Posted by on March 24, 2023 6:46 am
Categories: News The Hill

Will he or won’t he? Bragg faces historic test with Trump indictment

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D) is facing the biggest political test of his career: the possible indictment of former President Trump.

It’s a consequential moment that could end with Bragg becoming the first in history to prosecute an indicted former president.  

As the possibility rises, Bragg is facing questions about the strength of his case, about his motives for going forward and even over whether he’ll pull back from the brink.

“Alvin Bragg is caught between a rock and a hard spot,” said Susan Del Percio, a longtime New York-based Republican strategist who has opposed Trump. “He had to bring the charges forward because of public pressure, but he isn’t sure if they’ll stick.” 

Bragg is probing Trump’s involvement in a hush payment that his fixer, Michael Cohen, made to adult film star Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 election. Trump predicted an arrest on Tuesday, but that did not come to fruition. It now appears that an indictment from the grand jury could come as soon as next week.

Since Trump’s surprise posts on Truth Social that he expected to be arrested, Bragg’s profile has gone national.

Republicans in Congress have promised an investigation, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) saying an indictment would “blow up the country.” Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went further, saying that Bragg should be “put in jail.”

A trio of Republican House chairmen, led by House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), earlier this week demanded the district attorney turn over all documents and communications about the case.

“He should be disbarred,” Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) said of Bragg. “If he’s going to be using his position to target the Republican Party’s top primary presidential candidate just for politics, that’s not what a DA should be doing. He should be prosecuting crime. That’s what people pay taxes for there.”

Bragg’s office hit back on Republicans’ request in a letter on Thursday, saying the request would interfere with ongoing law enforcement duties and violate state sovereignty.

The move “is an unprecedent[ed] inquiry into a pending local prosecution,” his office wrote. “The letter only came after Donald Trump created a false expectation that he would be arrested the next day and his lawyers reportedly urged you to intervene. Neither fact is a legitimate basis for congressional inquiry.”

Bragg, 49, was at least already used to criticism and conflict from the race to succeed Cyrus Vance Jr. (D) and his short tenure after taking the job on Jan. 1, 2022.

After a grueling, eight-way primary for the job, the district attorney — during his first days in office — took partisan fire from Republicans.

A progressive who ran on balancing public safety with justice, Bragg issued a “Day One” memo instructing his office to reserve jail time for only the most serious crimes and to not prosecute certain low-level offenses.

The list included misdemeanors related to resisting arrest for noncriminal offenses, marijuana possession and trespassing.

It led to searing criticism from New York City’s police commissioner — appointed by a Democratic mayor — and Republicans, who accused Bragg of being soft on crime. 

Bragg ultimately revised the policies the next month, but the attacks from the right haven’t stopped. 

Basil Smikle, a consultant who served as the executive director of the New York State Democratic Party, said Bragg has been a longtime target of those on the right since he was sworn into the job.

In the New York gubernatorial race against now-Gov. Kathy Hochul (D) last year, Republican Lee Zeldin repeatedly campaigned on removing Bragg if he was elected. 

“He’s handled the pressure and fended off criticism well but will be heavily scrutinized no matter the outcome,” said Smikle.

Bragg has also taken criticism from Democrats and members of his own prosecutorial team after he last year opted against moving forward in a different investigative prong involving Trump.

A grand jury empaneled before Bragg took office was hearing evidence about whether Trump’s businesses improperly manipulated property values for tax and loan benefits. Bragg’s decision to not seek an indictment from that jury compelled two top prosecutors in the probe — Mark Pomerantz and Carey Dunne — to resign.

“The team that has been investigating Mr. Trump harbors no doubt about whether he committed crimes — he did,” Pomerantz wrote in his resignation letter, which The New York Times first published last March.

Liberals were enraged at the revelation, and Bragg started taking criticism from many in his own party as the investigation stalled.

Now, Bragg appears to be moving toward an indictment of Trump after all. He convened a new grand jury earlier this year to hear evidence in the hush money probe, and a series of recent steps suggest an indictment could come as soon as next week.

“In some ways, I think he felt some pressure to bring something forward because of all of this to help wipe his slate clean,” one strategist said. “This would be his chance to redefine himself and have a bit of redemption.”

“It was such an utter mess,” the strategist said.  

Some of Bragg’s earlier detractors are now cheering him on. But it is Republicans who have now again gone on the attack, accusing Bragg of weaponizing the legal system. 

Trump called Bragg “a danger to our country” and called for his removal on Thursday.

“He sort of can’t win. In many ways, I feel a lot of empathy for him,” said Catherine Christian,  a former financial fraud prosecutor in Bragg’s office who was not involved in the Trump investigation.

Despite the rising tensions, the probe has yet to turn up an indictment. For reasons unclear, the grand jury did not meet about the case on either Wednesday or Thursday.

Some have speculated that Bragg could change course again.

“I think that the heat is on this DA, I think he’s going to make a very sober decision and I would not be surprised if he doesn’t step back from the brink,” CNN political commentator Van Jones said on CNN Monday night.

But Christian said the lack of grand jury meetings late this week is no sign Bragg is backing away.

“I’ll be blunt: if he does that, he might as well just hang it up. All of this, and then say nevermind? Are you kidding me?” said Christian.

Mychael Schnell contributed.

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