Wednesday, February 01, 2023

Travis Hutson family real estate development among fastest growing in country ("Staff Reports," Florida Politics, January 7, 2023)

Senator-developer TRAVIS JAMES HUTSON is "blessed" to have financed with dark money campaign contributions the "regulatory capture" of St. Johns County Commissioners like DeSANTIS appointee SARAH ARNOLD and current Commission Chairman CHRISTIAN WHITEHURST.
Was developer-Senator HUTSON "born on third base and thinks he hit a triple," n the words of Ann Richards about George W. Bush? Here is HUTSON with two of his pals: Clerk of Courts BRANDON J. PATTY and St. Johns County Commission Chairman CHRISTIAN WHITEHURST:


From Florida Politics: 

Travis Hutson family real estate development among fastest growing in country   

("Staff Reports," Florida Politics, January 7, 2023)

Silverleaf continues to grow with the blessing of local leaders.

One of the leading Republicans in the Senate is also a leading force in development in Northeast Florida, and industry experts are taking notice.

The Hutson Companies’ SilverLeaf’s 1,034 sales in 2022 were good for third place among all master-planned communities, according to industry source RCLCO.

Hutson Companies’ Vice President Travis Hutson, who represents St. Johns, Flagler and Volusia counties in the Florida Senate, took stock of the achievement.

“Selling over 1,000 homes in just under our third year of breaking ground has been truly remarkable. We want to thank our builders, contractors, sub-contractors and residents for making this all possible,” Hutson said in a press release.

St. Johns County Commissioners also lauded the development’s achievement, noting development concessions that could establish a new standard in the county.


“I want to congratulate SilverLeaf on all its successes,” said Commissioner Sarah Arnold. “This developer pledged all the infrastructure like roads and sidewalks, as well as dedicated the land for parks and schools all up front before they would agree to build a single house. This kind of commitment is what St. Johns County needs when we discuss what smart development looks like.”

“SilverLeaf has set a new standard for development in St. Johns County,” added Commissioner Christian Whitehurst. “By building infrastructure up front, it ensures that the county can accommodate the new residents who are moving into their homes. We’ve seen other developments following in the footsteps of SilverLeaf’s successful model for growth.”

Hutson was last elected to the Senate in 2022, and he faced a surprisingly competitive Primary against underfunded Gerry James. He won by 56% to 43%, but not without having poured $90,000 of his own money into his campaign account to facilitate an ad buy before early voting. A positive spot that included a reference to an endorsement from Gov. Ron DeSantis resulted.

SilverLeaf is expected to eventually have more than 16,000 dwelling units of various sizes. It is located in St. Johns County, Florida between County Road 210 and State Road 16 at St. Johns Parkway west of Interstate 95.




9 comments

  • William Calioy

    January 7, 2023 at 11:05 pm

    It is amazing how successful the Hutson family can be by buying up all the local government officials, making back room deals, getting state and county taxpayers to pay for their infrastructure using dirty politics. The Huston syndicate even managed to get an endorsement form “”the best governor in the country” who also appointed two toadies, Sarah Arnold and Roy Alaimo to the St John’s County Commission who will pass everything that Huston’s want.
    Just so, everyone knows the St John’s County commission gave the Hutson’s a dollar for dollar impact fee credits for their so-called “pledges” for infrastructure, parks, and sidewalks. The problem is that all those commitments primarily benefit the Silverleaf development. The County taxpayers are left dealing with all the future impact. It is all a dishonest shell game. We taxpayers get the traffic, and taxes and Travis Hutson and his family rake in millions. Good ol’ boy shady politics is alive and well in North East Florida

    • Exploited SJC resident

      January 8, 2023 at 8:07 am

      Truth.

    • Gerry James

      January 8, 2023 at 9:34 am

      Tried to explain this to the good people in our county and district. He outspent me 10-15 to one. Hard to overcome that but through hard work we almost did. We must change this conflict of interest in our county and district in 24. Establishment politicians are destroying our way and the quality of life throughout our entire country. We need truthful conservative patriots in office.

