The investigation into the former president seemed to have ended a year ago. This week’s indictment was made possible by a series crucial turning points.
This week one year ago, the Manhattan district attorneys investigation into Donald J. Trump seemed dead in the water.
After Alvin L. Bragg became the district attorney and decided not to indict Mr. Trump, the two leading investigators of the investigation resigned. In spite of a strong backlash to his decision and a rough start to his tenure, Mr. Bragg maintained that the investigation was still ongoing. Disbelieving media asked why the investigation was not over, even though it was moving forward.
In an interview with The New York Times, Mr. Bragg stated that unless y’all are good poker players, “you don’t know what you’re doing.”
New interviews reveal that they were going back to square 1, poring over the evidence collected by their predecessors.
Their efforts were at times haphazard as the investigated a broad range of Mr. Trump’s business practices. This included whether he had lied to about his net worth. Mr. Bragg declined to indict him. However, by July, Mr. Bragg had chosen to add prosecutors to investigate a particular strand that he found promising. It was a hush money payment Mr. Trump made to a pornstar during the last days of his 2016 presidential campaign.
This strand saw Mr. Trump indicted. On Tuesday, he is expected to surrender in Manhattan to the authorities. He will then be arraigned on more than twenty-four charges that will be revealed at that time.
Based on interviews with around a dozen people who were familiar with the matter, this account of Mr. Bragg’s decision not to halt the investigation and point it towards the hush money arrangement reveals the complicated, uncertain path that led to the first criminal prosecution against an ex-American president.
One of the key critics of the investigation was made a champion by Mr. Bragg. He reorganized the Trump team and brought in an experienced lawyer from the Justice Department to lead the probe. Bragg eventually found promise in a key witness that he once dismissed as unreliable. His prosecutors were able to convict Mr. Trump’s firm in an unrelated tax case, which gave the district attorney a boost.
As a Democrat, Mr. Bragg had the opportunity to leave the former president and return to his original motivation for running for office, which was to reform the Manhattan criminal justice system. His willingness to risk his political future in the case against Donald Trump will be tested as never before. His success or failure is directly tied to him.
It is one thing to win an indictment. It will be much more difficult to convict Mr. Trump.
M. Bragg’s decision to reconsider the case despite earlier reservations has led to criticisms from former president’s backers that he is blindly following Mr. Trump.
The former president and his supporters have used hostile and racist language against the district attorney in the case. A career prosecutor, Mr. Bragg has been the victim of numerous death threats, one of which was sent to his office last week.
On Thursday, Trump made a statement after the indictment was announced. He called the case “political persecution” and “election interference at the highest levels in history” and said that Mr. Bragg was “a disgrace” while calling himself “an innocent person”.
Looking through the Binders
Soon after Mr. Bragg assumed office in January 2022 he was given a warning.
He was attempting to figure out the possible case that would involve Mr. Trump’s networth, which Carey Dunne and Mark F. Pomerantz, two senior prosecutors, were presenting before a grand jury.
Chris Conroy, a career prosecutor, sent one memo about the investigation to Mr. Bragg’s staff. These memos revealed potential flaws in the evidence and darkened the view of the case that had just been handed to him by the new district attorney.
Also, Mr. Bragg was concerned about relying upon Michael D. Cohen as Mr. Trump’s former fixer. He questioned whether he had sufficient knowledge of the financial records of Mr. Trump to be a key witness.
In a series of meetings, Mr. Pomerantz, and Mr. Dunne attempted to convince Mr. Bragg that his case, which was developed under Cyrus R. Vance Jr.’s predecessor, was sound. After Mr. Bragg and his aides were not convinced, the district attorney stopped the grand jury presentation. Mr. Pomerantz, Mr. Dunne, and their respective resignations followed.
Mr. Cohen had had many meetings with Mr. Pomerantz and was furious. He demanded that the prosecutors return any documents he had given.
It appeared as though Mr. Bragg’s historic decision could have historical consequences. A brand new district attorney had just given up the chance to prosecute Mr. Trump. The political backlash was intense — Trump is loathed in Manhattan — and it was only exacerbated by the publication of Mr. Pomerantz’s resignation letter in The Times. He stated that Trump had committed multiple felonies.
According to Mr. Bragg, the investigation was still ongoing but there was a shortage of prosecutors. Three prosecutors concerned about the pace of the inquiry had left the office shortly before Bragg took over, and the team was left empty. Four months after Mr. Bragg took over the office, Solomon Shinerock, the former lead assistant district attorney in the case, decided to resign from the investigation into Donald Trump.
Two of the top leaders in his office, Susan Hoffinger (head of investigations) and Peter Pope (another top aide), were still not clear on a strategy. They issued subpoenas to a few witnesses and interrogated some of them, but they didn’t seem to have much momentum.
They also dug into binders that held the many files collected over the years. Files that Mr. Bragg hadn’t had the time to examine in detail.
This research provided the foundation for a stronger investigation. The rest of the team broke up into smaller groups to concentrate on different topics. These included financial statements and the striking payoff that was the initial impetus for Mr. Vance’s decision to open an investigation into Donald Trump in 2018.
A new team
It was not a novel idea to build a case about the scandalous episode that involved Stormy Daniels, porn star. The hush money payment was something Mr. Vance’s lawyers had been considering for so long, that some began to call it “zombie” because it kept returning to life. Although Mr. Vance had shifted to focusing on former president’s net wealth, he never closed his hush money inquiry.
