Democrats race to Bragg’s defense: Congress ‘should stay the hell out of it’
House Democrats are racing to the defense of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) amid his criminal probe of former President Trump, saying the Republicans seeking to halt Bragg’s hush money investigation are encroaching on matters of independent law enforcement and should simply butt out.
“Let’s wait to see if there are going to be charges. Let’s see what the charges are. Let’s see what the evidence is,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (Calif.), vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus. “And we should let law enforcement do their jobs without political interference.”
Trump stirred a hornet’s nest over the weekend when he predicted he would be indicted this week for his role in a 2016 payment to the adult film actress Stormy Daniels. The prediction proved false — the grand jury in the case is expected to meet again next week — but the very idea drew howls from Trump’s GOP allies on Capitol Hill, where the chairmen of three powerful House committees demanded that Bragg testify before Congress.
“Your actions will erode confidence in the evenhanded application of justice and unalterably interfere in the course of the 2024 presidential election,” Reps. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), James Comer (R-Ky.) and Bryan Steil (R-Wis.) wrote to Bragg on Monday. Jordan chairs the Judiciary Committee; Comer leads the Oversight panel, and Steil heads the Administration Committee.
Bragg responded to the Republicans on Thursday, writing that Trump had created a “false expectation” in predicting his arrest this week. He declined the GOP entreaties to provide information, and Democrats are backing him, accusing Republicans of strong-arming judiciary officials and defending Trump over the rule of law.
“I was astonished, actually, when I saw the letter from the three committee chairs to Mr. Bragg, essentially calling on him to violate grand jury secrecy laws in New York, which of course is a felony,” Rep. Glenn Ivey (D-Md.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters Thursday. “He rightly declined to do that.”
Yet Republicans are not the only figures criticizing Bragg this week. Some liberals are voicing concerns that the Manhattan district attorney is moving too quickly in the hush-payment case, fearing his indictment might arrive before federal and state prosecutors investigating several other episodes — including Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and his effort to overturn the 2020 election — bring potentially more serious charges.
Those liberal voices say an early indictment in Manhattan could benefit Trump politically, by rallying support from Republican voters who might be shifting away from the former president, but remain sympathetic to his warnings of a national “deep state” conspiracy targeting conservatives by all levels of government. They’re suggesting Bragg should back off to let the other investigations proceed first.
“A charge like this — a porn star payoff seven years ago, somehow tied to the election but not really — it doesn’t seem like the right way to go,” Van Jones, a liberal commentator for CNN, said this week. “History is not going to judge Donald Trump based on Stormy Daniels. They’re going to judge him based on the election, going to judge him based on the coup attempt.”
Democrats on Capitol Hill have other ideas, however, and many wasted no time blasting the calls for Bragg to delay.
“I always scratch my head when I hear that — as if we have the ability to politically choreograph the sequencing of criminal justice. I mean, give me a break,” Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) said.
“The process and the law should just play out, and we should stay the hell out of it.”
A vast majority of Democrats appear to agree. While many acknowledged there might be a political advantage if the Justice Department brought the first charges surrounding the Jan. 6 attack — or Georgia prosecutors were the first to indict Trump for interfering in the 2020 election — they emphasized that those are independent investigations being conducted by separate agencies, and any coordination between them would taint all of the probes.
“From a political standpoint, it may have an impact on how this is all interpreted and received, and how certain people are able to spin it,” Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.) said, referring to the possibility that Bragg may be the first prosecutor to bring charges. “But the central question is the independence of these prosecutors, and their ability to do their jobs. And they have to do their jobs regardless of the political fallout.”
Bragg’s office has sent recent signals that it may soon indict Trump in the scandal that involved Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, paying Daniels $130,000 in return for her silence surrounding an alleged affair with Trump a decade earlier. Trump, who denies the affair, later reimbursed Cohen, who was subsequently convicted of a series of felonies, spent time in prison, and is now the central witness against his former boss.
But it’s still unknown whether or when the grand jury will see fit to indict Trump, what the charges would be or how challenging the path is to a potential conviction.
Legal observers suggest an indictment of Trump would likely focus on charges of falsifying business records, a misdemeanor. Pursuit of a felony would require showing the falsification was connected to another crime, but those options all carry their own pitfalls.
As the debate has evolved, some powerful Democrats — including Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who led Trump’s first impeachment — have accused the Justice Department of moving too slowly in its investigations. But others said the sheer scope of the Jan. 6 probe is enough to justify the marathon process.
“The good news is the Department of Justice doesn’t care about my perception of their pace,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said, pointing to the independence of the agency.
“When you are conducting an investigation that involves the former president of the United States you want to be sure that you have crossed every T and dotted every I. I think it does feel like it’s been a long time, but obviously, they’re gonna do what is necessary to fully investigate,” he said.
The hush money case also had a head start compared to the other probes, with the conduct first coming to light in 2018 and under investigation by the Manhattan DA’s office since May of 2021. Some Democrats said it’s been all but inevitable that the Stormy Daniels scandal would yield the first charges.
“It’s almost predictable that the tawdry and the slimy would get him first. And I hate to say it that way, but that’s what I think of him,” Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.) told The Hill.
“In many ways, you’d like to see some of the graver violations of law — that I think he’s violated — those come first,” he added. “But it’s Donald Trump. Of course the circus comes first.”
Mychael Schnell contributed.
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