  • Exploited SJC resident

    January 8, 2023 at 8:29 am

    Amazing. Whitehurst and Arnold don’t even feign neutrality. They’re lauding The Hutson Companies in the media after being bought off with tens of thousands of dollars in campaign donations and political favors. Arnold was appointed with zero related job experience, and she was sworn in two hours before she made the motion to expand SilverLeaf. Her father-in-law is an attorney to David Hutson! And she’s a long time friend of Travis Hutson – total COI. She refused to meet with the opposition prior to the Dec. 21 SilverLeaf vote, and only met with two Hutsons and their attorney. In her first five months in office, she voted to put more undeveloped land under the bulldozer than any other commissioner according to BOCC minutes. 

    The commission approved the SilverLeaf expansion despite OVERWHELMING opposition from their constituents, as reported in the media. And now we have a new commissioner appointed who doesn’t even live in the district he represents and is also far less qualified than others who applied. He’s another Hutson puppet who will continue destroying our county. No wonder we’re the fastest growing in the state. We’re the most corrupt. This is just the tip of the iceberg of the corruption and COIs in our county. Please report on it.

    • BeachGirlPV

      January 8, 2023 at 11:05 am

      Everything you stated is FACTS!!!
      Silverleaf sucks. Its overcrowded 210 cannot handle that traffic neither can the other roads. Should we discuss brand new schools with the kids having to be in pods outside the schools? And it was not thought out and they’re still building the building a ton of apartments over there.Good luck with that! Smh

  • BeachGilrPV

    January 8, 2023 at 11:01 am

    The Hutson Mafia (and it is) is so corrupt. I have watched this first hand this year. Gerry James was the better candidate but Hutson bought the win. Along with his cronies – Sarah Arnold, Casey Woosley a judge , Beverly Slough school board and more.
    Funny how Krista Keeting won her seat (GOOD! ) against Blocker and Blocker never contested the close margin. Why is that? Because they would’ve found inconsistencies and then all of the election would have been challenged. Hutson is corrupt all day long.

  • SJCPatriot lady

    January 8, 2023 at 4:39 pm

    Every comment here is absolute truth! Talk about a conflict of interest..the largest developer in Northern FL is the State Senator! He has sold his constituents out for his own personal gain..and our wonderful Governor continues to do the Hutson bidding by appointing Hutson people to County Commissioner seats who continue to do whatever the Hutson family wants! We are left with little infrastructure , traffic jams, crowded schools, etc etc.

  • Bruce Kading

    January 8, 2023 at 4:57 pm

    Unfortunately, this is what happens when you have one-party rule. With nobody holding them accountable on the other side, and many in the Republican Party ignoring what is happening in terms of corrupt growth in the county, Hutson and his enablers, like Arnold, Whitehurst, advance a pro-growth agenda that directly lines Hutson’s pockets. The conflicts of interest here are obvious and unacceptable to anybody interested in honest government. DeSantis makes things worse by appointing a former gopher in his congressional office, Ray Alaimo, to the county commission, despite Alaimo’s complete lack of any experience that prepares him for the job. But how much experience do you need to ask Travis Hutson how you should vote? 

    For those who missed it because of the lack of any significant coverage by the media, Hutson and DeSantis recently teamed up to pass a law that removed Nicole Crosby from her position as the Chairman of the St. John’s Soil and Water Conservation District after she was elected by the voters of St. Johns County. The reason? She annoyed Hutson by beating his hand-picked candidate for the position, so he created a law that said anybody serving in such positions had to have a background in agriculture, a ludicrous requirement that now prevents soil scientists from serving in those positions. DeSantis happily signed off on the law, thereby disenfranchising thousands of St, Johns County voters. As I stated at the beginning, one-party rule leads to arrogance and corruption.

    • Exploited SJC resident

      January 8, 2023 at 10:31 pm

      Commissioner Joseph (Republican) campaigned with a slow-the-growth message that resonated so strongly with voters, she won despite being outspent ten to one. But that’s just one commissioner out of five. Hutson still runs St. Johns County, and DeSantis will keep it that way, as long as the massive Hutson donations keep rolling in. 

