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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg, a ‘careful lawyer,’ poised to bring charges against Trump

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on Feb. 7, 2023.    (Barry Williams/New York Daily News/TNS)
By Greg Farrell</p><p>and Laura Nahmias Bloomberg News

Weeks into his new job as Manhattan district attorney last year, Alvin Bragg faced a firestorm: Two senior prosecutors heading the office’s four-year investigation of Donald Trump wanted an immediate indictment of the former president.

Bragg told them the case wasn’t ready. The men quit in frustration, and it quickly spread that Bragg was abandoning the Trump investigation. It was a disastrous start to Bragg’s tenure at One Hogan Place.

A year after that momentous decision, the 49-year-old Harlem native is poised to become the first prosecutor to file criminal charges against Trump, which will turn him into a hero for the former president’s foes and a target of hatred for Trump supporters.

Trump has already decried the investigation as a political witch hunt, labeling Bragg, who is Black, a “racist” and urging his supporters to protest any attempt to arrest and prosecute him.

New York City is already bracing for what would be an unprecedented and tense indictment of a former president over alleged hush money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Police have erected security barricades outside the court, and Bragg’s office has said it won’t be intimidated by attempts to undermine the justice process.

So far protests have been muted, with a couple dozen demonstrators showing up outside Bragg’s office for a rally Monday evening.

Five years into an investigation launched by his predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., Bragg appears close to deciding to charge Trump. He has brought a string of witnesses before a grand jury, many of whom were involved in or aware of a hush money payment made by former Trump fixer and personal lawyer Michael Cohen to Daniels in the final days of the 2016 election campaign.

In recent weeks Bragg’s office contacted Trump’s lawyers to offer the former president the opportunity to address the grand jury himself, a step that normally takes place at the end of the investigative process. Trump declined, but the invitation alerted him that Bragg was on the verge of making a decision.

Bragg has for decades been destined to do important things, at least according to the Harvard Crimson, which wrote a 1995 story on him titled “The Anointed One.” The son of Sadie and Alvin senior, Bragg grew up in a section of Harlem known as “Striver’s Row” and attended the Trinity School in Manhattan, an elite private school. At Harvard he was known for bringing people together across political divides.

Bragg’s newfound role as Trump’s nemesis is not something he sought. While New York Attorney General Letitia James actively campaigned for office by promising to hold Trump accountable for his alleged misdeeds, Bragg avoided discussing the Trump investigation when he campaigned to succeed Vance.

Instead, Bragg, who has a strong history in civil rights issues, ran pledging to end “mass incarceration” and investigate police misconduct.

His first act upon taking office was to issue a memo telling his prosecutors to stop recommending jail terms for certain types of offenses, including robbery, assault and possession of a firearm.

New York City’s police commissioner publicly criticized the memo. A few weeks later, two New York Police Department officers were shot and killed, leading to cries of outrage against Bragg’s more lenient policies. He eventually walked back his instructions to prosecutors.

A month later, the two prosecutors who were pushing for a Trump indictment quit. In his resignation letter, which was leaked to The New York Times, Mark Pomerantz accused Bragg of suspending the investigation indefinitely. “I believe that your decision not to prosecute Donald Trump now, and on the existing record, is misguided and completely contrary to the public interest,” Pomerantz wrote. “I fear that your decision means that Mr. Trump will not be held fully accountable for his crimes.”

For those who know him, Bragg’s methodical approach is evidence of a prosecutor who takes the responsibility seriously and not a politician.

“He is a really cautious and careful lawyer,” said Terri Gerstein, who worked with Bragg in the state attorney general’s office. “He is a supervisor who will read the statute, who will actually look at the evidence. He’s detail-oriented and he really delves into the case, and he’s someone who’s very careful about not proceeding if the case isn’t really very, very strong.”

One of his former political opponents agreed. “It is essential that as a prosecutor, you believe in the case and the guilt of the person you are prosecuting beyond a reasonable doubt,” said Diana Florence, one of several candidates who sought the job Bragg ultimately won two years ago.

Last fall, Bragg’s office secured a conviction against two units of the Trump Organization for a decadelong tax fraud scheme, resulting in a $1.6 million fine. Allen Weisselberg, former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, pleaded guilty to his own tax crimes in August and testified for the prosecution during the trial.

Following the jury’s verdict, Bragg’s investigators began interviewing witnesses involved in the $130,000 hush money payment Cohen made to Daniels. The actress had threatened to go public with details of an intimate encounter she said she had with Trump. The former president has denied the allegations.

Over the next two months, it became apparent that Bragg was focused on those payments, which resulted in federal charges for Cohen in 2018, as the possible basis for a state-level prosecution of Trump. The former president has said that he expects to be arrested.

If Bragg does indict Trump, the prosecutor will be at the center of a legal and political storm beyond anything the Manhattan District Attorney’s office has experienced in recent memory. Three top Republicans from the U.S. House of Representatives sent a letter to Bragg Monday saying that an indictment of Trump would be “an unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority.”

They demanded documents and communications between the DA’s office and the Justice Department, as well as copies of all communications sent or received by the two departed prosecutors – Pomerantz and Carey Dunne – related to Trump.

In response, Bragg’s office issued a statement saying, “We will not be intimidated by attempts to undermine the justice process, nor will we let baseless accusations deter us from fairly applying the law.”

Allies say Bragg has the temperament required for the battle that lies ahead.

“Alvin Bragg is a very solid, methodical, serious person,” said civil rights activist Al Sharpton. “Those on the right and the left underestimate how solid and grounded he is.

“He took a lot of flack about bail reform, he took a lot of flack about the two (prosecutors) that resigned because he wasn’t ready to proceed with the case against Donald Trump,” said Sharpton, a friend and supporter of the prosecutor. “And he was unflappable.”