Ex-prosecutor's new book details fight over indicting Trump

As the Manhattan district attorney’s office again ramps up its yearslong investigation of Donald Trump, a new book by a former prosecutor who once led the probe details just how close the former president came to getting indicted — and laments friction with the new D.A.

Michael R. Sisak
Friday 03 February 2023 22:00 GMT
Trump Legal Troubles
Trump Legal Troubles (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

As the Manhattan district attorney's office again ramps up its yearslong investigation of Donald Trump, a new book by a former prosecutor who once led the probe details just how close the former president came to getting indicted — and laments friction with the new D.A. that put that plan on ice.

Mark Pomerantz writes in “People vs. Donald Trump: An Inside Account” that then-District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. authorized him in December 2021 to seek Trump's indictment. After scouring various aspects of Trump's life and business, including hush-money paid on his behalf, Pomerantz writes they agreed on a case involving allegations that Trump falsified business records by inflating the value of assets on financial statements he provided lenders.

Vance was leaving office within weeks, but expressed confidence that his successor, Alvin Bragg, would agree with his assessment and see the case through, Pomerantz writes. But Bragg and his team had other ideas, expressing trepidation about the strength of evidence, the credibility of a key witness and ultimately deciding not to proceed — at least not with the speed that Pomerantz and co-lead prosecutor Carey Dunne had wanted. The stagnation compelled both men to leave the office.

“Once again, Donald Trump had managed to dance between the raindrops of accountability," Pomerantz writes in the book, which is set to be published Tuesday by Simon & Schuster.

The Associated Press and other news outlets received copies of the book on Friday. Pomerantz is scheduled to appear on “60 Minutes” on Sunday and Rachel Maddow’s MSNBC show on Monday as part of a promotional blitz.

The 304-page volume weaves Pomerantz’s behind-the-scenes account of the spirited battle to charge Trump with anecdotes from his decades-long career as a mafia prosecutor and white-collar litigator, sometimes drawing parallels between the two. The book also works to temper the drama surrounding Pomerantz’s split from Bragg over the direction of the case, which spilled into the public last year when his resignation letter appeared in The New York Times.

Pomerantz portrays the dispute not as a knock-down, drag-out clash, but as a legitimate difference of opinion shaped by lengthy Zoom calls and telephone conversations. During the sessions, Pomerantz writes that he and Dunne would detail the pros and cons of pursuing a Trump indictment, while Bragg or members of his team would push back with questions and concerns.

At first, Pomerantz writes, Bragg seemed overwhelmed by other matters — managing the massive D.A.'s office and dealing with blowback from his approach to prosecuting certain crimes — and gave the Trump case little attention. He writes that Bragg showed up late to an initial meeting where he was laying out the case and that Bragg ended up looking at his phone most of the time. The D.A. was more attentive at subsequent sessions, Pomerantz said.

At one point, he writes, Bragg said that he “could not see a world” in which he would indict Trump and call Trump's long-estranged former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen as a witness. Cohen, who arranged hush-money payments to women on Trump's behalf in 2016 and claims to have intimate knowledge of his financial dealings, was convicted in a parallel federal case of lying to Congress and has had a propensity to inflate his importance to the investigation, worrying prosecutors.

Aside from a few blunt emails he wrote criticizing Bragg's deliberate handling of the case, Pomerantz said his rift with the D.A. wasn't angry or violent — “there was never any yelling or screaming," he writes of their final conversation in February 2022 — and he concludes by defending Bragg against people suggesting he had an ulterior motive to shelve a potential indictment.

“The suggestions that Alvin had acted in bad faith were ridiculous, and I am sure there will never be a shred of fact to support them,” Pomerantz writes. “The people who accused Alvin of corruption or bribery had no clue about how these prosecutorial decisions are made or were bloodthirsty for some action against Trump.”