      DeSantis’ appointments serve the needs of developers and not St. Johns County residents who are begging and screaming to slow the rate of growth – the fastest in Florida. https://news.wjct.org/first-coast/2022-03-25/new-census-data-st-johns-county-is-growing-fastest-in-florida


SELFISH STATE SENATOR HUTSON RE-FILES ANTI-HOMEOWNER CONSTRUCTION NEGLIGENCE BILL.


Senator TRAVIS JAMES HUTSON, this quote's for you: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt warned us -- "We must especially beware of that small group of selfish men would who'd clip the wings of the American Eagle in order to feather their own nests."

Shortening a statute of limitations is contrary to the genius of a free people, erasing existing rights. Only a greedy gus would propose it to advance his own interests.

Shortening a statute of limitations for latent construction defects negligence is contrary to public policy, particularly when the lead dog proponent of it in the Florida State Senate is a developer, owner of the fastest growing residential developer in the United States of America, Florida Senate Fiscal Policy Chair TRAVIS JAMES HUTSONS.

Republican Lord of All He Surveys, Senator HUTSON and his dark money are a stench in the nostrils of St. Johns County.  Here's the Palm Coast Observer/News Service of Florida article, only mentioning HUTSON in the last paragraph, neglecting to explain his financial gain from lax development zoning and construction regulation by the State of Flori-DUH:



SUNDAY, JAN. 29, 2023 2 days ago

House eyes changes in construction lawsuits

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Lawmakers' proposal would shorten the time for residents to file lawsuits about construction defects in their homes.
by: Jim Saunders The News Service of Florida

Florida House members Thursday began moving forward with a proposal that could shorten the time for residents to file lawsuits about construction defects in their homes.

Supporters said the bill could help reduce costly litigation and insurance costs for contractors.

Rep. John Snyder, a Stuart Republican who is sponsoring the proposal (HB 85), said it would help address one of the “puzzle pieces” that contribute to a lack of affordable housing in the state. Supporters said the bill could help reduce costly litigation and insurance costs for contractors.

But opponents said it could leave residents picking up the tab for problems that they did not discover until years after homes were built.

The House Civil Justice Subcommittee voted 15-3 to approve the proposal, which is filed for the legislative session that will start March 7. Similar bills fueled debate during the 2022 session but did not pass.

The most-controversial parts of the proposal deal with lawsuits about “latent” construction defects — essentially defects that can remain hidden from homeowners for years — and what is known in the legal world as a “statute of repose.”

Under current law, homeowners can file lawsuits about latent defects up to 10 years after they take possession of the property or other events occur, such as the issuance of certificates of occupancy, whichever happens later.

“What this bill would do is leave Florida homeowners who discover defects after that seven-year mark with devastating losses.”

 

— JEFF WIDELITZ, construction attorney

The bill, in part, would change that to seven years. It also would change the events to include such things as issuance of temporary certificates of occupancy and would start the clock with whichever event happens earliest.

Carol Bowen, a lobbyist for Associated Builders & Contractors of Florida, said “there can be valid defect claims. There can also be abuse of the process.” She pointed to situations such as in condominium and multi-use buildings where residents have problems that are not construction defects.

“This bill is meant to say, let’s break through kind of that ticky-tack kitchen sink approach to see what I can get money for and address things that are of real concern,” Bowen said. “Because if they do exist, most builders want to address them or pay somebody to do that.”

But Jeff Widelitz, an Orlando construction attorney at the firm Ball Janik LLP, said construction defects can be hidden behind walls, with homeowners not aware of problems such as water intrusion until after seven years. He said property-insurance policies include exclusions for damage caused by construction defects.

“What this bill would do is leave Florida homeowners who discover defects after that seven-year mark with devastating losses,” Widelitz said. “They would be left with no insurance to cover this. They would have to cover the corrections out of their own pocket, and it could really financially ruin many of Florida’s homeowners. So the 10 years is the appropriate amount of time.”

Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, this week filed a similar bill (SB 360) in the Senate.

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Lawmaker refiles bill letting businesses sue local governments over ‘arbitrary or unreasonable’ ordinances. (Jesse Scheckner, Florida Politics, January 28, 2023)





So conflicted developer-Senator TRAVIS JAMES HUTSON's two bad 2022 preemption bills no longer have his sponsorship. 