One key difference existed between Mr. Bragg’s briefings and his digging into the hush money: time. Before the grand jury’s term expired in April 2022, the new district attorney had only weeks of time to review the net worth case.
Kim Foxx is the Cook County state’s attorney, Ill. and has been friendly with Mr. Bragg. She said that prosecutors running to be elected are naturally at a disadvantage in the case inheritances they inherit.
She stated, “You don’t have all the facts. You don’t have the years of investigation that they have.”
After reviewing the evidence, Mr. Bragg was open to the idea that Mr. Trump be charged for his involvement in the hush money payment. Contrary to the net worth case Mr. Cohen was involved in the $130,000 payment to Ms. Daniels. Mr. Trump then reimbursed him. The former fixer would be the link connecting all the dots if the sequence of events leading to the payment was to be illustrated.
Ms. Hoffinger reached out to Mr. Cohen’s lawyer Lanny J.D. Davis to assure him that the probe into Mr. Trump is still alive. She suggested that Mr. Cohen might still be a valuable witness.
As a sign his confidence was growing, Mr. Bragg created the Trump team in July. Catherine McCaw joined the office after her involvement in the prosecution of Anna Sorokin , the con woman better known by the name Anna Delvey. Katherine Ellis and Rebecca Mangold, both prosecutors in the Major Economic Crimes Bureau of the office, also joined.
The district attorney’s office was preparing for another Trump-related case. In 2021, Mr. Vance had accused the former president’s company, and a senior executive, Allen H. Weisselberg of orchestrating a long-running tax fraud scheme. In August 2022 Mr. Weisselberg pleaded guilty to the charges, but the Trump Organization declined to plead guilty. This set the stage for the most high-profile trial in the tenure of the district attorney.
Later, Mr. Bragg said that he started to see the two issues as chapters in a book. First would be the trial. This allowed for the investigation of Mr. Trump to continue.
Joshua Steinglass, a homicide trial lawyer, was Ms. Hoffinger’s partner for the trial that began on Halloween. This was part of the district attorneys philosophy to pair lawyers with different skills together in a single team.
While Ms. Hoffinger, Mr. Steinglass focused their attention on the trial of Mr. Trump, Mr. Conroy continued his examination of the legal theories that underpin the hush money case. He was a chief skeptic of previous Trump investigations and was pushing for the hush money one.
The Times reported that Mr. Bragg and his associates indicated to associates, supporters, and others that they were now optimistic about building a case against Donald Trump. Just before the jury in the Trump Organization trial began their deliberations, the office announced that Matthew Colangelo had been hired by the office. This former senior Justice Department official had extensive experience building civil cases against Mr. Trump. He was also one of the leaders of Manhattan’s investigation.
The jury returned its verdict the day after Mr. Colangelo was hired. Mr. Trump’s company was found guilty and Mr. Bragg had achieved a significant victory.
After the victory, Mr. Bragg made his “chapter analogy” public in interviews. When asked about Mr. Trump’s case, he said that he had been “warning people not to go ahead in the book.”
The Grand Jury
The new year began with Mr. Bragg appointing a grand jury to hear evidence in the case involving hush money. It was a summit with Mr. Cohen for his prosecutors.
The prosecutors met with Mr. Cohen in Lower Manhattan to discuss their plans to start fresh.
In an interview with The Times Cohen, Mr. Cohen stated that he went into 80 Centre St. “scared and guarded” to refer to the building housing the Major Economic Crimes Bureau. After a three-hour meeting, I was reassured and more confident in the team. They were as knowledgeable, articulate, and professional as the Pomerantz/Dunne team.
This was Mr. Cohen’s first visit to the office in at least seven years. Prosecutors questioned him over the details of the hush money episode during the subsequent meetings. He gave them documents and his mobile phone.
While Mr. Cohen spoke, the prosecutors began to present evidence to the grand jury. David Pecker was the first witness. He is the former publisher and editor of The National Enquirer. This tabloid helped Mr. Cohen to pay Ms. Daniels. Ms. Daniels’ lawyer, as well as some of Mr. Trump’s campaign aides and employees, including Hope Hicks and Kellyanne Conway, followed Mr. Pecker. The culmination of the process was Mr. Cohen’s testimony before the panel for more that two days in March.
The parade of witnesses began to draw media attention outside the 80 Centre. The Times reported that Mr. Bragg had indicated to Mr. Trump’s legal staff that they were ready to file an indictment. The atmosphere around the courthouse was heightened when Trump predicted his own arrest two week ago.
As court officials prepared to transport a witness to the grand jury, there were traffic accidents outside the courthouse. It involved a truck that was moving from the scene of , the sequel to “Joker”.
All week, no indictment had emerged. On Thursday, Chris Conroy, the former skeptical prosecutor, entered 80 Centre Street. He carried a copy the New York State penal code in his arms, which he had marked with sticky notes to help the grand jurors understand the law before they cast the vote that indicted former president.
Three hours later, Mr. Conroy and Ms. McCaw, along with the warden of grand jury, left 80 Centre to cross the street to the building in which the indictments were filed. They reached the clerk’s office via a back door and submitted the paperwork just two minutes before it closed.