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Why Does New York’s Criminal Investigation of Donald Trump Appear All But Over?

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Why Does New York’s Criminal Investigation of Donald Trump Appear All But Over?

The criminal prosecution of Donald Trump in his home town appears to be all but officially over, at least for now. In an unexpected reversal of roles, Alvin Bragg, who took over as Manhattan’s District Attorney, in January, after campaigning on a promise to hold the former President accountable, instead seems to have all but abandoned the case that was brought by his predecessor Cyrus Vance, Jr., a prosecutor often criticized for being too timid.​​

Before finishing out his third term as Manhattan D.A., Vance’s office successfully took its case against Trump to the Supreme Court twice. His office then indicted both Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, and his former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, on tax charges. Prosecutors under Vance were reportedly focussing on whether Trump had criminally manipulated sworn statements of his net worth to mislead banks into giving him favorable loans, and government authorities into falsely reducing his taxes.

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The former President has denied the allegations, and accused the Manhattan D.A.’s office of conducting a political witch hunt. But there were signs that investigators were making headway. This month, Mazars U.S.A., the accounting firm that had long handled Trump’s business, essentially fired him as a client, saying that it couldn’t vouch for the accuracy of nine years’ worth of Trump’s financial statements. A second grand jury was empanelled last November to hear the prosecutor’s developing case against Trump, and its term does not expire until April.

On Wednesday, the Times reported that the two most prominent prosecutors overseeing the case had unceremoniously quit. Carey Dunne and Mark Pomerantz submitted their resignations after Bragg signalled that he lacked confidence in the historic case. During his campaign last year, and in the weeks before taking office, Bragg had, in contrast, signalled that he would personally review the probe and expressed gratitude for the work of the two veteran prosecutors. “This is obviously a consequential case, one that merits the attention of the DA personally,” he told CNN, in December. “I can say that you’ve got two very good lawyers that have been looking at it for a while. I think it would be a disservice to Manhattan to lose them.”

Dunne and Pomerantz, both of whom had high-profile legal careers in private practice prior to working on the Manhattan D.A.’s investigation, differed with Bragg and wanted to continue pressing the case, according to a source with knowledge of the investigation. They became frustrated, though, with what they regarded as Bragg’s lack of support for the probe. The source suggested that career prosecutors in the office’s Investigation Division had questioned the strength of the case as well.

In the past, career prosecutors in the Manhattan D.A.’s office have stood in the way of other risky cases, including the first potential prosecution of Harvey Weinstein on sexual-assault charges. Vance’s office eventually convicted Weinstein, but it was years after a victim had filed a police report. An individual with ties to the D.A.’s office, who asked not to be named, said that Bragg’s decision raised questions about whether he will prove forceful enough to overcome the institutional inertia in the office. “These two guys who resigned today are pros,” the source said, referring to Dunne and Pomerantz. “I was told that they simply felt that Bragg was not going to engage, and they needed the D.A. to be engaged to be able to proceed toward taking action.” Bragg, the source added, had given the prosecutors the impression that he was distracted and disengaged, often checking his phone during meetings about the case. (A spokesperson for the D.A. said that both claims are untrue.) The Washington Post, meanwhile, reported that Bragg was slow to meet with Dunne and Pomerantz after taking office. When Bragg did meet the two prosecutors, he didn’t seem deeply interested in the probe.

A spokesperson for Bragg told the Times that the investigation would continue without the two prosecutors, and that the D.A. was “grateful for their service.” But the source with knowledge of the probe said that, though Bragg might say it is ongoing, activity in the case has stopped. In essence, Bragg reversed a go decision. So far, his reasoning remains opaque.

The case was always a high-wire act. Unlike the parallel civil case under investigation by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, which only needs to reach a threshold of “preponderance of the evidence” to find Trump liable for violating the law, the D.A.’s criminal case would have had to convince a jury “beyond a reasonable doubt” that Trump had criminal intent to defraud. Real-estate valuations of the kind that Trump was under investigation for manipulating are also often slippery, but Vance’s team had hoped to prove that Trump engaged in a decades-long pattern of criminal fraud. Dunne, in particular, spent years on the investigation, and, although he and Pomerantz apparently never thought the case would be easy, they both believed that it had merit.

Trump, meanwhile, has denounced the prosecutors investigating him, which includes both Bragg and James, who are Black, as “racists.” He also faces criminal investigations outside of Manhattan, including one in Fulton County, Georgia, where judges approved a request from the local district attorney to convene a grand jury to weigh charges against Trump resulting from his alleged attempt to pressure officials into reversing his loss in the state’s 2020 Presidential election. While Manhattan may be pulling the plug on prosecuting Trump’s business, the D.A.’s office in suburban Westchester County has opened a separate criminal investigation into his business activities there. As the Times reported, the Westchester district attorney is investigating the finances of the Trump National Golf Club in the county.

Michael Cohen, a former attorney and close confidant of the ex-President who pleaded guilty to violating campaign-finance laws on Trump’s behalf, said a decision not to indict would be “a dereliction of duty to all New Yorkers and the country.” Cohen added that he had expected to testify against his former boss before the grand jury himself: “I know the information in the NYDA’s possession,” he said.

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Why Does New York’s Criminal Investigation of Donald Trump Appear All But Over?