The Calm Before the Stormy | Crooked Media
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January 30, 2023
What A Day
The Calm Before the Stormy

In This Episode

  • The Manhattan district attorney’s office started presenting evidence to a grand jury about former President Donald Trump’s role in paying hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels in 2016. Journalist Andrea Bernstein, who covers democracy for ProPublica and Trump legal matters for NPR, joins us to discuss the investigation – and whether it will bring criminal charges.
  • And in headlines: two more Memphis police officers involved in the violent arrest that led to Tyre Nichols’ death were relieved of duty, a suicide bombing at a crowded mosque in Pakistan killed at least 59 people, and former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is seeking a six-month tourist visa to remain in the U.S.


Show Notes:



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Priyanka Aribindi: It’s Tuesday, January 31st. I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And I’m Tre’vell Anderson. And this is What A Day where despite the fact that neither of us are watching The Last Of Us. Don’t you dare tell us what happens to Nick Offerman. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Listen, I’m so behind that I’m just now realizing that this is why everyone’s talking about Nick Offerman. You could try to spoil it, I probably wouldn’t even realize what you were talking about. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, I don’t know if I’m going to watch at all, but just in case I do, I don’t want to know what happens. [music break] On today’s show, two more Memphis police officers involved in the violent arrest that led to Tyre Nichols’ death were relieved of duty. Plus, it’s been three years since COVID 19 was declared a global health emergency. 


Priyanka Aribindi: But first, the Manhattan District attorney’s office started to present evidence to a grand jury about former President Donald Trump’s role in paying hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels back in 2016. If you remember when that story came out and how could we forget? It was like the scandal of the century at the time. We learned that Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, made a deal with Daniels before the 2016 election. He paid her hush money so that she wouldn’t talk to reporters about her alleged affair with Trump. Cohen said he made these payments at Trump’s direction. He pleaded guilty and actually served time in prison for violating campaign finance law by paying her. But Trump himself was not charged, and we’ll actually get into why that was the case in just a minute. But this whole time, the Manhattan DA’s office has had their eye on Trump. It’s been a long time. They actually opened their own investigation focusing on the Trump Organization’s tax fraud. And just last year, they found the Trump Organization illegally gave their employees untaxed benefits like cars, apartments, all these things that they weren’t reporting or paying taxes on as compensation. And now the DA’s office has gathered witnesses to testify about Trump’s role in this hush money payment before a grand jury. This would be the precursor to any criminal charges that could be filed against Trump. 


Tre’vell Anderson: To wrap my head around what yet another chapter of Trump’s legal drama looks like. I spoke with our friend Andrea Bernstein, who covers democracy for ProPublica and Trump legal matters for NPR. She’s also the co-host of the podcast Will be Wild about the January 6th attack on the Capitol. I started by asking her what revived this years long investigation. 


Andrea Bernstein: This new piece of the investigation is actually the oldest piece of the investigation, and it stems from the 2016 campaign when, days before the election, an adult film actress named Stormy Daniels received a payment uh that was facilitated by Michael Cohen, then Trump’s personal attorney, in exchange for her not telling her story, which was that she had allegedly had an affair with Donald Trump many years earlier to reporters, and the payment was made. She didn’t tell her story. And after that, an agreement was made with Trump’s business whereby Michael Cohen would be reimbursed for that hush money payment, and they would describe it as legal fees, which it clearly was not. So that is at the heart of what the grand jury is looking into now, whether Trump and his company falsified business records when they said they were paying Michael Cohen legal fees, when actually what they were doing, according to Cohen and other documents, was reimbursing him for a payment he’d made to keep a woman silent before the 2016 election. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And then we also know that back in 2018, Trump’s former fixer and lawyer, Michael Cohen, as you already mentioned, pleaded guilty to federal campaign finance charges due to his role in the hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. Why exactly has it taken so long to revive this investigation? 


