Economy 03-04-2024 01:02 8 Views

Who is Alvin Bragg, the DA prosecuting Trump’s N.Y. hush money trial?

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg will probably forever be known as the prosecutor who became the first person to indict a sitting or former U.S. president: Donald Trump.

Trump is set to go on trial on April 15 on charges of falsifying business records to conceal a hush money payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels during the 2016 presidential campaign. Bragg brought 34 felony charges related to the payment to Daniels, who claimed to have had an affair with Trump years before he was elected president. (Trump denies the affair.)

“Everyone stands equal before the law,” Bragg said at a news conference after Trump’s arraignment in a Lower Manhattan courtroom in April 2023. “No amount of money and no amount of power changes that enduring American principle.”

Here’s what to know about the 50-year-old Manhattan prosecutor.

Bragg, a Democrat, was elected as the 37th Manhattan district attorney in November 2021. He succeeded Cyrus Vance Jr. and was sworn in at the beginning of 2022. Bragg is only the fourth person elected to the position in 80 years and the first Black district attorney for Manhattan. Before assuming his role, the Harvard-educated lawyer served as a federal prosecutor and official in the New York Attorney General’s Office.

Bragg inherited from Vance an investigation into Trump’s business practices. The probe eventually came to focus on Trump’s reimbursement of Michael Cohen, who at the time was Trump’s attorney and fixer, for the money that Cohen paid Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford.

Bragg alleges that the $130,000 payment was to keep Daniels from publicizing allegations that she and Trump had an affair years earlier. Specifically, the charges relate to whether Trump falsified business records while reimbursing Cohen, which prosecutors say Trump did to keep information about the alleged affair from the voting public.

Trump has pleaded not guilty to the charges and says he did not have an affair with Daniels.

Bragg is responsible for most criminal prosecutions in Manhattan. He is one of five elected district attorneys in New York — one for each of the city’s boroughs. His office says he has restructured the role to “focus more resources on prosecuting serious violent crimes,” as well as “protecting everyday New Yorkers from abuses by the powerful.”

A former white-collar prosecutor, Bragg oversaw the indictment of onetime Trump confidant Stephen K. Bannon on charges that included money laundering and fraud. He also secured the conviction of Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, who was sentenced to five months in jail over a long-running tax-evasion scheme.

In December 2022, Bragg’s office also won a conviction that resulted in $1.6 million in fines for the Trump Organization and the Trump Payroll Corp. — the maximum allowed by law — for defrauding tax authorities. With a potential indictment looming for Trump in early 2023, Bragg told his staff in an email that he would protect them against any threats. “We do not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York,” he wrote.

Trump, the presumptive 2024 Republican presidential nominee, has called Bragg’s case “fake” and politically motivated.

He has also sought to disparage Bragg by calling him “Soros-backed,” referring to liberal philanthropist George Soros. The Washington Post’s Philip Bump has unpacked the context of this critique and the language — and why it’s a useful shorthand for several of the right’s favorite targets. The Anti-Defamation League has outlined ways in which rhetoric that targets Soros, who is Jewish, often intermingles with antisemitism.

In a March court filing, Trump’s attorneys accused Bragg of pursuing a “deluded fantasy” case, saying he wove “a fanciful and elaborate narrative” by wrongly alleging that Trump falsified his business records to improve his prospects in the 2016 presidential election.

Bragg’s prosecutors have said that, as a result of Trump’s public comments about their case, police have logged an “extraordinary surge” in threats to their office.

Bragg asked the judge overseeing the hush money trial, New York Supreme Court Justice Juan Merchan, for a gag order barring the former president from discussing witnesses, prosecutors and other people involved in the case. Merchand agreed, saying Trump’s history of “extrajudicial statements establishes a sufficient risk to the administration of justice.”

Trump has routinely used social media to target people connected to the case, including Cohen, Bragg, Daniels, and Matthew Colangelo, one of Bragg’s lead prosecutors. Trump made the false claim that Colangelo is working on the case at the behest of President Biden. He also directed attacks at Merchan, and targeted Merchan’s daughter, for her professional affiliations with Democratic candidates and politicians.

After a flurry of such attacks, Merchan expanded the gag order at Bragg’s request. Trump remains free to criticize Merchan or Bragg but cannot attack their families or the families of others involved in the case. “It is no longer just a mere possibility or a reasonable likelihood that there exists a threat to the integrity of the judicial proceedings. The threat is very real,” Merchan wrote.

During his 2021 campaign, Bragg positioned himself as a liberal district attorney. He has argued that by charging fewer crimes and reducing jail populations, the government can promote alternatives to incarceration, and safety in cities will follow.

He campaigned to lower gun violence, protect survivors of domestic abuse and not prosecute some low-level misdemeanors, such as marijuana use and jumping turnstiles. However, he faced backlash when he tried to make it a misdemeanor to rob a business with a gun in some cases, forcing him to pull back on that proposal.

Bragg has also said that he wants to change the culture of the district attorney’s office. As a former civil rights attorney who represented Eric Garner’s mother as she sought accountability for her son’s death at the hands of police in 2014, Bragg said he believes law enforcement officials must be held to higher standards. On taking office, he created a Police Accountability Unit to investigate officers who engage in criminal conduct in their policing and a Post-Conviction Justice Unit to reinvestigate closed cases in which there are credible claims of innocence or an unjust conviction.

Bragg was raised in Harlem and has spoken about experiences with police officers there and growing up in the neighborhood during the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic.

Bragg also has spoken candidly about his exposure to violence, saying that before the age of 21, he had a gun pointed at him six times — including three times by police.

This post appeared first on The Washington Post
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