D.A. saw case against Trump as potentially “charge ready” years ago
▶ Watch Video: New York officials brace as possible Trump indictment looms
In a November 2020 interview with CBS News, Alvin Bragg, then a Democratic candidate for Manhattan district attorney, said that among the “staggering” number of cases “swirling” around then-President Donald Trump, a matter involving Trump’s former “fixer,” Michael Cohen, stood out.
“You know, we haven’t talked about Michael Cohen yet and the campaign finance part,” Bragg said during the interview, in which he stressed he could not “prejudge” any case until he saw the evidence.
A former New York State deputy attorney general who had previously clashed with Trump’s company in civil suits, Bragg indicated he had followed media coverage of Cohen’s federal case.
Cohen entered a guilty plea to federal tax evasion and campaign-finance violations in 2018, in connection with a $130,000 “hush money” payment to adult film star Stormy Daniels. Cohen, who was previously Trump’s lawyer, was sentenced to 3 years in prison. He has since said the former president directed him to make the payment to prevent Daniels from speaking publicly about an alleged affair, and cover up the payment — allegations Trump has strenuously denied.
The charging document in Cohen’s case describes him scheming with a person referred to as “Individual-1,” an alleged “co-conspirator” who was not named but who the document notes became president of the United States in 2017.
Bragg noted the “Individual-1” moniker in the 2020 interview.
“If the reporting about it has been accurate and you know, I mean, the Southern District of New York had a charging instrument where apparently the president was Individual-1, right?” Bragg said, later adding, “a co-conspirator of someone who pled guilty and, you know, has said that the president was his co-conspirator.”
“And so, presumably, the evidence is there. And if it’s a matter of, kind of, prosecutorial discretion, I mean, if they’ve already said it in a charging instrument. So I presume it could be, you know, accurate and charge ready,” Bragg said.
It’s a case, Bragg noted, that federal prosecutors chose not to pursue against Trump.
Among the candidates for D.A., Bragg was perhaps the most battle-tested against Trump and his company. At the New York Attorney General’s Office, he oversaw multiple aggressive legal battles with Trump entities, including a lawsuit against the Trump Foundation — which accused the president and his children of using the nonprofit as a “personal checkbook” — and another against the now-shuttered Trump University, which claimed the school used illegal business practices and made false claims to potential students.
Bragg was elected as Manhattan district attorney in November 2021, inheriting the office’s Trump investigation from his predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr. Under Vance, the probe, which began in 2018 as an inquiry into the Daniels payment, had grown into a sprawling examination of Trump’s finances — an investigation challenged all the way to the Supreme Court by then-President Trump.
Early in his term, the investigation was thrown into question when the two prosecutors leading the probe resigned. In a resignation letter first reported by The New York Times, former Special Assistant District Attorney Mark Pomerantz wrote that Bragg had “reached the decision not to go forward with the grand jury presentation and not to seek criminal charges at the present time.”
“The investigation has been suspended indefinitely,” Pomerantz wrote.
But Bragg’s office insisted the probe remained active.
In August 2022, his office secured a guilty plea from former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg in a tax fraud case stemming from the same investigation — turning Weisselberg into the prosecution’s star witness in the trial of two Trump Organization companies.
The two companies were found guilty on Dec. 6 of 17 criminal counts related to tax fraud and other crimes.
By then, investigators in Bragg’s office had returned to the Daniels payment. In the months since, a stream of former Trump employees and White House staffers were questioned by a grand jury looking into the deal.
Among those was the prosecution’s apparent star witness: Cohen, who met with prosecutors nearly a dozen times this year, and testified before the grand jury for about five hours over two days in mid-March.
Cohen and his attorney, Lanny Davis, have described the prosecutors as “meticulous” and “professional,” while acknowledging they believe he is the key witness against Trump.
Cohen has described wiring the money in October 2016 through a newly created limited liability company. Cohen and Daniels have claimed she and Trump agreed to a non-disclosure agreement using the aliases David Dennison and Peggy Peterson.
The potential case was described by Pomerantz in his recent memoir. Pomerantz said prosecutors in the office believed the Daniels payment was indicative of falsifying business records, a misdemeanor that he says could potentially be charged as a felony under New York law if intended to conceal a second crime: in this case, an alleged illegal campaign contribution.
In recent days, Trump has repeatedly decried the case and criticized Bragg on his social media platform, calling it a politically motivated “witch hunt.” Trump has called for protests if he is charged.
“There was no crime, period,” the 2024 Republican presidential candidate wrote Sunday. “Prosecutorial Misconduct and Interference with an Election.”
Attorneys for Trump asked for a defense witness to be heard by the grand jury Monday, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Bragg’s office asked a rebuttal witness to be nearby and ready if needed: Michael Cohen.