Who is Alvin Bragg? The Manhattan district attorney who could bring down Trump

The New York prosecutor has made history as the first person to ever bring charges against a former president, Alex Woodward reports

Saturday 13 April 2024 19:23 BST

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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas


Former president Donald Trump fired out three furious all-caps posts on his Truth Social page on 18 March 2023, invoking images of burning cities and World War III while stoking unrest with a call for his supporters to “protest, protest, protest” what he predicted would be his arrest in New York.

Alvin Bragg – the Manhattan district attorney whose office is overseeing a criminal investigation into the former president’s business practices following long-running allegations of fraud – issued a memo to his staff in response, stressing that he does “not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York”.

His internal message did not mention the former president by name or his incendiary rhetoric, but he referred to “public comments surrounding an ongoing investigation by this office.”

“As with all of our investigations, we will continue to apply the law evenly and fairly, and speak publicly only when appropriate,” he said.

On 30 March 2023, a Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Mr Trump on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, making him the first former president ever to face criminal charges. Prosecutors accuse him of attempting to cover up an illegal scheme to suppress negative stories about him in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election.

Like all defendants facing criminal charges, Mr Trump was processed before appearing in court on Tuesday 4 April 2023, with his fingerprints taken. However, he was not placed in handcuffs and no mugshot was taken.

At his arraignment that day, Mr Trump pleaded not guilty to all charges before flying back to his Florida home at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach in time to deliver a prime-time address that night.

“No matter who you are, we cannot and will not normalise serious criminal conduct,” said Mr Bragg at a press conference that afternoon.

Throughout the prosecution and build-up to the trial, Mr Trump’s allies and right-wing pundits have bombarded Mr Bragg’s office with claims of election interference or raised baseless conspiracy theories, including antisemitic and racist attacks, that baselessly accuse him of leading a politically motivated case against the 2024 candidate for president.

They also claim that Mr Bragg pursued the investigation while ignoring violent crime.

However, in 2022 when Mr Bragg took office, homicides in New York City fell by 12 per cent and then fell again by the same amount again in 2023. Shootings dropped by 17 per cent in 2022 compared to 2021, and 24.7 per cent in 2023 to the lowest rates since 2019, and significantly lower than massive surges in 1980s and 1990s. Indeed in the first quarter of 2024, crime across the five boroughs and in the nation’s largest subway system has continued to decrease from the highs recorded in the Covid-19 pandemic.

The former president and other right-wing conspiracy theorists have also placed Mr Bragg at the centre of antisemitic and racist conspiracy theories, alleging Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros is directing Mr Bragg’s investigation at the expense of the lives of Black New Yorkers. On 19 March 2023 — shortly before the former president was indicted — Fox News programme Fox & Friends said that the Black prosecutor “has to pay his master back” by prosecuting Mr Trump.

So who is the man who could take down the former president?

Manhattan’s first-ever Black district attorney was overwhelmingly elected to the role in November 2021 with 84 per cent of the borough’s vote, handily defeating Republican opponent Thomas Kenniff in the general election for New York County District Attorney. He was sworn into office on 1 January 2022.

“In addition to being the first Black district attorney, I think I’ll probably be the first district attorney who’s had police point a gun at him,” Mr Bragg said during a victory speech after his election.

“I think I’ll be the first district attorney who’s had a homicide victim on his doorstep. I think I’ll be the first district attorney in Manhattan who’s had a semi-automatic weapon pointed at him. I think I’ll be the first district attorney in Manhattan who’s had a loved one re-enter from incarceration and stay with him,” he added. “And I’m going to govern from that perspective.”

An early memo from Mr Bragg’s office said he would only seek jail time for the most serious offences with a goal to keep non-violent or first-time offenders out of jail, stressing that locking people up does not stop or slow crime. After widespread criticism from police groups and public officials, he later clarified that prosecutors ultimately have that discretion.

But the pledge outraged right-wing tabloids and Republican officials; Mr Bragg’s policy likely would have had a significant impact on hundreds of people routinely sent to jail for non-violent crimes, an effort that has increasingly seen bipartisan support.


Right-wing media and Republican officials routinely painted New York City as lawless and crime-infested, pointing the blame at recent laws aimed at reforming the money bail system.