Andrea Bernstein: So this case essentially began when Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in federal court to fraud charges and campaign finance violations in which he said he made these payments to women at the direction of a candidate for federal office. So this was 2018. Donald Trump was president. The Justice Department had a policy of not indicting a sitting president. So the Manhattan D.A. began his own investigation of Donald Trump and began looking into various business affairs, including this. The Manhattan DA’s office eventually decided to spend most of its time looking at the tax fraud charges, some of which resulted in the convictions last year. But after the criminal conviction of Trump’s company, the Manhattan D.A. apparently has accelerated looking into whether Trump committed a crime in connection with these hush money payments. So prosecutors really have a fairly straightforward road map here to who might have been allegedly involved and what might have been done and I should say that, you know, compared to the tax fraud case that the Manhattan district attorney did bring compared to those this hush money case is very simple. It doesn’t involve years and years of records. It doesn’t involve reams of documents. So the case is likely to be far less complex and resolved at this point fairly rapidly. 


Tre’vell Anderson: There are so many legal battles that the former president is navigating right now. We’ve got the DOJ’s probe into the classified documents found at Mar-a-Lago, the criminal referrals over his role in the January 6th riot. There’s a possibility that he could face state charges in Georgia for trying to rig the 2020 election results there. There’s a lot going on in terms of what Trump is facing. I wonder just for you as somebody who’s covering all of this, how are you keeping track of what seems to be all of these many different situations that he’s having to navigate and how they’re related? 


Andrea Bernstein: I mean, what’s interesting is there’s a lot of knowns here, even without all the unknowns. So one of the things that’s very interesting about this particular case, this hush money case as alleged, is the step that the Manhattan D.A. has now taken, which is to bring it to a special grand jury, is typically the last step before a charge. And people who have worked at the Manhattan DA’s office have explained to me that a DA doesn’t do this unless they already believe that they are going to be able to get an indictment and prove a criminal case. So this case is actually potentially quite close, that we won’t know until if and when the grand jury does something. But we could be looking at a situation in which a candidate for president of the United States, has to come to the criminal court building in Manhattan and enter a guilty plea. And that is not a fancy building. It is not Trump Tower. It’s where people are typically charged with assault or homicide or other, you know, sorts of crimes in Manhattan. However, even if it doesn’t, there are still things that we know are going to happen in New York, for example, there is a trial date set in a massive civil case brought by the New York attorney general, also relating to tax fraud, that is set for trial in the fall. And the attorney general is seeking $250 million dollars in payments and essentially for Trump and his family to stop doing business in New York. There is also a civil case involving the former columnist E. Jean Carroll, who charges that Trump defamed her after she claimed that he raped her in the 1990s. So that is also set for trial this year in New York. So that’s just two cases without, of course, knowing what’s going to happen in this criminal case, if anything. The Georgia criminal case, if anything, and the Justice Department cases involving January 6th and classified records, if anything. But there is a lot on the potential docket for a candidate for office. 


Tre’vell Anderson: That was my conversation with journalist Andrea Bernstein. There’s no shortage of Trump news, so we will obviously keep you up to date on things as they develop in this case and the many other legal battles Trump will face this year. But that’s the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads. [music break] 




Priyanka Aribindi: Let’s get to some headlines. 


[sung] Headlines. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Two more memphis police officers involved in the arrest that led to Tyre Nichols’ death have been relieved of duty. Preston Hemphill was one of the officers who initially stopped Nichols on January 7th. He was taken off the force the day after the beating when the department began its initial investigation. Hemphill and one other officer are now under investigation as officials decide who should be held accountable for Nichols’ death beyond the five former cops who have already been charged with second degree murder. Also on Monday, the Memphis Fire Department fired two of its medics and a lieutenant who responded to the incident, saying that they failed to follow protocol when assessing Nichols’ condition after the beating. 


Tre’vell Anderson: A suicide bombing at a crowded mosque in Peshawar, Pakistan, killed 59 people and injured 170 others yesterday. Authorities say as many as 400 worshipers, many of whom were police or other security officials, were inside for early afternoon prayers. The Pakistani Taliban later claimed responsibility for the attack, which is the worst the region has seen since last March, when another suicide bombing killed dozens of Shiite Muslims during a Friday prayer service. The city of Peshawar is often targeted by Islamic militant groups because it’s so close to the border with Afghanistan. Meanwhile, Pakistani authorities are investigating how the suicide bomber was able to get past the mosque’s security detail and whether he had any inside help. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Asylum seekers in New York City are protesting a relocation plan that would move them from a midtown hotel to a pop up shelter in Brooklyn. On Sunday, a group of migrants who were sent to the shelter reportedly demanded to be let back into the hotel, saying that the facility was cramped, freezing cold, and offered no privacy for people staying there. Those migrants were denied entry back into the hotel, forcing them to sleep outside in the cold. Other people at the hotel who were scheduled to be transferred to the Brooklyn Shelter have now refused to leave. A spokesman for Mayor Eric Adams has denied the claims of poor conditions. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Yesterday marked three years since January 30th, 2020, when the World Health Organization declared the COVID 19 pandemic a global health emergency. Think of all the sourdough loaves unbaked, the zoom applications undownloaded, the how to make homemade mask on Google. Fittingly, as booster shots have relaxed into the same territory as annual flu shots, the Biden administration signaled Monday that they intended to let the coronavirus public health emergency expire in May of this year. After that, we can only assume it will be more like a public health kickback, where you can invite whomever as long as they’re chill and vaccinated. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Yeah. Listen, I still can’t eat banana bread. It’s 2020, dark time, too much of it. It’s a little triggering. And– 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. 


