- The Washington Times - Monday, March 20, 2023

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has resisted political pressure and endured withering criticism from both parties during his tumultuous 15 months in office, leaving some legal analysts surprised that he is preparing to knuckle under to demands to indict former President Donald Trump.

Mr. Bragg, a Harvard-educated lawyer and the first Black man to serve as Manhattan’s district attorney, has been beset by controversies since taking office in January 2022. Those disputes have spurred calls for Mr. Bragg to backtrack on his decisions, which he has ignored.
Now Mr. Bragg appears to be heading for his most contentious action so far: the arrest and indictment of Mr. Trump. Prosecutors in his office this week are expected to charge the former president with falsifying business records to conceal hush money to an alleged mistress. Mr. Trump has repeatedly denied an affair and any wrongdoing surrounding the payment.

It would be the first time in American history that a former president has been charged with a crime.
Mr. Bragg earlier abandoned the hush money angle but moved forward with a case against the Trump Organization without charging the former president.
The two prosecutors leading the investigation into Mr. Trump’s business practices abruptly resigned in that case because of Mr. Bragg’s unwillingness to indict the former president, according to a book released last month by one of the former prosecutors, Mark Pomerantz.
Mr. Bragg and his team had concerns about the strength of the evidence and the credibility of a key witness in the hush money investigation, according to “People vs. Donald Trump.” The book sparked fury among Democrats and the media, and the prosecution over falsifying records suddenly appeared to pick up steam.
State, federal and local prosecutors, including Mr. Bragg’s predecessor Cyrus R. Vance Jr., all passed on filing charges over hush money.
Jonathan Turley, who teaches constitutional law at George Washington University, said Mr. Bragg did not push the case to a grand jury until Mr. Pomerantz’s book was released.
“It worked. Bragg caved to the overwhelming political pressure. Bragg has reduced the criminal justice system to prosecution by plebiscite,” he said.

Mr. Turley said the book is “highly unprofessional and improper” because it makes a public case against someone who has not been indicted or convicted.
Janos Marton, national justice director for Dream.Org, which advocates for criminal justice reform, ran against Mr. Bragg for district attorney and later endorsed him. He said Mr. Bragg’s fortitude to withstand political pressure is a sign of the strong case against Mr. Trump.

“This case is moving forward because DA Bragg believes there is strong evidence and because he believes it can be a successful prosecution,” he said. “There are a lot of Democrats who wanted him to indict Trump sooner, but he didn’t believe the facts called for it.”

Mr. Bragg came under fire almost immediately after taking office for issuing a memo that fueled criticism that he is soft on crime. The memo said his office would no longer prosecute nonviolent crimes, including dodging subway fares and resisting arrest.

SEE ALSO: DeSantis says he won’t greenlight Trump extradition on hush money charge

It also called for prosecutors to treat certain armed robberies as misdemeanor petty larcenies if there is no risk of physical harm and to forbid pretrial bail except in “very serious cases.”

In the memo, Mr. Bragg said the policies aimed to decriminalize poverty and mental illness and balance fairness and public safety.
The memo prompted scathing responses from New York Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat, and Police Commissioner Keechant Sewell, who said the agenda could encourage violence against police officers.

Mr. Bragg never fully backed away from the memo but did clarify that any robbery with a gun would be charged as a felony and his office would prosecute anyone who harms police officers. He said the memo created “confusion” about his policies.
Criticism of Mr. Bragg intensified after six New York Police Department officers were shot within his first few weeks in office.

“His tenure got off to a rough start. He got knocked down really hard and attacked from all sides politically,” Mr. Marton said. “When he got knocked down, I’ve been impressed with how he bounced back and brought in respected DAs to run departments and shake off the bad press.”

Mr. Bragg was soon under fire for his soft-on-crime policies. In his first year, he downgraded 52% of felonies to misdemeanors, according to data from his office. That was up from 47% in 2021 and 35% in 2020. He increased only 8% of misdemeanors in 2022, compared with 9% in 2021 and 12% in 2020.
Meanwhile, crime soared by nearly 30%. 

Mr. Bragg’s policies drew fierce criticism from Mr. Adams, a former police captain, and New York Gov. Kathy Hochul, also a Democrat.

SEE ALSO: Trump’s legal peril in New York boils down to a case of falsifying business records

Mr. Adams said “there is no appropriate response to [criminals’] bad behavior” under Bragg’s policies. He later said that an offender must try really hard to end up in a New York prison.
Despite those criticisms, Mr. Bragg has shown little desire to reverse course and push for stronger penalties. Violent crime in New York has dipped this year. Homicides are down 18.5% and robberies have fallen 2% from the same period in 2022, but assaults have risen by 10.4%.

The criticism of Mr. Bragg’s crime policies will pale in comparison with the media circus expected from a Trump indictment.
Even leftist comedians are warning that arresting Mr. Trump could increase his popularity among voters and backfire on Democrats.

“Do you know this is only going to make him more popular? It’s like arresting Tupac. He’s just going to sell more records. Are you stupid?” comedian Chris Rock joked at a Kennedy Center event attended by some Biden administration officials in Washington on Sunday.
Mr. Trump has accused Mr. Bragg of interfering in the 2024 presidential election. He has declared himself a candidate for the Republican nomination.

“It is the District Attorney of Manhattan who is breaking the law,” Mr. Trump said on his Truth Social platform. “Alvin Bragg should be held accountable for the crime of ‘interference in a presidential election.’”

Congressional Republicans are demanding testimony from members of Mr. Bragg’s office if he indicts Mr. Trump. Other Republicans also have demanded that he appear before Congress.

“I think we should hear Alvin Bragg testify before Congress, under oath, about his vision and the fact that this is wildly political and the fact that this was not pursued by federal courts and the fact that the Department of Justice passed on this,” said Rep. Elise Stefanik, New York Republican.
Mr. Bragg and his subordinates would be unlikely to answer questions about an ongoing investigation or prosecution.

Mr. Turley said that resurrecting a case of the alleged 2016 crime is problematic. The two-year statute of limitations for the misdemeanor charge of falsifying records has long since elapsed, as has the five-year felony statute of limitations.
Prosecutors will rely on the testimony of Michael Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer who has pleaded guilty to tax evasion and lying to Congress. That could create some credibility issues for the case’s star witness.

Yet a jury pool comprising liberal Manhattanites could angle to convict the former president, Mr. Turley said.
“This is one of the worst jury pools that Trump could possibly face. Moreover, for a state judge to dismiss this case may be viewed as a matter of self-immolation,” he said. “If allowed to go to trial, there is an obvious risk of conviction, but it would trigger a robust appeal. Win or lose, Bragg has already scored politically, but it comes as a prohibitive cost for the legal system.”

Norman Eisen, a lawyer and former diplomat, called Mr. Bragg’s potential prosecution against the former president “an open-and-shut case.” During a press conference Monday hosted by the liberal Congressional Integrity Project, Mr. Eisen said prosecutors could successfully elevate the case to a felony.

“The hush money case is a serious one. This is a powerful open-and-shut case,” he said, and Mr. Bragg has “good arguments” to convict the former president.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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