Alvin Bragg and Donald Trump are on the brink of an epic legal showdown.
The Manhattan District Attorney is expected to indict the former president as early as this week for falsifying financial records related to alleged silent money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels during the 2016 campaign.
But while the impending showdown in the courtroom may be the first direct collision between the two New Yorkers, it’s not the first time they’ve found themselves on opposite sides of a burning issue of significance. national. In fact, both men’s trajectories were shaped in part by the same event more than 30 years ago: the Central Park Jogger case.
The infamous case of the sexual assault of a 28-year-old investment banker jogging in Central Park had startlingly different impacts on Trump and Bragg, with the real estate mogul making one of his first forays in politics by calling on New York to resurrect the death penalty, and Bragg, a teenager living not far from Central Park at the time, later pointing to the wrongful convictions of five black and Latino men as the reason he chose to become attorney.
It’s a story that dates back to April 1989, when New York City was the epicenter of a historic nationwide crime wave, beset by more than 2,000 murders a year. Less than two weeks after the attack that made national headlines, Trump, who was regularly the subject of intrigue in local tabloids, ran full-page ads in four New York newspapers, including The New York Times, advocating the return of capital punishment. “I want to hate these murderers and I always will,” Trump wrote in the May 1989 ad. “I don’t seek to psychoanalyze them or understand them, I seek to punish them.”
Political pundits saw the move as strategic — an attempt by Trump to not only insinuate himself into local and national politics, but also portray himself as a foil to the city’s Democratic mayor, Ed Koch.
But for the five men who were wrongfully convicted after being coerced into giving false statements, the ads have helped fuel the growing bloodlust across the city. “He put a bounty on my head,” Korey Wise, who was jailed for more than a decade for the incident, told TIME in 2016. All of the men were later cleared by DNA evidence in 2002.
None of this impressed Trump. In 2014, after New York City announced a $41 million settlement for the wrongfully convicted, he wrote an op-ed calling the deal a “disgrace.”
“He’s a guy who never missed an opportunity to interfere in a public situation, if it meant advancing his plan,” David Kreizer, an attorney who represented Wise in the lawsuit, told TIME. 2014 settlement case. “We see this as far back as 1989. He used the money he had to build this Trump brand, this Trump machine. It’s amazing to predict that more than 30 years later, he still does.
In 2019, while Trump was in the White House, a Netflix series about the “When They See Us” incident pushed the incident back into the national conversation. Trump continued to show no remorse for his behavior. “You have people on both sides of this,” Trump said, echoing comments he made about the 2017 neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville. “They admitted their guilt.”
For Bragg, the case had the opposite effect. He was only 16 at the time, but the experience of watching him up close as a kid in Manhattan was formative. This is one of the reasons why he chose the profession he practiced. “I grew up in the shadow of the Central Park Five case, which had an incredibly profound impact on me,” Bragg said. THE New York Amsterdam News in May 2022.
Three members of Central Park – Yusef Salaam, Raymond Santana and Kevin Richardson – attend the unveiling of the ‘Gate of the Exonerated’ in Harlem on December 19, 2022 in New York City.
This was largely due, he said, because the incident had personal resonance for him. “I was arrested with some friends by the police soon after, who started questioning us about a crime we hadn’t committed,” he told the Amsterdam News. “I was lucky – the reality of being a black man meant I could have been one of five exonerated.” In an interview with The American Perspectivein July 2021, he recounted enduring “three armed stops by the NYPD during unconstitutional arrests”.
After graduating from the prestigious Trinity School in Manhattan, Bragg went to Harvard University and then to Harvard Law School, where he served as editor of the Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review, a journal student-led progressive legal institution.
After graduating, he clerked for a federal judge before working in a private law firm on white-collar crime and civil rights issues. He soon left the private sector, working first for New York Attorney General Elliot Spitzer, then becoming the New York City Council’s Chief of Investigations.
Those positions put him on the radar of former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, who in 2017 appointed him assistant attorney general, where he headed the criminal justice and social justice units. In that role, he oversaw investigations into the Trump Organizations, but these never resulted in an indictment. In 2019, he joined the race to replace Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who was not running for re-election. Ahead of the June 2021 Democratic primary, four of the Central Park Five endorsed Bragg in the race. He edged out his main opponent, then took victory over a Republican challenger in one of America’s bluest cities.
As district attorney, Bragg showed the lasting imprint that the Central Park Jogger case left on his psyche. He served as a co-defendant to exonerate one of the other defendants in the case, Steven Lopez. It has also created a “post-conviction justice unit” which reviews and in some cases re-reviews old cases if there is a possibility of wrongful conviction.
“There are far too many people who have had their lives ruined because of unjust convictions,” Bragg said when the split was announced. “But beyond the impact they have on individuals and their families, unjust convictions undermine public safety by impairing the ability of law enforcement to apprehend those who actually committed the crime. They also seriously undermine public confidence in our criminal justice system.
When Bragg took over the prosecutor’s office, he was already investigating allegations that Trump inflated the value of his assets to mislead and defraud lenders. Bragg ultimately decided not to press charges. It was a controversial move in his office, leading to a wave of resignations.
Now, however, he appears ready to take on the former president who has escaped legal danger for more than half a century despite high levels of scrutiny from state and federal prosecutors. A man very sensitive to the perils of wrongful conviction will try to convict one of the most incendiary and difficult targets imaginable.
Two weeks ago, Bragg’s office invited Trump to testify before a grand jury, a move that former federal prosecutors and legal experts say is a sign his office was close to indictment. And then Trump himself wrote on his social media platform over the weekend that he expected to be arrested on Tuesday, calling for nationwide protests.
The arrest has yet to materialize, nor have the protests of any substantial scale. But a charge appears to be in sight. If that happens, the case would mark the first-ever criminal indictment of a current or former president. It promises to generate reams of controversy, not to mention water for campaign attack ads in all directions.
Yet at the heart of the indictment are two New York natives who 34 years ago watched the same event terrorize their city, and whose antithetical reactions helped guide the rest of their working lives. . As fate would have it, they are now on opposite sides of another historic moment.
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