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Manhattan's district attorney weighs potential charges against former President Trump

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

We take a look today at the man who decides whether to indict a former president.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

His name is Alvin Bragg. He is the Manhattan district attorney - so, New York City. He famously declined to move forward with a prosecution in one of the many cases against one-time President Donald Trump. But his office is investigating a different case, and Trump at least claims he will be indicted on Tuesday. He called for protests.

Now the former president's predictions have often been unreliable, to say the least. But the DA did say his office will not be intimidated.

FADEL: So let's get to know the DA. NPR's Ilya Marritz covers Trump legal matters and is with me now. Good morning.

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So who is Alvin Bragg?

MARRITZ: Alvin Bragg Jr. is 49 years old. He grew up in Harlem. He's a graduate of Harvard Law. And he worked for the Justice Department and the New York attorney general before deciding in 2021 to run for Manhattan DA. He promised to reduce incarceration and be fairer to Black and brown people. And he won. And he became Manhattan's first African American DA.

FADEL: And what are some of the significant markers in his tenure so far?

MARRITZ: Well, you know, right off the bat, he ran into a rocky start. He had some pretty serious public relations problems. The first incident was around a document known as the Day 1 letter. It said prosecutors should not seek jail time for defendants for a range of offenses, from jumping subway turnstiles to, in some cases, robberies and assaults. It wasn't exactly a surprise, but it fed fears about street crime, and there was an uproar, and he was forced to backtrack on some of those policies. And I think it showed how being an elected prosecutor, you really have to be so attentive to public opinion and the press.

The other issue had to do with Trump. When Bragg was sworn in, he inherited a long-running investigation of Trump. Prosecutors were presenting evidence to a grand jury that could have resulted in Donald Trump being charged over allegedly lying to banks and tax authorities. Bragg did not move forward with that case, and the two lawyers leading it quit. And there was an outcry when that happened.

FADEL: Yeah. Didn't one of those lawyers publish a book laying out the disagreement?

MARRITZ: That's right. And I just want to say this is incredibly rare, for a former prosecutor to do what Mark Pomerantz did. He spoke publicly and in detail on an investigation that was still going on in the DA's office. Last month, Bragg pushed back. He said he looked at the evidence, and he wasn't convinced.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALVIN BRAGG: Mark Pomerantz's case simply was not ready. So I said to my team, let's keep working.

FADEL: Which brings us to today. Now, Bragg is building a possible case around the hush money payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels. What does Bragg's history and character tell us about how he might handle this?

MARRITZ: People who know him personally say Bragg is decent. He's thoughtful. He has taught Sunday school for about 15 years. I wanted to know his relationship to risk because a lot of legal observers think the case he could be building may be difficult to win. Former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty for his role in the hush money payments, which amounted to a federal campaign finance violation. But New York state law may be a difficult fit.

So I put that to Danya Perry. She's a former federal prosecutor who counts Bragg as a friend.

DANYA PERRY: Some of the legal theories, as much as we can see from the outside in, do appear to be novel. But I do give him credit for starting from scratch, building his own case and making sure that he feels comfortable with it.

FADEL: So what's next in the case?

MARRITZ: If the grand jury does indict Trump, the logistics of bringing him in for fingerprinting for an arraignment will be an enormous test of Bragg's ability to coordinate with the former president, his lawyers, the Secret Service and the police. There are security concerns, including for Bragg and his staff. Trump has always said he is innocent, and he's been lobbing abuse at the DA on social media all weekend.

FADEL: NPR's Ilya Marritz. Thank you.

MARRITZ: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Ilya Marritz