In the 2023 legislature that commences March 7, HUTSON is not sponsoring the Mother of All Preemption bills, or the Local Business Protection Act. 

Reckon the longest serving Florida State Senator has bigger fish to fry as Chair of the Fiscal Policy  Committee?  

Good career move not to plump for passage of bad bills, one vetoed by Governor DeSantis? 

From Florida Politics:


Lawmaker refiles bill letting businesses sue local governments over ‘arbitrary or unreasonable’ ordinances. 

By Jesse Scheckner, Florida Politics, 

January 28, 2023)


The bill's applications are myriad.

Supporters cheered it on as the preemption to end all government preemptions. Detractors decried it as a litigious tarpit.

Either way, one of the most contentious bills filed in Tallahassee last year is back on the docket.

This week, Panama City Republican Sen. Jay Trumbull refiled SB 170, a controversial measure that would hand businesses new tools to fight what they deem to be harmful overreach by local governments.

The bill would enable businesses to sue county and city governments that pass “arbitrary or unreasonable” ordinances for up to $50,000. While a court decides the legitimacy of that claim on a fast-tracked basis — a provision known as “rocket docket” — the local government would have to suspend enforcement of the ordinance in question.

If the ordinance is ultimately determined to be “valid and enforceable,” governments would still have to wait 45 days from that judgment to resume enforcement. And that process could again be interrupted if the plaintiff obtains a stay of the lower court’s order to restart the process.


That’s if a local ordinance passes to begin with. The bill would also require county and city legislative bodies — Commissions, Councils and the like — to produce and post to the government website a “business impact estimate” during the drafting phase of the ordinance.

Among the information the document must contain: a summary of the proposed ordinance and its purpose, an estimate of its direct economic impact on private, for-profit businesses, and how much its enforcement will cost taxpayers. The document would also have to include a “good faith estimate” of how many businesses the ordinance will impact.

The bill would not apply to emergency ordinances or measures to adopt budget amendments, comply with federal or state law, or the issuance and refinancing of debt. Local governments would also have the final say on rules relating to their growth policy and planning and development regulation, including zoning and development orders, agreements and permits.

Ironically, the measure would not extend to the state government, which is shielded by a centuries-old doctrine called sovereign immunity that prevents governments from lawsuits.

Trumbull filed the bill Tuesday. If passed, it would go into effect Oct. 1.


The bill’s applications are myriad. Critics have cited its potential to occlude government oversight of everything from neighborhood noise ordinances, bans on single-use plastics and limiting the size of vessels calling on seaports to efforts localities have made to stymie predatory landlord practices through tenant bills of rights.

Former Democratic Sen. Gary Farmer of Fort Lauderdale called it “extreme overreach” of state government, adding it would be a “trial lawyer’s dream” for the number of lawsuits statewide it would attract yearly.

David Cullen, a lobbyist for Sierra Club Florida, said the bill will “chill local government’s willingness to protect their communities and quality of life” while disproportionately benefiting businesses over residents.

“There’s already a legitimate and fair process in place. It’s called an injunction,” he said during arguments over the bill last year.

Industry groups — including the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Florida Professional Vacation Rental Management Association, Associated Industries of South Florida, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and the Florida Association of Counties, among others — have been overwhelmingly supportive.

Cape Coral Republican Rep. Mike Giallombardo, who carried the House measure last year, said the bill’s aim is simple: to keep local issues where they are and reduce the number of state preemptions while empowering businesses to defend their bottom lines.

“This is giving these small businesses the ability to challenge it at the local level (and) work together on it, (and) keeps the state out of it as much as we can,” he said.

St. Johns County Republican Sen. Travis Hutson was the first to file the legislation during the 2022 Legislative Session, but is not sponsoring this year’s version.

In addition to not refiling the bill this year, he told Florida Politics on Friday he will also forgo sponsoring related legislation (SB 620HB 569) he and Plant City Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure backed last year. That measure, called the “Local Business Protection Act,” would have allowed businesses to sue counties and cities if an ordinance caused the company a provable one-year profit loss 15% or more.

