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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Republicans attack Bragg, spotlighting crime victims in New York

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), second from left, sitting between Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) at a House Judiciary Committee hearing “Victims of Violent Crime in Manhattan” in New York, April 17, 2023. Republicans argue Alvin Bragg, the district attorney, has allowed a crime crisis to flourish in New York. But data shows that, after a pandemic spike, crime is down slightly in the city.

By Luke Broadwater and Jonah E. Bromwich

One Republican bashed him as “pro-criminal.” Another called him a “terrible” prosecutor with a habit of losing cases. A third suggested he was in the pocket of a wealthy Jewish financier frequently demonized by the far right.

“He should resign and be disbarred,” declared Rep. Jeff Van Drew, R-N.J.

Two weeks after Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced 34 criminal charges against former President Donald Trump, House Republicans descended on his home turf earlier this week to hold a hearing attacking Bragg’s record on crime, leveling exaggerated and sometimes outright false charges.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the chair of the Judiciary Committee, convened his panel at the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building to hear from an array witnesses who have been outspoken critics of Bragg for a session that was ostensibly about crime in New York City but whose unmistakable subtext was an effort to tarnish the man who is prosecuting Trump.

The result was a bitterly adversarial hearing that unfolded in a carnival-like atmosphere, drawing angry protesters from the left and the right who hoisted signs and hurled invective that was only slightly more vitriolic than the debate between Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

At one point, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., chastised Republicans for traveling to New York to go after Bragg, saying they were behaving like “jackbooted thugs.”

A single elected official most likely has little sway over crime trends in a major metropolitan area, and crime in Manhattan, where Bragg took office in January 2022, is down from last year by about 2.4% — although it remains up significantly from two years ago.

Still, Republicans used individual crime victims to try to impeach his record. One by one, the witnesses invited by Republicans told personal horror stories of their encounters with crime in the city, including suffering an antisemitic attack and losing a loved one in a brutal stabbing. The witnesses described New York — where crime has plummeted in recent decades but spiked during the pandemic, as in other cities — as being in a state of decay, and blamed Bragg’s policies.

“We received no help from his office,” said Madeline Brame, the chair of the Victims Rights Reform Council and the mother of a homicide victim who for months has taken issue with the district attorney. “It was a horrific experience.”

Democrats pushed back against the Republican effort to vilify Bragg while laboring to show sympathy for the victims.

“I fear that you are being used for a political purpose, despite your sincerity,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., prompting objections from the witnesses.

The hearing came a week after Bragg filed a lawsuit against Jordan seeking to stop congressional Republicans from interfering in his case against Trump — the product of a nearly five-year investigation that began under his predecessor — and specifically, to bar them from deposing Mark Pomerantz, a lawyer who worked on the inquiry for about a year.

On Monday, as the congressional hearing was getting underway, a lawyer for Jordan filed a response to Bragg’s lawsuit, saying that it represented “an extraordinary and unconstitutional” attempt to have a judge interfere in a congressional inquiry.

A lawyer for Bragg declined to comment on Jordan’s response.

The hearing was repeatedly interrupted by protesters and outbursts. At one point, a group loudly attempted entry into the hearing room, chanting, “Let us in!” They held signs that said “Jim Jordan, Insurrectionist,” referring to the Ohio Republican’s role in planning the efforts in Congress on Jan. 6, 2021, to overturn the election results, and “34 felonies,” a reference to the charges against Trump.

Antisemitism was on vivid display. Outside the Javits building, a man held a sign with the name of financier George Soros, a Jewish Holocaust survivor, along with the image of a Star of David and dollar signs. Several Republicans inside the hearing room also focused their comments on Soros, whom they blamed for supporting the campaigns of progressive prosecutors, including Bragg’s.

“With antisemitic tropes emanating from House Republicans, it’s unsurprising, but no less vile, to see the Republicans bringing this antisemitism to New York outside today’s stunt hearing in Manhattan,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, the top Democrat on the committee.

Chaos erupted as the lawmakers left, with anti-Bragg protesters jeering.

Inside the hearing room, Democrats and Republicans engaged in a heated dispute over the state of crime in New York and around the nation.

Major crime is down slightly in New York this year compared with the same period last year, according to the latest statistics. But, as in cities around the country, New York saw a sharp increase in murders and shootings during the coronavirus pandemic. There was an increase in major crimes last year in New York, but murders, shootings and other crimes have continued to drop.

Bragg has referred to New York as the “safest big city in America” and emphasized that its crime rate is lower than cities in the states of many of his Republican critics, including Columbus, Ohio, just south of Jordan’s district.

“How do we move the venue so we can have a hearing in a city or state that has a serious crime problem — the state of Ohio,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.

For much of the hearing, Republicans avoided mentioning Trump’s name, seeking to keep the focus on crime in New York.

But Rep. Chip Roy, R-Texas, made the connection as he argued that Bragg had no business prosecuting Trump.

“Was it former President Trump that killed your son?” he asked one victim. “Was it former President Trump that killed your loved one?” he asked another.

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