A high-profile criminal probe into Donald Trump’s finances fell apart when prosecutors working on bringing charges were unable to convince their new district attorney to do so.
Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg stress-tested his office’s case against Trump behind closed doors on January 24, with prosecutors Carey Dunn and Mark Pomerantz laying out the case against the former president.
A grand jury had already heard the case against Trump in secret, and was set to expire in April, leading to a push to file charges. Doing so would have made Trump the first president – sitting or past – to ever have faced criminal charges.
But Bragg – sworn into office on January 1 – halted the case because his own team couldn’t convince him that Trump had inflated the value of his assets to gain more favorable loan terms on purpose, according to The New York Times.
He was unconvinced that the probe could prove Trump had a criminal intent when doing so, with the president repeatedly denying claims of wrongdoing.
A key issue is thought to have been Trump’s dislike of email. The former president is known to prefer meeting contacts in person, or calling them up, making it far harder to identify any paper trail of alleged criminality.
Shortly before taking office, new District Attorney Alvin Bragg vowed on CNN to ‘personally’ focus on the high profile investigation
The DA – who has hit the headlines over his soft-on-crime policies – was also concerned about his team’s star witness being Michael Cohen.
Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, is a convicted fraudster who spent time in jail for tax evasion and campaign finance violations. Bragg feared that, regardless of how sincere and credible Cohen’s evidence may have been, Team Trump could have fatally-undermined their case by highlighting the lawyer’s status as an ex-con.
The probe was kicked-off by Bragg’s predecessor Cyrus Vance, who is said to have pushed for the probe to be rapidly-advanced in the final days of his time in office.
But that behavior is said to have spooked Bragg, who felt a rushed case had more chance of failing. Separate controversies about Bragg’s plans to avoid sending suspected petty criminals to jail, and a spate of violent crimes in New York, are further said to have taken his eye off the Trump case, leading to its failure.
Attorneys Mark F. Pomerantz (left) and Carey Dunne (right) abruptly stepped down from the Southern District of New York’s investigation
Three other veteran prosecutors left the Manhattan DA’s office because they were uncomfortable with Vance pushing the case forward faster as he was set to leave office.
The decision to move advance the investigation and bring charges against the ex-president by spring was made on December 9, less than a month before Bragg was sworn into office.
Dunne and Pomerantz resigned from the DA’s office in February when Bragg refused to move the case forward.
Dunne told his colleagues in the prosecutor’s office that he had ‘to disassociated myself with this decision because I think it was on the wrong side of history,’ according to the Times.
The two top lawyers grew disenchanted with Bragg after he iced them out of key meetings on whether or not to move forward on the case.
The Manhattan District Attorney under Vance launched the investigation at least two years ago, twice fighting all the way to the Supreme Court to get tax and other financial records out of the ex-president.
Trump has called the investigation into his finances a ‘witch hunt’ and charged that Bragg and Attorney General Letitia James, who is carrying out a civil fraud investigation into the ex-president, are racists. Both officials are black.
Trump himself hasn’t been accused of any wrongdoing and has denounced both probes as ‘witch hunts’
Bragg’s investigation is examining whether Trump’s company placed artificially high values on several major commercial properties in documents used to secure favorable loan arrangements, while diminishing the value of those properties in filings used as a basis for calculating its tax bills. Pictured: Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan
Trump lashed out at both James’ and Bragg’s investigations after his longtime accounting firm Mazars cut ties with his company and distanced itself from 10 years of financial data
So far, Trump’s long-time accountant Allen Weisselberg, has been the only one charged. He was accused of not reporting $1.7 million in off-the-books gifts, like a rent-free apartment and private school tuition for his granddaughter. Attempts by prosecutors to flip him to their side and get him to testify against his ex-boss have been unsuccessful.
Weisselberg denies wrongdoing, and is seeking to have the case against him dismissed.
Cohen had already testified before Congress that Trump was a ‘con man’ who ‘inflated his total assets when it served his purposes.’
DA Bragg questioned the viability of a fraud probe that hung on the testimony of Michael Cohen, who did three years in federal prison for income tax evasion and campaign finance charges
Vance had launched another investigation during his first term in office into the Trump Organization misleading buyers of apartment in the Trump SoHo hotel, which eventually fizzled out.
Allen Weisselberg is accused of evading taxes on $1.7 million in pay and benefits from the Trump Org off the books
The office took heat for dropping the investigation when they also found it difficult to prove intent.
Pomerantz, 70, a former Assistant U.S. Attorney who headed the Southern District’s criminal division, came out of retirement and agreed to work the case for free. During his time as a federal prosecutor he put away Gambino mob boss John Gotti using the untested Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organization Act (RICO). He became a defense lawyer, defending former New Jersey Senator Robert Torricelli against campaign finance charges in 2002.
Dunne is a veteran of the Manhattan DA’s office and has been working on the Trump probe for years.
A civil case into fraud by the Trump Organization is moving forward. A New York State Supreme Court judge ruled recently that the ex-president, Ivanka (pictured) and Donald Trump Jr (right) will have to testify
Bragg’s office denied that the investigation had been scotched.
‘The investigation is ongoing,’ Manhattan DA spokeswoman Danielle Filson. ‘Susan Hoffinger, executive assistant district attorney in the Investigation Division will lead the strong team that is in place.’
Hoffinger previously worked in the Manhattan DA’s office in the trials and then civil asset forfeiture division before starting her own firm. She’s turned to head up the Trump case under Bragg.
The parallel civil investigation run by James will try to prove that the Trump Organization pumped up the value of his properties and paid with off-the-books perks to help executives skirt federal taxes.
A judge recently ruled that Trump, his daughter Ivanka Trump and son Donald Trump Jr must testify in the case.
The floundering investigation into the former president isn’t Bragg’s only stumble after taking office.
After running on a platform of lower incarceration and not prosecuting of low-level offenses, the city’s crime rate has spiked, including hate crimes against Asians and Jews.
His first week in office he released a memo promising not to prosecute corner-store stickups, prostitution and resisting arrest.
After several high-profile murders and increased fear among residents, Bragg has reversed some of his policies.