Gov. Ron DeSantis ultimately vetoed SB 620, a top priority of then-Senate President Wilton Simpson. In his veto letter, DeSantis praised the bill’s intent but said its “broad and ambiguous language will lead to both unintended and unforeseen consequences and costly litigation.” He also disagreed with the bill’s exemption of “‘emergency’ orders of local government” that led to “bizarre and draconian measures adopted by some local governments during COVID-19.”

“Because of this, the better approach is to enact targeted preemption legislation when local governments act in a way that frustrates state policy and/or undermines the rights of Floridians.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at Jesse@FloridaPolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


Ron DeSantis Believes in Free Speech as Long as You Only Speak About the Awesomeness of Straight White People. (Vanity Fair)




The inanity of RONALD DION DeSANTIS and the wealthy Dull Republicans' Philistinism in Flori-DUH, skewered as part of their Idiocracy-like ideology. 

From Vanity Fair: 



Ron DeSantis Believes in Free Speech as Long as You Only Speak About the Awesomeness of Straight White People

The Florida governor’s decision to block an AP African studies course is just the latest example of his war on the expression of beliefs—and the teaching of facts!—that he doesn’t agree with. 

One of Florida governor Ron DeSantis‘s favorite little mottos is “Florida is where woke goes to die.” In fact, a better, more accurate motto would be “Ron DeSantis’s Florida is where free speech goes to die, unless you’ve agreed to the governor’s list of preapproved talking points, like that LGBTQ+ people don’t exist, white people are and have always been awesome, and nonwhite people have nothing to complain about.” Defenders of the governor will not like this tweak, as conservatives absolutely love to claim free speech is under attack from the left but, as the evidence shows, it’s true.

The most recent example of DeSantis’s war on free speech, which, of course, is inexplicably linked to his bigoted viewpoints, involves an AP African American studies course. Earlier this month, DeSantis sent a letter to the College Board, which is in charge of Advanced Placement classes, informing it that the the class is “contrary to Florida law” and “significantly lacks educational value.” He added: “Should College Board be willing to come back to the table with lawful, historically accurate content” Florida’s Education Department would “be willing to reopen the discussion.” On Friday, Florida Education commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. wrote on Twitter: “Florida rejected an AP course filled with Critical Race Theory and other obvious violations of Florida law.” (Not unsurprisingly NPR reports that this is false, and CRT is not included in the curriculum.)

On Monday, DeSantis got into more specifics, saying at a press conference: “We want education, not indoctrination. If you fall on the side of indoctrination, we’re going to decline, if it’s education, then we will do…this course on Black history, what’s one of the lessons about? Queer theory. Now who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory? That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids. And so when you look to see they have stuff on intersectionality, abolishing prisons, that’s a political agenda and…that’s the wrong side of the line for Florida standards. We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them. When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”


Setting aside the fact that intersectionality is absolutely a part of Black history, DeSantis’s claim that he totally believes in “teaching kids facts” rings extremely hollow, and that’s because during a campaign debate last fall, he argued that students should not be told the US was “built on stolen land” because it’s “not true.”

Obviously, it is true, but DeSantis does not want Florida students to know because it paints white people in a less-than-positive light.

Which brings us to another example of DeSantis’s bigoted attempts to restrict free speech, i.e. his “Stop WOKE Act.” Signed into law by the governor last year, the law restricts conversations about race in schools and businesses and, per NBC News, “bars the notion that a person’s status as privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by their race or gender.” The whole thing is a ridiculously obvious attempt to prevent real discussions about the role white people have played in the long history of systemic racism in America, and while DeSantis would like to pretend otherwise, a federal judge called him on his bullshit in November. In a 138-page order, chief US district judge Mark Walker blocked state officials from enforcing a key piece of the Stop WOKE Act, which he declared violates the First Amendment. Citing George Orwell’s 1984, Walker wrote that DeSantis and company seem to believe that “the State has unfettered authority to muzzle its professors in the name of ‘freedom’,” and zeroed in on the fact that the law specifically targets freedom of expression that DeSantis and his fellow Republicans simply don’t like. “The law officially bans professors from expressing disfavored viewpoints in university classrooms while permitting unfettered expression of the opposite viewpoints,” he wrote.

