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Special Grand Jury Will Hear Evidence In Trump Investigation

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Manhattan's district attorney has convened a grand jury to consider evidence in a criminal investigation that could indict former President Donald Trump or other members of the Trump Organization. The grand jury will sit for six months, three days a week, looking into whether Trump lied about assets to defraud insurance companies and banks. The news was first reported by The Washington Post and has not been confirmed by the prosecutor's office.

Ilya Marritz from member station WNYC in New York joins us now. Thanks so much for being here.

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: What does convening a grand jury tell us about where the DA, Cyrus Vance, is with this case?

MARRITZ: Well, let's just say it is such an extraordinary situation. Usually the grand jury process plays out completely in secret. You never know it's happening. But as we have seen, nothing ever unfolds in the expected way when it comes to Donald Trump and the courts. So this entire probe has played out in partial public view, and that's in large part because Donald Trump tried to block it every step of the way, forcing prosecutors to go to court to get the records they were seeking. This probe went to the Supreme Court twice and prevailed both times. And along the way, there have been leaks and just very intense media coverage.

So this special grand jury will be a panel of men and women, ordinary citizens, being presented with evidence of potential wrongdoing at the Trump Organization and potentially related to Donald Trump. According to The Washington Post, as you say, the grand jury will be impaneled for six months, meeting three days a week. Now, District Attorney Cy Vance may ask the special grand jury for an indictment, or he may just use it to gather evidence and corral witnesses. But either way, it's a very meaningful step forward for that investigation.

MARTIN: We know that Vance's office won access to former President Trump's tax records. Based on that, what do we know about the possible crimes they're looking at here?

MARRITZ: The ones that he has named in his court filings are scheme to defraud, falsification of business records, insurance fraud and criminal tax fraud, and he said that it could go further than that. What we know about the business practices underlying those possible crimes really begins with the hush money scheme to silence two women who claimed they had affairs with Trump around the 2016 campaign. You'll recall that former Trump personal attorney Michael Cohen went to jail for his role in that scheme, but no one else was ever charged.

From there, Vance reached further back in Trump business history, following a pattern described by Michael Cohen of either understating or overstating either the value or revenues of the Trump business to get bigger loans if he was talking to banks or smaller tax bills if he was talking to the government. Now, to be clear, both Trump the man and Trump the business are under investigation. This probe could result in charges against Trump or people close to him or the business or no charges at all.

MARTIN: Any reaction from the former president?

MARRITZ: Yes. Late yesterday, he posted on his website, this is a continuation of the greatest witch hunt in American history. And he went on, New York City and state are suffering the highest crime rates in their history, and instead of going after murderers, drug dealers and human traffickers and others, they came after Donald Trump.

Just to be clear, we are not at the highest crime rates in New York City history, but that is what he posted on his website.

MARTIN: What's likely to come next, Ilya?

MARRITZ: Well, you know, Vance has noticeably ramped up his investigation. He hired an outside firm to do forensic accounting analysis. He brought in an outside lawyer who specializes in organized crime and white-collar crime. He also joined forces with another New York prosecutor probing Trump's business. That's state Attorney General Letitia James. Now it's with this special grand jury, and we'll see how secret those proceedings remain at this very, very, very watched investigation.

MARTIN: All right. Ilya Marritz of WNYC, thank you.

MARRITZ: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.