Bragg’s office sought last month to halt the book's publication, raising concerns in a letter to Pomerantz and Simon & Schuster that his account could “materially prejudice ongoing criminal investigations.” In response, Pomerantz said he followed legal and ethical obligations and that, in his view, nothing in the book jeopardizes the probe. Simon & Schuster said it stands by Pomerantz and will release the book as scheduled.

In a statement Friday, Bragg said he hasn't read the book, and “won’t comment on any ongoing investigation because of the harm it could cause to the case.” He defended his decision to refrain from charging Trump and slammed Pomerantz for quitting while the matter was still pending.

“After closely reviewing all the evidence from Mr. Pomerantz’s investigation, I came to the same conclusion as several senior prosecutors involved in the case, and also those I brought on: more work was needed. Put another way, Mr. Pomerantz’s plane wasn’t ready for takeoff," Bragg said. “Our skilled and professional legal team continues to follow the facts of this case wherever they may lead, without fear or favor. Mr. Pomerantz decided to quit a year ago and sign a book deal."

The District Attorneys Association of the State of New York also expressed concerns, writing in a statement Friday that a “former prosecutor speaking out during an ongoing criminal investigation, that he was a part of, is unfortunate and unprecedented.”

Trump has also sought to block the book from appearing, threatening legal action against Pomerantz and Simon & Schuster for what he contends are “defamatory statements” and “groundless falsehoods” about his alleged criminal conduct. Trump has yet to make good on his threat.

Messages seeking comment were left Friday for Trump's lawyers.

Pomerantz joined the D.A.'s office in 2021 as a special assistant district attorney to lead the Trump probe. He writes that early in his involvement they weighed charging Trump and his company under the state's version of the federal racketeering law, given the array of tax, fraud and other potential crimes they were investigating.

Pomerantz likened Trump's cunning, charisma and ability to “stay one step ahead of the law” to that of late Gambino crime family boss John Gotti, whose son, John A. Gotti, he prosecuted while an assistant U.S. attorney.

When he arrived at the D.A.'s office, Pomerantz writes, the investigation was so broad “it seemed unfocused and sprawling.” Prosecutors were looking at a variety of matters related to Trump beyond the hush-money payments and valuation issues, including suspicions that he deceived the federal government with his bid on a Washington, D.C. building that he turned into a Trump hotel.

In 2021, Pomerantz's team charged Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, and its longtime finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, with tax fraud and other crimes related to lucrative fringe benefits for company executives, such as Manhattan apartment rent and luxury car payments. Weisselberg pleaded guilty and is serving a five-month jail sentenced. The Trump Organization was convicted in December and ordered to pay a $1.6 million fine.

Pomerantz portrays the hush-money payments, the original impetus for the investigation and an area Bragg’s team is now exploring, as perhaps the most challenging, legally fraught of the potential cases against Trump. He writes that while a case could be made that Trump falsified business records by logging Cohen’s reimbursements as legal fees, he could only be charged with a misdemeanor under New York law — unless prosecutors could prove he falsified records to conceal another crime.

Vance abandoned the hush-money angle in 2019, pivoting the investigation’s focus to other matters, but Pomerantz said he revisited it when he joined the office in January 2021, looking for a way to make more serious felony charges stick. He considered whether Trump could be charged with money laundering and explored if Stormy Daniels had demanded money to remain quiet, thereby extorting him.

Once Bragg became D.A., Pomerantz says they again revisited the hush-money matter — which he said became known around the office as the “zombie” case — as they considered ways to bolster a potential false business records case related to Trump's financial statements. But that, too, was a non-starter.

“Over the months that I and others worked on the case, we developed evidence convincing us that Donald Trump had committed serious crimes," Pomerantz writes. “As we put the facts together, many of us came to believe we had enough evidence to convict him.”

Even if a conviction wasn't a certainty, he writes, “I thought we owed it the public to bring the case to trial. While I thought we would win it, I also thought that losing it would be better than not even trying.”


Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak and send confidential tips by visiting https://www.ap.org/tips/

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