And, then, of course, there’s “Don’t Say Gay,” the positively dystopian law that the American Bar Association says “raises serious legal questions” (in addition to just being anti-LGBTQ+). It went into effect last year and prevents teachers in grades kindergarten through third from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in any way whatsoever, and bars instructors from doing so in a way that is not “age appropriate” in the grades above. (Naturally, the law does not specify what the state considers age appropriate, a vagueness that was surely intentional.) Earlier this month, a school district reportedly banned a sweet, uncontroversial—unless you are afraid your kid can catch being gay from a story—children’s book about two boy penguins who lovingly raised a baby penguin at the Central Park Zoo, determining that it violated Florida law.

In related news re: DeSantis’s war on free speech, last week a judge determined that he’d violated the First Amendment when he removed duly elected prosecutor Andrew Warren from office after Warren said he would not prosecute providers of abortion or gender-transition treatments, or those who undergo them, which obviously does not jive with the governor’s war on anyone who lives differently than him. (Unfortunately for Warren, he’s not getting his job back.)

While DeSantis inexplicably won his reelection bid by a huge margin, the rest of the country might want to familiarize themselves with his viewpoints within the next two years.



Manhattan Prosecutors Begin Presenting Trump Case to Grand Jury. (NY Times)

Will disgraced insurrectionist ex-President* DONALD JOHN TRUMP be indicted over the payoff to porno movie star "Stormy Daniels?"

If so, will DJT's chorus of kakistocrats, kleptocrats and kooky KKK-adjacent bullies, bigots and boobies wither away, moving on to the next feculent fascist running for President on the GQP ticket -- Flori-DUH Governor RONALD DION DeSANTIS? 

From The New York Times: 


Manhattan Prosecutors Begin Presenting Trump Case to Grand Jury

The Manhattan district attorney’s decision represents a dramatic escalation of the inquiry, and potentially sets the case on a path toward criminal charges against the former president.

Former President Donald Trump, wearing a blue suit and a red tie, speaks behind a wooden lectern during a recent campaign stop in New Hampshire.
The move by the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, compounded Donald Trump’s legal woes in the early days of his third presidential campaign.Credit...John Tully for The New York Times
Former President Donald Trump, wearing a blue suit and a red tie, speaks behind a wooden lectern during a recent campaign stop in New Hampshire.

The Manhattan district attorney’s office on Monday began presenting evidence to a grand jury about Donald J. Trump’s role in paying hush money to a porn star during his 2016 presidential campaign, laying the groundwork for potential criminal charges against the former president in the coming months, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

The grand jury was recently impaneled, and the beginning of witness testimony represents a clear signal that the district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, is nearing a decision about whether to charge Mr. Trump.

On Monday, one of the witnesses was seen with his lawyer entering the building in Lower Manhattan where the grand jury is sitting. The witness, David Pecker, is the former publisher of The National Enquirer, the tabloid that helped broker the deal with the porn star, Stormy Daniels.

As prosecutors prepare to reconstruct the events surrounding the payment for grand jurors, they have sought to interview several witnesses, including the tabloid’s former editor, Dylan Howard, and two employees at Mr. Trump’s company, the people said. Mr. Howard and the Trump Organization employees, Jeffrey McConney and Deborah Tarasoff, have not yet testified before the grand jury.


The prosecutors have also begun contacting officials from Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign, one of the people said. And in a sign that they want to corroborate these witness accounts, the prosecutors recently subpoenaed phone records and other documents that might shed light on the episode.

A conviction is not a sure thing, in part because a case could hinge on showing that Mr. Trump and his company falsified records to hide the payout from voters days before the 2016 election, a low-level felony charge that would be based on a largely untested legal theory. The case would also rely on the testimony of Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer who made the payment and who himself pleaded guilty to federal charges related to the hush money in 2018.

Still, the developments compound Mr. Trump’s legal woes as he mounts a third presidential campaign. A district attorney in Georgia could seek to indict him for his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss in the state, and he faces a special counsel investigation into his removal of sensitive documents from the White House as well as his actions during the attack on the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.

