Trump grand jury examining his other hush money payments that show a pattern of behavior: report
Karen McDougal speaking with CNN's Anderson Cooper. (Screenshot)

After the New York Times revealed that the Manhattan District Attorney's Office was looking at felony charges for former President Donald Trump, it sparked a legal conversation among scholars and experts about how they would get there.

If Trump is charged with a crime over the hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels, it doesn't rise above a misdemeanor charge. To try and hide the payment to Daniels, Trump spliced them out into several payments to Cohen over time and claimed them as a legal retainer.

"That's going to be really strong evidence because there was no legal work being done by Michael Cohen," said former Justice Department lawyer Andrew Weissmann, who now teaches at NYU School of Law. "There was no reason to have these retainers month after month. And so, that will be a very strong part of the case. The problem is, that's a misdemeanor under New York law. And so, the thing that we don't know is the way in which that misdemeanor can be elevated to a felony, and under New York law, the way it can be elevated is if you commit that misdemeanor to further or to cover up another crime. Whether that other crime is a felony or a misdemeanor. Then the false business record charge is no longer a misdemeanor. It is a felony. Meaning, if you do the misdemeanor to help promote another crime, it's more serious. What we don't know is exactly how [DA] Alvin Bragg is thinking about what he would charge probably some form of either a federal and/or state election crime."

Conservative Bill Kristol compared Trump to former presidential candidate John Edwards, when speaking to MSNBC last week. Edwards engaged a third party to make the hush money payments. The jury ultimately acquitted Edwards — but Trump's case is more complicated.

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In Trump's case, he not only paid off Daniels through his lawyer, but he also paid off Karen McDougal through a third party, The National Enquirer. The tabloid's chief, David Pecker, was given immunity in the Michael Cohen case. Pecker has been called back to speak to the grand jury more than once.

The Wall Street Journal confirmed Thursday that the DA's office has brought up the hush money deal for McDougal.

"Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office has been presenting a grand jury with evidence of Mr. Trump’s involvement in a $130,000 payment to porn star Stormy Daniels since January," said the report. "In those proceedings, the people said, Mr. Bragg’s prosecutors also have questioned grand-jury witnesses extensively about an earlier deal involving Karen McDougal, Playboy Magazine’s Playmate of the Year in 1998, who has said she began a 10-month relationship with Mr. Trump beginning in 2006."

At the same time, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen recorded his client talking about the "deal" being made with Pecker, and the plan to reimburse the Enquirer's parent company, American Media.

The Enquirer used what's known as a "catch and kill," to protect Trump from the allegations. It's where the company claims they'll buy the rights to the story, and then not publish anything about it.

"A consultant for Mr. Pecker used a separate shell company to issue a false invoice to Mr. Cohen for advisory services, insulating both American Media and Mr. Trump from the transaction, according to the nonprosecution agreement," the Journal explained. Cohen tried to have Pecker buy the Daniels story too, but he refused, which is how Cohen ended up running the hush money through him.

Read the full report here.