The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has long been considered an institutional icon — with a caseload, staff and jurisdiction befitting a local law-enforcement operation at one of the world’s crossroads. Earned or exaggerated, its reputation is elite, its past adorned with such legendary names as Dewey, Hogan and Morgenthau.
Under the public light that shines brightly on the office, District Attorney Alvin Bragg in a mere three months has become a political lightning rod far beyond his jurisdiction. So far Bragg’s most sensational impact comes from his reluctance to pursue both low-level offenders and a former president, Donald Trump.
What a cynic might call equal-opportunity punting now earns Bragg the visceral scorn of very different critics — those demanding an old-fashioned crime crackdown, and those who call Trump a crook who needs to be locked up.
That’s an interesting coalition of haters for any elected official to galvanize in 90 days.
Bragg’s posture on low-level crimes caused his first wave of out-of-court controversy. Bragg said in a memo, which quickly leaked out, that the office would take a pass on theft of services, trespassing, aggravated unlicensed operation of a vehicle, many traffic violations, obstructing governmental administration, resisting arrest, and prostitution. Even commercial robberies were in question.
Letting up on the low-level stuff has been a progressive policy decision for years, including for DA’s such as Brooklyn’s Eric Gonzalez. But new Mayor Eric Adams and his NYPD Commissioner Keechant Sewell contested Bragg’s approach, and the DA took a somewhat contrite public posture without entirely reversing course. He said he hadn’t communicated things the right way. At the very least, from Bragg’s perspective, he’s afflicted with bad optics.
The optics are no less problematic when it comes to the Trump probe that Bragg inherited from his predecessor, Cy Vance. A much more explosive leaked communication is making the rounds — the Feb. 23 resignation letter of Mark Pomerantz, a senior federal prosecutor who came out of retirement to handle the case. He told Bragg, who’d halted the office’s march toward procuring an indictment, and others that Trump was “guilty of numerous felony violations” and that Bragg’s decision was “against the public interest.”
It may be premature for his progressive constituents to verbally indict Bragg over this. As we learn more, Bragg’s reasoning might be better explained. Vance pursued Trump’s business practices after it came out in 2017 that he’d halted a criminal case that had been brewing against Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump, Jr. over misleading prospective buyers of units in the Trump SoHo hotel. Relevantly or not, a Trump lawyer had been a Vance contributor. Was this more recent probe pushed harder by Vance as a bid to compensate? Bragg reportedly wasn’t convinced he could prove Trump intentionally inflated the value of his properties to get loans.
Trump lawyer Ronald Fischetti said in a statement: “We should applaud District Attorney Alvin Bragg for adhering to the rule of law and sticking to the evidence while making an apolitical charging decision based solely on the lack of evidence and nothing else.”
Going forward, Bragg may not find Fischetti’s praise politically helpful.
Columnist Dan Janison’s opinions are his own.