donald trumpthe attacks against Alvin Bragg escalated as the former president became increasingly panicked that he was soon to be indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney. So a friend texted Bragg, expressing concern for his well-being. The prosecutor’s response was short, self-effacing and quite serene. It was just a text message, but Bragg seemed unfazed by the maelstrom the former president was throwing and aiming straight at him.
Bragg’s temper under pressure was never in doubt – not when he was a kid who traveled daily from Harlem to study at a wealthy, mostly white private school on the Upper West Side, not when he was a college student. Freshman at Harvard trying to bridge tensions between blacks and Jews. students, not when the front page of the New York Post (wrongly) blamed Bragg for a decrease in convictions. “Alvin was at the center of many difficult and high-profile cases,” says Amy Spitalnick, a colleague during Bragg’s time as New York State’s Chief Deputy Attorney General. “He brought a level-headedness that was reflected throughout the team.” Bragg’s legal skills are drawing similar praise, including his work as a federal prosecutor under the former United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Preet Bharara. What is at issue is Bragg’s political judgment, which the Trump case is currently testing.
Bragg, a 49-year-old father of two and longtime Sunday school teacher, made his rookie run for public office in 2021. He announced early that he would challenge the incumbent DA Cyrus Vance Jr.; after Vance decided not to run for office, Bragg won a closely contested primary which, in a heavily Democratic Manhattan, was tantamount to winning the general election. Upon taking office, Bragg found himself almost immediately embroiled in controversy. A memo to its new staff outlined its plans: With few exceptions, the bureau would no longer prosecute petty offenses such as fare evasion and prostitution, and it would seek lesser charges for certain thefts in which the accused was n did not “create a real risk of physical harm. These positions were in line with Bragg’s campaign platform, but when the memo leaked, the Job declared it similar to a get out of jail card. In the wake of the memo, as well as Bragg’s defense of bail reform and the city’s rising post-pandemic crime rate, the new district attorney spent his first year on the defensive. Bragg cobbled together some of the policy changes, and by the end of 2022, the number of shootings and homicides in Manhattan were down; other major categories of crimes have also been downward trend in 2023. He has also followed through on progressive initiatives, such as funding mental health services for arrestees in Manhattan and funding several organizations with youth gun violence prevention programs. But Bragg allowed himself to be caricatured as soft on crime, something Trump and his allies are now trying to exploit.
Bragg inherited a Trump investigation from Vance. In February 2022, two special prosecutors hired by Vance resigned, one of them, Marc Pomerantz, blasting Bragg on the way out, saying the prosecutor was committing “a gross miscarriage of justice” by not charging Trump with crimes related to his allegedly falsified financial statements (Trump denies any wrongdoing). Pomerantz then wrote a book detailing his argument. Now, about a month and a half after the book’s publication, Bragg appears to be set to indict Trump after all, having refocused his investigation on the silent payment (Trump also denies any wrongdoing in the case). “Did he see the light or feel the heat? ” asked Tristan Snell, who helped lead the investigation into Trump University at the New York State Attorney General’s Office. “They slammed the brakes and a few people got out of the car and started yelling at him. That’s what changed. I think it’s very clear that the public reaction to not prosecuting really caught him off guard, and he realized he was out of step with his constituency.
People who have worked with Bragg find this interpretation implausible. Instead, they think it was only fitting that the prosecutor slowed down the Trump investigation while methodically assessing the evidence. His team could also incorporate valuable new witnesses and new evidence, including Trump’s tax returns. And even Snell wholeheartedly backs Bragg against the criticism that ties the murky payment to stormy daniels with an alleged violation of federal election regulations — something necessary to charge the former president with a crime — is a new and tenuous legal strategy. “I think the criticism is ridiculous,” Snell says. “It’s not a new legal theory to simply apply the letter of the law. Just because you’ve never had a situation where this law was associated with a particular crime doesn’t mean it’s some weird, wacky legal theory. It just means that this permutation of laws has never happened before. If people are going to say that this combination of laws is unexplored – well, yes, the combination of offenses is also unexplored.