Resurrected Trump investigation puts Manhattan DA back in spotlight

NEW YORK – When Alvin Bragg became Manhattan’s first black district attorney last year, one of his first big decisions was to end an investigation that had been moving towards a likely criminal case against former President Donald Trump.

The move brought him few friends. Angry liberals, dreaming of Trump in handcuffs, threw their hands in the air. Conservatives cheered that the Democrat’s reluctance to impeach was evidence Trump was under investigation for political reasons.

A year later, Bragg shakes that first impression.

Bragg came together just after a conviction against Trump’s family business for tax fraud a new grand jury last week in a reinvigorated investigation that could lead to the first-ever criminal charges against a former US president.

The investigation, which has recently focused on hush money payments to two women in 2016, is one of several legal challenges Trump faces as he seeks a return to the White House. It puts Bragg back in the spotlight after a grueling first year in office.

“We will investigate the facts and continue to do our work,” Bragg said, giving a full account of the investigation in a recent interview with the Associated Press.

When asked if impeaching Trump was a real possibility or if the former president could have peace of mind, Bragg replied, “I’m not going to tell anyone how to rest.”

Bragg took office 13 months ago amid what he calls a “perfect storm” of rising crime and political pressures. A Harvard-educated former federal attorney, assistant attorney general, and civil rights attorney, he had legal and managerial credentials but not much experience of New York City politics.

He fought as a progressive reformer but one with a strong record as a prosecutor, winning an eight-man primary before soaring to victory with 83% of the vote in deep blue Manhattan.

Still, he got off to a rocky start. Shortly after taking office, he wrote a “Day One” memo for his staff, briefly outlining it his law enforcement philosophy — or failure to prosecute — certain crimes. Among other things, it said the district attorney would no longer prosecute some low-level offenses, including subway fare evasion and marijuana possession.

Republicans and some centrist Democrats rushed.

Bragg, they said, was a criminal. The New York City Police Commissioner said Bragg’s intention not to prosecute some people accused of resisting arrest would lead to violence against police officers.

US Rep. Lee Zeldin, a Republican running for governor, campaigned in part on promises to remove independently elected Bragg from office. He also featured Bragg in a campaign ad, although Bragg wasn’t even on the ballot.

The vitriol became so rancid — and sometimes racist — Bragg said his friends were concerned for his safety.

But Bragg, an old-school attorney, was reluctant to publicly hit back, which he now regrets.

“I’ve learned that work doesn’t always speak for itself,” said Bragg, who appears frequently on television and gives interviews to outlets as diverse as Teen Vogue and Manhattan’s West Side Rag.

He compared Zeldin’s television attack ad to an infamous “Willie Horton” commercial that aired in support of George HW Bush’s presidential campaign in the 1980s. That ad showed a black prison inmate committing violent crimes while on a weekend vacation under a program sanctioned by Bush’s Democratic rival, former Massachusetts Gov. Michael Dukakis.

“If anyone wants to have a substantive discussion, we can have it,” Bragg told the AP. “But if someone wants to put a black face in an ad and stir up fear like Willie Horton, we don’t have time for that.”

While some types of crime in Manhattan increased during Bragg’s first year in office, murders and shootings actually decreased.

At the prosecutor’s office, Bragg has faced disagreements over the direction of the Trump investigation – complaints that are re-aired in a book by a former prosecutor.

In 2021, Bragg’s predecessor, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., had authorized senior lawmakers to file charges over allegations that Trump had exaggerated the value of his wealth in financial statements he had submitted to lenders. A grand jury had gathered evidence. Vance pulled out before the case was closed, leaving the decision of whether to go to Bragg up to him.

Bragg decided not to proceed immediately, citing concerns about the strength of the case.

The delay prompted two prosecutors leading the investigation to resign.

One of them, Mark Pomerantz, has written about his disagreement with Bragg in his new book, People vs. Donald Trump: An Inside Account.

Bragg countered in a statement that, in his estimation, “Pomerantz’s plane was not ready to take off.”

Bragg also addressed Pomerantz’s criticism of his prosecution team. “It is appalling that he has insulted the skill and professionalism of our prosecutors,” he said at an event this week. “We have the most outstanding attorneys in the country working every day in the Manhattan DA’s office to protect our city from the streets to the suites.”

Recently, these lawyers have once again turned the heat on Trump.

On Dec. 6, they won a conviction against the Trump Organization for helping the company’s former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, and other executives avoid paying personal income taxes. The company was fined $1.6 million. Weisselberg pleaded guilty and got prison. He qualifies for April release.

And a new grand jury is hearing evidence related to payments made in 2016 to two women who claimed they had sexual encounters with Trump.

Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen has already done so served prison time in connection with those payments after pleading guilty to campaign finance crimes. He said the Trump Organization reimbursed him for one of the payouts and rewarded him with additional pay disguised as reimbursement for legal services.

Bragg declined to discuss the investigation in detail, but said prosecutors have stayed certain aspects of the investigation pending the conclusion of the Trump Organization trial. The verdict was the green light to get back to work.

“The process is a kind of strong demarcation line for us,” Bragg said.

The Manhattan investigation is suddenly back on the list of potential legal threats to Trump.

In Fulton County, Georgia, the district attorney is investigating Trump’s alleged meddling in that state during the 2020 election. The US Department of Justice is investigating Trump’s keeping of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago club and Florida residence and the former president’s role in the January 6, 2021 riots in the US Capitol.

Trump has attacked Bragg and Pomerantz on social media, calling the prosecutor’s investigation “fake,” “weak” and “fatally flawed.”


But now, a year later, Bragg and his team may have other thoughts.


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Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission. Resurrected Trump investigation puts Manhattan DA back in spotlight

Sarah Y. Kim

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