Mr. Bragg’s decision to impanel a grand jury focused on the hush money — supercharging the longest-running criminal investigation into Mr. Trump — represents a dramatic escalation in an inquiry that once appeared to have reached a dead end.

Under Mr. Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the district attorney’s office had begun presenting evidence to an earlier grand jury about a case focused on Mr. Trump’s business practices, including whether he fraudulently inflated the value of his assets to secure favorable loans and other benefits. Yet in the early weeks of his tenure last year, Mr. Bragg developed concerns about the strength of that case and decided to abandon the grand jury presentation, prompting the resignations of the two senior prosecutors leading the investigation.


One of them, Mark F. Pomerantz, was highly critical of Mr. Bragg’s decision and has written a book that is scheduled to be published next week, “People vs. Donald Trump,” detailing his account of the inquiry. Mr. Bragg’s office recently wrote to Mr. Pomerantz’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, expressing concern that the book might disclose grand jury information or interfere with the investigation.

Image
Alvin Bragg standing in a dimly lit room surrounded by men in suits.
District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg, center right, jump-started the inquiry last summer into Mr. Trump’s role in the hush money paid to the porn star Stormy Daniels.Credit...Karsten Moran for The New York Times
Alvin Bragg standing in a dimly lit room surrounded by men in suits.

Although he balked at charging Mr. Trump over the asset valuations, this is a different case and Mr. Bragg is now a bolder prosecutor. He has ramped up the hush money inquiry in the weeks since his prosecutors convicted Mr. Trump’s company in an unrelated tax case, a far cry from his unsteady early days in office, when Mr. Bragg was under fire from all quarters for unveiling a host of policies designed to put fewer people behind bars.

For his part, Mr. Trump has denied all wrongdoing and chalked up the scrutiny to a partisan witch hunt against him. He has also denied having an affair with Ms. Daniels. If Mr. Trump were ultimately convicted, he would face a maximum sentence of four years, though prison time would not be mandatory.

“This is just the latest act by the Manhattan D.A. in their never-ending, politically motivated witch hunt,” the Trump Organization said in a statement, adding that reviving the case under what it called a “dubious legal theory” was “simply reprehensible and vindictive.”

A spokeswoman for Mr. Bragg’s office declined to comment. Mr. Pecker’s lawyer, Elkan Abramowitz, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. A lawyer for Mr. McConney and Ms. Tarasoff declined to comment.

The panel hearing evidence is likely what’s known as a special grand jury. Like regular grand juries, it is made up of 23 Manhattan residents chosen at random. But its members are sworn in to serve for six months to hear complex cases, rather than for 30 days, as is the case with panels that review evidence and vote on whether to bring charges in more routine matters.


The investigation, which has unfolded in fits and starts for more than four years, began with an examination of the hush money deal before expanding to include Mr. Trump’s property valuations. Last summer, Mr. Bragg’s prosecutors returned to the hush money anew, seeking to jump-start the inquiry after the departures of Mr. Pomerantz and Carey R. Dunne, the other senior prosecutor in the investigation.

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The district attorney’s office, working with the New York attorney general, Letitia James, is also continuing to scrutinize the way that the former president valued his assets, the people with knowledge of the matter said.

Over the course of the investigation into Mr. Trump, the hush money payment was discussed within the district attorney’s office with such regularity that prosecutors came to refer to it as the “zombie theory” — an idea that just won’t die.

The first visible sign of progress for Mr. Bragg came this month when Mr. Cohen appeared at the district attorney’s office to meet with prosecutors for the first time in more than a year. He is expected to return for at least one additional interview in February, one of the people said.

The lawyer who represented Ms. Daniels in the hush money deal, Keith Davidson, is also expected to meet with prosecutors.

Mr. Trump’s company was instrumental in the deal, court records from Mr. Cohen’s federal case show.

Although Mr. McConney and Ms. Tarasoff were not central players, they helped arrange for the Trump Organization to reimburse Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid Ms. Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

Allen H. Weisselberg, the company’s former chief financial officer, was also involved in reimbursing Mr. Cohen. And, according to Mr. Cohen, Mr. Weisselberg was involved in a discussion with Mr. Trump about whether to pay Ms. Daniels.