New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services, however, has reported that the re-arrest rate is “nearly identical” since the reforms were implemented in 2020. Criminologists have not made any meaningful connections between crime rates and so-called “progressive” prosecutors.

Mr Bragg’s office and investigations were roundly criticised by Republican candidates across the country in 2022’s elections, including by then-candidate for New York governor Lee Zeldin, a campaign that the GOP hoped would chip away at the state’s reliable Democratic firewall ahead of 2024.

Mr Zeldin accused the district attorney of abandoning his duties and “refusing to enforce the law” after Mr Bragg pledged that his office would limit the kinds of cases for which prosecutors would seek prison sentences, a line of attack that echoed across the country as candidates pounced on progressive prosecutors to advance a “tough on crime” message. (Mr Zeldin’s campaign also aired a violent advert telling voters to cast their ballots “like their lives depended on it”.)

While in office, Mr Bragg also opened a new Special Victims Division to focus on sex crimes, human trafficking and domestic violence. The office’s hate crimes unit also has expanded with additional prosecutors and investigators.

The 49-year-old former state attorney and federal prosecutor from Harlem has been involved with lawsuits against the Trump administration more than 100 times.

As the chief deputy attorney general for the state of New York, Mr Bragg led a lawsuit against the Donald J Trump Foundation, which resulted in then-president Trump admitting that he used the organisation for political purposes and for his business under an alleged scheme that the office of New York attorney general called “a shocking pattern of illegality”. The foundation agreed to pay out $2m to charities and agreed to dissolve.

After he was repeatedly asked in his new role as DA whether an investigation into Mr Trump and his Trump Organization was still ongoing, Mr Bragg said: “It is.”

Prosecutors “are going through documents, interviewing witnesses and exploring evidence not previously explored,” he added.

The criminal investigation into the former president’s business empire centres on a hush-money payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Mr Bragg inherited the case from his predecessor Cy Vance, who began his investigation into Mr Trump while he was still in the White House.

The case against the former president going to trial on 15 April stems from when Mr Trump’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen pleaded guilty in 2018 to a federal charge relating to a $130,000 payment made to Ms Daniels two years earlier in the run-up to 2016’s presidential election. The case of federal prosecutors during the Trump administration who outlined Cohen’s actions notably said they were made in service of then-President Trump.

The payment allegedly intended to buy Ms Daniels’ silence before she spoke publicly about an alleged affair with then-candidate Trump. Cohen was allegedly repaid the money he gave to her in payments that could be grounds for felony falsification of business records. Mr Trump has continued to deny the affair, though Ms Daniels has spoken about it in great detail in interviews since the story became public.

As the grand jury investigation wrapped up, Mr Trump appeared to be the only person to have “leaked” news of his predicted arrest. He made similar claims during a federal law enforcement search of his Mar-a-Lago property in Florida, publicising that a “raid” was underway before law enforcement agencies did.

The former president’s attacks on the DA didn’t end after his arrest and arraignment a year ago. In his primetime TV address at Mar-a-Lago on that night he railed against the charges, Mr Bragg, and Judge Juan Merchan.

“The criminal is the district attorney because he illegally leaked massive amounts of grand jury information,” he said to loud applause. “For which he should be prosecuted, or at a minimum he should resign.”

He also targeted Mr Bragg’s wife and the “Trump hating-judge with a Trump-hating wife and family”.

His statements came just hours after Judge Merchan warned Mr Trump against making any threatening posts on social media that could inflame tensions or incite violence.

In the year since his arrest and arraignment, the former president’s continued attacks on the DA raised the probability that he could be placed under a gag order, which indeed happened and was then extended due to further vitriolic attacks on Judge Merchan’s family.

Mr Bragg had asked the judge to extend his gag order to cover court officers’ families due to Mr Trump’s “extreme and deliberate provocations”.

With the landmark case due to start in just a couple of days, Mr Trump has lost three last-ditch bids in three days to delay proceedings.

The former president and Mr Bragg will therefore face off in court for four days a week over six weeks in the historic trial, the likes of which the US has never seen before.

This story was initially published on 19 March 2023 and has been updated with developments

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