Priyanka Aribindi: –that’s sad for me. Maybe 2024 is the year that I can resume eating that. [laugh] Yesterday, we learned the former president of Brazil, Jair Bolsonaro, submitted an application for a six month tourist visa to remain in the United States. Bolsonaro, who has been laying low in Florida on a soon to expire A-1 diplomatic visa since late December, is facing multiple investigations in his home country for corruption, as well as for his role in the riot instigated earlier this month by his supporters who refused to accept his leftist successor. And if that all doesn’t sound familiar enough, he is also great pals with former President Donald Trump. In a statement to Reuters, Bolsonaro’s lawyer, said, quote, “He would like to take some time off, clear his head, and enjoy being a tourist in the United States for a few months before deciding what his next step will be.” Why does it sound like he’s like some kind of professional athlete who’s taking a couple of months off, like before signing with the team? Some may see this as an obvious ploy to avoid the repercussions of his many crimes. But if you ask me, the man just wants to eat a Big Mac and go to Busch Gardens. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. Because every tourist that comes to this country wants to go to Busch Gardens. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I mean, he’s in Florida for a reason. He’s not, I thought he was in Miami. I was like, oh, maybe he’s like living it up. He’s like having a great time hitting the clubs. No. 


Tre’vell Anderson: There’s a little football game coming up next month, which is affectionately known to hardcore sports fans like us as the superb owl. This year’s matchup is officially set with the Kansas City Chiefs facing the Philadelphia Eagles and more importantly, Rihanna performing at halftime. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Huge. 


Tre’vell Anderson: But the real news comes out of New York City, where many, many football fans apparently suffered irreparable emotional harm Sunday night on account of whoever controls the lights at the Empire State Building. For a few hours the iconic skyscraper was lit up in green and white to celebrate the Eagles winning the NFC championship game. Now, I’m told that the Eagles are the longtime division rivals of the New York Giants, and they also happened to beat the Giants very badly in the playoffs just last week. And so, as you would expect, this did not go well. After being inundated with complaints, the building eventually switched over to the Chiefs’ team colors. But honestly, that level of betrayal isn’t something that New Yorkers will ever forget about. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Okay, so my first reaction to this story was being like, okay, all these people traumatized by the lights need to chill the fuck out. [laughter] But I flashed back to my very vivid memory of the night that Donald Trump was elected and the Empire State Building turned red. And listen, I was permanently, emotionally affected by that moment. So– 


Tre’vell Anderson: So you get it.


Priyanka Aribindi: You know. A moment of empathy for these people. I get it. I understand. And those are the headlines. [music break] That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe. Leave a review. Take Jair Bolsonaro to Disney World and tell your friends to listen. 


Tre’vell Anderson: And if you’re into reading and not just speculative Rihanna set lists like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. Check it out and subscribe at I’m Tre’vell Anderson. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I’m Priyanka Aribindi. 


[spoken together] And no spoilers. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Unless it’s a set list. I mean, [laughter] I would love to know.


Tre’vell Anderson: I too would like some spoilers for the Rihanna concert, also known as the Super Bowl. 


Priyanka Aribindi: I don’t really. I don’t know enough about sports to do sports betting, but I feel like I could do some betting on what’s going to be in that show. 


Tre’vell Anderson: Absolutely. 


Priyanka Aribindi: Just a thought. Maybe I’ll make some money. [laugh] [music break]


Tre’vell Anderson: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jocey Coffman and our executive producer is Lita Martinez. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka. [music break]