Mr. Weisselberg is serving jail time after pleading guilty to a tax fraud scheme unrelated to the hush money deal, a case that also led to the conviction of the Trump Organization in December. Although he was the star witness for the district attorney’s office in that case, Mr. Weisselberg has never implicated Mr. Trump in any wrongdoing.

Without his cooperation, prosecutors could struggle to link Mr. Trump directly to the misconduct.

In 2018, when Mr. Cohen pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance charges stemming from his role in the hush money payments, he pointed the finger at Mr. Trump, saying the payout was done “in coordination with, and at the direction of” the president. Federal prosecutors agreed that Mr. Trump was behind the deal but never charged him or his company with a crime.

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An older man wearing a mask walks down a city street with an S.U.V. visible behind him. Another man walks beside him.  
The cooperation of Allen H. Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer, will be key to the prosecution’s case against Mr. Trump.Credit...Jefferson Siegel for The New York Times
An older man wearing a mask walks down a city street with an S.U.V. visible behind him. Another man walks beside him.  

There is some circumstantial evidence suggesting that Mr. Trump was involved: He and Mr. Cohen spoke by phone twice the day before Mr. Cohen wired the payment to Ms. Daniels’s lawyer, according to records in the federal case.

For prosecutors, the core of any possible case is the way in which the Trump Organization reimbursed Mr. Cohen for the $130,000 he paid Ms. Daniels and how the company recorded that payment. According to court papers in Mr. Cohen’s federal case, the company falsely identified the reimbursements as legal expenses.

The district attorney’s office now appears to be focusing on whether erroneously classifying the payments to Mr. Cohen as a legal expense ran afoul of a New York law that prohibits the falsifying of business records.

Violations of that law can be charged as a misdemeanor. To make it a felony, prosecutors would need to show that Mr. Trump falsified the records to help commit or conceal a second crime — in this case, violating a New York State election law, according to a person with knowledge of the matter. That second aspect has largely gone untested, and would therefore make for a risky legal case against any defendant, let alone the former president.


Defense lawyers might also argue that Mr. Trump, who was a first-time presidential candidate, did not know that the payments violated election law. And they could take aim at Mr. Cohen, arguing that he is a convicted criminal who has an ax to grind against Mr. Trump.

In its statement, the Trump Organization noted that “the narrow issue of whether payments to Michael Cohen were properly recorded in a personal accounting ledger back in 2017 was thoroughly examined” by the federal prosecutors who charged Mr. Cohen and concluded he had engaged in a “pattern of deception.”

Mr. Pecker’s testimony, however, could bolster the prosecution’s contention that Mr. Trump was involved in planning the hush money payment. A longtime ally of Mr. Trump, the publisher agreed to look out for potentially damaging stories about Mr. Trump during the 2016 campaign. He agreed to this at a meeting in Mr. Trump’s office.

In October 2016, Ms. Daniels’s agent and lawyer discussed the possibility of selling exclusive rights to her story to The National Enquirer, which would then never publish it, a practice known as “catch and kill.”

But Mr. Pecker balked at the deal. He and the tabloid’s editor, Mr. Howard, agreed that Mr. Cohen would have to deal with Ms. Daniels’s team directly.

When Mr. Cohen was slow to pay, Mr. Howard pressed him to get the deal done, lest Ms. Daniels reveal their discussions about suppressing her story. “We have to coordinate something,” Mr. Howard texted Mr. Cohen in late October 2016, “or it could look awfully bad for everyone.”

Two days later, Mr. Cohen transferred the $130,000 to an account held by Ms. Daniels’s attorney.

Michael Rothfeld contributed reporting.

William K. Rashbaum is a senior writer on the Metro desk, where he covers political and municipal corruption, courts, terrorism and law enforcement. He was a part of the team awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News. @WRashbaum  Facebook

Ben Protess is an investigative reporter covering the federal government, law enforcement and various criminal investigations into former President Trump and his allies. @benprotess

Jonah E. Bromwich covers criminal justice in New York, with a focus on the Manhattan district attorney's office, state criminal courts in Manhattan and New York City's jails. @jonesieman