‘Unlawful political interference’: Bragg defends Trump indictment against GOP attacks

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg defended his office’s decision to indict Donald Trump in a letter to Republican lawmakers Friday, rejecting GOP accusations of political persecution as “baseless and inflammatory.”

“That conclusion is misleading and meritless,” wrote Leslie Dubeck, Bragg’s general counsel, in a six-page letter to three House Republican committee chairs who have sought internal details of the criminal probe.

The letter was sent a day after Bragg’s office acknowledged that they had issued the first-ever indictment of a former president. Officials have also indicated they are working with Trump’s lawyers to negotiate his surrender. Though the timing of both his surrender and arraignment hasn’t been finalized, they are tentatively planned for Tuesday, according to a person familiar with the matter.

It’s uncharted territory for the legal system, the government and the country, which has never seen the indictment and prosecution of a former president. Though the precise evidence against Trump remains unknown, the case appears centered on hush money payments to a porn actress, Stormy Daniels, in 2016 to silence her allegations of a sexual relationship during Trump’s first presidential bid.

The indictment, which remains under seal, prompted a torrent of attacks from Trump’s allies, many of whom denounced it as a political witch hunt. While Trump himself has called for protests in the streets — and on Friday, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) echoed that call — most House Republicans have instead vowed to train a microscope on the Democratic district attorney, requesting information and documents about the probe.

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Bragg’s office used the letter to the lawmakers, a copy of which was obtained by POLITICO, to respond to those allegations of political bias.

“Like any other defendant, Mr. Trump is entitled to challenge these charges in court and avail himself of all processes and protections that New York State’s robust criminal procedure affords. What neither Mr. Trump nor Congress may do is interfere with the ordinary course of proceedings in New York State,” the letter reads.

State judge Juan Merchan is expected to preside over the arraignment and may ultimately be called upon to preside over the criminal proceedings, according to a person familiar with the process.

Bragg’s office also used the letter to plead with Capitol Hill Republicans to encourage calm, accusing them of engaging in “unlawful political interference” in the same breath.

“We urge you to refrain from these inflammatory accusations, withdraw your demand for information, and let the criminal justice process proceed without unlawful political interference,” Dubeck wrote in the letter to Judiciary, Oversight and Administration Chairs Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), James Comer (R-Ky.) and Bryan Steil (R-Wis.).

“As Committee Chairmen, you could use the stature of your office to denounce these attacks and urge respect for the fairness of our justice system and for the work of the impartial grand jury,” she continued. “Instead, you and many of your colleagues have chosen to collaborate with Mr. Trump’s efforts to vilify and denigrate the integrity of elected state prosecutors and trial judges and made unfounded allegations that the Office’s investigation, conducted via an independent grand jury of average citizens serving New York State, is politically motivated.”

Trump dialed up his rhetoric Friday, taking aim this time at Merchan, the judge he anticipates would be presiding over his case.

Key figures in the Trump indictment

Here are some of the people involved as the case against former President Donald Trump moves forward.

Michael Cohen

Trump’s former attorney testified in 2018 that he made a hush-money payment on behalf of Trump.

Stormy Daniels

The porn actress is said to have received $130,000 for her silence about an affair with Trump.

Alvin Bragg

The Manhattan DA took office in January 2022 and inherited the investigation.

Allen Weisselberg

Prosecutors gave the ex-Trump Organization CFO immunity in their hush-money probe in 2018.

Joe Tacopina

A vocal member of Trump’s legal team, he began representing Trump earlier this year.

Susan Necheles

She is one of Trump’s lawyers who was on the defense team in the Trump Organization trial.

Robert Costello

Cohen’s former legal adviser cast aspersions on Cohen’s credibility before the grand jury.

Karen McDougal

The model is another woman who received “hush money” for her involvement with Trump.

David Pecker

The former National Enquirer CEO has been linked to Cohen’s efforts to pay off Daniels and McDougal.

“The Judge ‘assigned’ to my Witch Hunt Case … HATES ME,” Trump posted on social media, complaining about Merchan’s handling of the separate proceedings brought by the district attorney’s office against the Trump Organization, which Trump said Merchan treated “viciously.”

Bragg’s office suggested that the House GOP inquiries appeared to be functioning more as interference for Trump than as legitimate congressional oversight, a concern Dubeck said was “heightened” by some of the committee members’ own statements about their goals.

She cited Greene’s statement that “Republicans in Congress MUST subpoena these communists and END this!” as well as Rep. Anna Paulina Luna’s (R-Fla.) call to scrutinize lawmakers who are “being silent on what is currently happening to Trump.”

From a legal standpoint, individual lawmakers’ comments and motives aren’t typically given weight when a congressional committee takes actions. Trump routinely pointed to the comments of individual committee members’ plans to make use of his tax returns in his failed efforts to block Congress’ effort to obtain them.

Greene called for Trump supporters to gather Tuesday in New York, indicating she would be there herself. “We MUST protest the unconstitutional WITCH HUNT!” she tweeted. Her tweet was a departure from her reaction a day after Trump first suggested that he could be arrested, when she told reporters on the sidelines of the House GOP retreat that she would not be going to New York.

As of Friday, though, there were no indications of significant street protests or organized activities centered on the courthouse. Bragg arrived at around 7:30 a.m., amid signs of significantly heightened security, with little other movement aside from a large media presence.

In her letter, Dubeck also provided some details about the federal funding Bragg’s office has used in connection with Trump-related matters — money that House Republicans have suggested could now be under threat because of the indictment. Additionally, House Republicans received a second document on Friday detailing federal grant money the office has obtained.

None of that federal grant funding, she noted, has been used in the current investigation. She said the office has spent approximately $5,000 of federal funds — funds that the district attorney’s office helped recover during forfeiture actions — on expenses related to the investigation of Trump or the Trump organization.

“These expenses were incurred between October 2019 and August 2021,” Dubeck noted, adding that most were used to support Bragg’s predecessor’s successful defense of its probe of the Trump organization before the Supreme Court.

A spokesperson for Jordan didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter from Bragg’s office. Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y) said at an event on Friday that Republicans should “cease their intervention in an ongoing prosecution in a local prosecutor’s office.”

But House Republicans have already started laying some groundwork for a potential subpoena of the Manhattan district attorney, a move they haven’t publicly ruled out. They also appeared to make the case in their second letter to Bragg that they believe a subpoena would survive a legal challenge.

Comer, who noted that he hasn’t spoken with Trump recently, called the indictment a “political stunt” but said he needed more information before Republicans decided where to go next.

“I think before the next step we’ll have to see what, in fact, these charges were and then go from there,” Comer said in an interview on Friday.

Dubeck, in her letter, urged them to reach a “negotiated resolution … before taking the unprecedented and unconstitutional step of serving a subpoena on a district attorney for information related to an ongoing state criminal prosecution.”

Wesley Parnell contributed to this story.

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