NATIONAL NEWS

Trump’s House GOP allies take fight to Manhattan DA’s turf

Apr 16, 2023, 10:30 PM | Updated: Apr 17, 2023, 2:48 pm

FILE- Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks at a press conference after the arraignment of...

FILE- Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks at a press conference after the arraignment of former president Donald Trump in New York on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. Republicans upset with Donald Trump’s indictment are escalating their war on the prosecutor who charged him, trying to embarrass him on his home turf. The House Judiciary Committee is holding a field hearing Monday, April 17, near the offices of Bragg. The committee’s Republican majority is billing it as an examination of the Democrat’s “pro-crime, anti-victim” policies. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

NEW YORK (AP) — Republicans upset with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg on his home turf partly by falsely portraying New York City as a place overrun by crime.

The House Judiciary Committee, led by Ohio Republican Jim Jordan, held a field hearing Monday near Bragg’s offices to examine the Democrat’s “pro-crime, anti-victim” policies.

New York City has “lost its way when it comes to fighting crime and upholding the law,” Jordan said. “Here in Manhattan, the scales of justice are weighed down by politics. For the district attorney justice isn’t blind — it’s about advancing opportunities to promote a political agenda — a radical political agenda.”

Democrats said the hearing was a partisan stunt aimed at amplifying conservative anger at Bragg, Manhattan’s first Black district attorney, and pressed Republicans to instead focus on curbing the proliferation of guns. Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat and former police captain, called the hearing an “in-kind donation” to the Trump campaign and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat, called it “a circus.”

New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the committee’s ranking Democrat, said: “Jim Jordan engages in a lot of political theater in Washington, but he should know better than to take his tired act to Broadway. New Yorkers see through this transparent attempt to defend Donald Trump at all costs while ignoring the real public safety needs of our community.”

In a statement, Bragg’s office said that “ending violence, stopping crime, and supporting victims and their families” are his most sacred duties and that he will “always work with any local, state or federal partner who is serious about achieving lasting public safety.”

“For outside politicians to now appear in New York City on the taxpayer dime for a political stunt is a slap in the face to the dedicated NYPD officers, prosecutors and other public servants who work tirelessly every day with facts and data to keep our home safe,” Bragg’s office said.

Interrupted several times by outbursts from protesters, Monday’s hearing was the latest salvo in Jordan’s weekslong effort to use his congressional powers to defend Trump from what he says is a politically motivated prosecution.

Jordan has sent letters to Bragg demanding testimony and documents, claiming Bragg’s office is subject to congressional scrutiny because it gets federal grants. He Bragg then sued Jordan, calling the subpoena a “transparent campaign to intimidate” him.

Pomerantz said in court papers Monday that the subpoena leaves him in an “impossible position” and, if enforced, will require him to violate his ethical obligations or risk being held in contempt of Congress if he refuses. A federal judge scheduled an initial hearing for Wednesday.

Attacking New York City and its mostly Democratic leaders over crime is an old trick for politicians who represent rural and suburban districts, and the punch can still land with some audiences.

But in reality, the city’s violent crime rate remains substantially below the U.S. average.

In 2022, Bragg’s first year in office, there were 78 homicides in Manhattan, a borough of 1.6 million people. That was a drop of 15 percent from the year before. Palm Beach County, Florida, where Trump is one of about 1.5 million residents, had 96 killings.

“People hear New York and they think crime, and that’s because they’ve been trained to think that way,” said Dr. Jeffrey Butts, the director of the Research & Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. “It’s not real. It’s just the stories that people tell.”

“If you’re living in some predominantly small, white county in Iowa, you hear New York and you just imagine all the scary movies and TV shows you’ve seen,” Butts said. “I think that’s what Congress is playing off of.”

For Bragg, scrutiny from Republicans — and even some Democrats — is nothing new.

A Harvard-educated former federal prosecutor, chief deputy state attorney general and civil rights lawyer, Bragg won an eight-way Democratic party primary and then soared to victory with 83% of the general election vote.

Soon after taking office, Bragg authored an internal memo announcing that, among other things, his office would not prosecute certain low-level misdemeanors.

That set up some early clashes with NYPD leadership, and some Republicans outside the city quickly made Bragg a poster child for Democratic permissiveness.

Republican Lee Zeldin, then representing eastern Long Island in Congress, made Bragg a focal point of his losing campaign for governor, repeatedly promising to remove the independently elected prosecutor from office. The rhetoric resonated in the suburbs, helping Republicans defeat Democrats in a number of key New York seats.

New York, in fact, wasn’t immune from the nationwide spike in crime that happened during the COVID-19 pandemic, and most categories remain above 2019 levels. Burglaries, car thefts and assaults rose in Manhattan during Bragg’s first year before falling again this year.

The House Judiciary Committee didn’t invite Bragg to testify, nor was anyone from his office expected to participate. Instead, the committee heard from crime victims, the head of the city’s detectives union, the head of an anti-gun violence group and a crime policy expert who — under questioning by Democrats — ticked off a long list of cities and states with higher violent crime rates than New York and Manhattan.

Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana said the committee is considering holding field hearings on crime in other places and “has about five or six cities on the list,” though none have been scheduled.

Jose Alba, a former convenience store clerk, testified about his arrest after stabbing an attacker to death in his shop. Bragg dropped the charges but critics said he should have done so sooner. Madeline Brame blamed Bragg for seeking long prison sentences only for two of four people involved in her son’s killing. Jennifer Harrison — whose boyfriend was killed in New Jersey in 2005, outside Bragg’s jurisdiction and long before he took office — spoke as a victim advocate and Bragg critic.

“I want to thank all the witnesses including the victims of crime,” Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat, said. “I fear that you were being used for a political purpose despite your sincerity.”

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Associated Press reporters David B. Caruso and Karen Matthews in New York and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

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

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Trump’s House GOP allies take fight to Manhattan DA’s turf