off the deal and told Mr Cohen to tear up the agreement.
Federal prosecutors agreed in 2018 not to prosecute American Media in exchange for its cooperation in the campaign finance investigation that led to Mr Cohen’s guilty plea and prison sentence. The Federal Election Commission fined the company 187,500 dollars, deeming the McDougal deal as a “prohibited corporate in-kind contribution”.
Mr Pecker stepped down as chief executive of the publisher in 2020.
Manhattan’s first black district attorney, Mr Bragg could become the first prosecutor anywhere to bring a criminal case against a former US president. The Democrat inherited an investigation of Mr Trump when he took office in January 2022.
Mr Bragg grew up in Harlem during the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic, where he says he was held at gunpoint six times — three times by police. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he previously worked as a federal prosecutor, chief deputy state attorney general, civil rights lawyer and law school professor.
Mr Bragg campaigned for office as a progressive reformer. He was elected with 83% of the vote in deep-blue Manhattan.
After taking office, Mr Bragg paused an investigation into Mr Trump’s business dealings that had been seen as gathering momentum toward a possible indictment.
But after his prosecutors won a trial last year in which Mr Trump’s company, the Trump Organisation, was convicted of tax fraud, Mr Bragg convened a new grand jury to examine the hush money payouts.
A Brooklyn-born lawyer known for his sharp suits and celebrity clientele, Mr Tacopina is the public face of Mr Trump’s defence team.
Mr Trump is just the latest big name to turn to Mr Tacopina, whose past clients have included the rappers Meek Mill, Jay-Z and ASAP Rocky and baseball great Alex Rodriguez.
In recent weeks, Mr Tacopina has been making the former president’s case on TV news shows, questioning Mr Bragg’s investigation and motives, challenging Mr Cohen’s credibility as a star witness and suggesting Mr Trump was extorted.
It was not always like that. In a TV appearance in 2018, long before Mr Tacopina started representing Mr Trump, he told CNN that the payment to Ms Daniels appeared to be “illegal” and a “potential campaign finance issue”. He told the network that claims Mr Trump was not aware of the payment “doesn’t pass the straight-face test”.
Mr Trump hired Mr Tacopina in January, initially to defend him against a civil lawsuit brought by magazine columnist E Jean Carroll, who says Mr Trump raped her in the mid-1990s. That case is scheduled to go to trial next month.
Ms Necheles is a New York City defence lawyer who represented Mr Trump’s company at its tax fraud trial last year and has been working behind-the-scenes on the former president’s criminal defence, meeting with prosecutors in an attempt to head off potential charges.
In the past she served as counsel to the late Genovese crime family underboss Venero Mangano, known as Benny Eggs, and defended John Gotti’s lawyer, Bruce Cutler, in a contempt-of-court case in the early 1990s. In recent years, the Yale Law School graduate has represented liquor heiress Clare Bronfman in the NXIVM cult case.
Like Mr Tacopina, Ms Necheles is a former Brooklyn prosecutor.
During the Trump Organisation trial, she made a point of referring to Mr Trump as “President Trump”.
“This is not a political statement,” she explained to jurors.
“My parents were immigrants and migrants,” she continued. “And in my home we referred to all former presidents as presidents out of respect for the office, whether we supported him, or disagreed with him.”
Mr Bragg hired Mr Colangelo in December to lead the investigation. They previously worked together on Trump-related matters as senior officials at the office of New York attorney general Letitia James.
During his tenure with the attorney general’s office, Mr Colangelo worked on a lawsuit that resulted in the closure of Mr Trump’s charitable foundation for misusing funds. He was also part of a wave of state litigation against Trump administration policies, resulting in dozens of lawsuits that challenged everything from diluted environmental standards to changes to US mail service ahead of the 2020 election.
After President Joe Biden took office, Mr Colangelo joined the US Justice Department and was temporarily its third in command.
He then became a principal deputy to associate US attorney general Vanita Gupta. Previously, Mr Colangelo served as deputy assistant to former president Barack Obama, was a deputy director of the National Economic Council and a chief of staff for the US labour secretary.