US

Donald Trump has been invited to testify before a New York grand jury next week as part of an investigation into hush money payments made on his behalf during the 2016 presidential campaign.

Joseph Tacopina, a lawyer for the former president, confirmed the news, telling the Associated Press: “To me, it’s much ado about nothing.”

An invitation to appear before a grand jury often indicates that a decision on indictments is imminent.

But Mr Tacopina said he didn’t think prosecutors had decided “one way or another” on whether to charge Mr Trump, adding that there was no legal basis for a case.

“It’s just another example of them weaponising the justice system against him – and it’s sort of unfair,” he said.

The office of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, declined to comment on the news, which was first reported by the New York Times.

Mr Trump published a long statement on his social media network describing the investigation as a “political witch-hunt trying to take down the leading candidate, by far, in the Republican Party”.

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The 76-year-old has already announced he is running for the top job in 2024.

‘I did absolutely nothing wrong’

He said: “I did absolutely nothing wrong”, adding criticism of what he called a “corrupt, depraved and weaponised justice system”.

The grand jury has been looking into Mr Trump’s involvement in a $130,000 payment made in 2016 to porn star Stormy Daniels.

Ms Daniels has said she had a sexual encounter with Mr Trump years before he became president – something he denies.

The money, paid from the personal funds of Mr Trump’s then-lawyer Michael Cohen, was to stop her from talking about the claims.

Cohen said he was reimbursed by the Trump Organisation and paid extra bonuses which made the total $420,000.

In 2018 Cohen was jailed for three years for orchestrating the payment to Ms Daniels and another woman – former Playboy model Karen McDougal, who said she had a months-long affair with Mr Trump before he was president.

‘Invitation should mean the prosecutor is preparing to seek criminal charges’

Marc Scholl, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office, told Reuters news agency that Mr Trump being given an opportunity to testify suggests that the grand jury had heard evidence implicating him in a crime.

“The invitation should mean the prosecutor is preparing to seek criminal charges.

“If he (Trump) does appear, he will have to waive immunity and answer the prosecutor’s questions,” he said.

Mr Trump is already being investigated by prosecutors over his alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election in Georgia and by the US Justice Department, as well as over his handling of classified documents, among other issues.

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