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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

House panel plans Manhattan hearing. Bragg calls it a ‘political stunt.’

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks at a news conference following the arraignment of former President Donald Trump, in New York, April 4, 2023. The Republican-led Judiciary Committee hopes to tarnish the Democratic prosecutor who is leading the criminal case against former President Donald Trump.

By Ed Shanahan

The Republican-led U.S. House Judiciary Committee said earlier this week it would hold a hearing in Manhattan on what it called the “pro-crime” policies of the borough’s district attorney, Alvin Bragg, a Democrat who is leading the criminal prosecution of former President Donald Trump.

The move was the latest by Trump’s congressional defenders to try to tarnish Bragg, a target of their attacks even before he announced in late March that the former president had been indicted. Trump faces felony charges stemming from a hush money payment to a porn star in the final days of the 2016 campaign.

In a message posted on Twitter, Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., a committee member, expressed the event’s animating idea this way: “If Bragg can spend resources indicting President Trump, he should be able to address the soaring crime in NYC.”

Bragg’s office wasted little time responding.

“Don’t be fooled,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “The House GOP is coming to the safest big city in America for a political stunt.”

Dismissing the premise of the hearing — that Manhattan is experiencing a surging crime wave — Bragg’s spokesperson said data issued by the Police Department last week showed declines in Manhattan in murders (down 14%), shootings (down 17%), burglaries (down 21%) and robberies (down 8%) through April 2, compared with the same period last year.

And in Bragg’s first year in office, the spokesperson said, “New York City had one of the lowest murder rates of major cities in the United States.”

The criminal case in Manhattan is one of several legal threats looming over Trump. In another, New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, has filed a lawsuit accusing him, his family company and three of his children of fraudulently overvaluing his assets by billions of dollars. Trump is scheduled to be back in Manhattan to testify under oath in a deposition in that case on Thursday, according to two people familiar with the matter. A trial is scheduled for the fall.

Trump faces a trial this month in a lawsuit filed against him by writer E. Jean Carroll over her allegation that he raped her in a Manhattan department store dressing room in the 1990s. He has denied her accusation.

The Judiciary Committee hearing is scheduled for next Monday at a federal office building in lower Manhattan not far from where Trump, in an extraordinary scene last week, surrendered to the authorities and pleaded not guilty to 34 counts of falsifying business records.

An announcement on the committee’s website did not list any of the witnesses who are expected to testify, but the session’s title did offer a broad sense of the subject matter: “Victims of Violent Crime in Manhattan.”

At least some committee Democrats plan to attend the hearing to counter the Republican narrative about Bragg, said a spokesperson for them. The panel’s Democratic members boycotted a similar “field hearing” in Arizona about border issues in February en masse.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., of Manhattan, the panel’s top Democrat and a political ally of Bragg’s, chastised Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the chair, for calling a local prosecutor’s performance into question at the same time that Jordan is suggesting that House Republicans might use their budget powers to influence federal law enforcement agencies.

“New Yorkers don’t need to take public safety advice from Jim Jordan, whose ‘tough on crime’ solution is to defund the DOJ and FBI,” Nadler wrote in a message on Twitter.

Jordan, Biggs and Trump’s other House allies have rallied around the former president, a declared candidate in the 2024 presidential race, since it became clear that he was likely to be charged in the hush money matter as a result of the inquiry by Bragg’s office.

Before the charges became public, Jordan and the Republican leaders of two other House committees sent a letter to Bragg demanding that he provide them with communications, documents and testimony about his investigation into Trump. And in a thinly veiled threat to Bragg, the House speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., called for investigations into whether federal funds were being used for “politically motivated prosecutions.”

Bragg, who was elected to a four-year term in 2021, rejected the demands by the committee chairs forcefully, with his general counsel calling them “an unlawful incursion into New York’s sovereignty.”

Jordan has continued to try to obtain documents and testimony from Bragg’s office and has called Matthew Colangelo, senior counsel in the district attorney’s office, to testify.

In her statement Monday, Bragg’s spokesperson took a swipe at Jordan, saying that Manhattan had a lower murder rate than Columbus, Ohio, which is adjacent to the district Jordan represents. (Columbus had 140 homicides last year; New York City, with more than eight times as many people, had 433.)

“If Chairman Jordan truly cared about public safety,” she said, “he could take a short drive to Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Akron or Toledo in his home state.”

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