A stunning turn of events, if the New York Times has this right. What had appeared to be an investigation gaining momentum into Donald Trump and his business operations in Manhattan may have fallen completely apart. Two of the key prosecutors presenting the criminal case against Trump to a grand jury have “abruptly resigned,” reportedly because Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg had doubts about whether his office had a case at all:
The two prosecutors leading the Manhattan district attorney’s investigation into former President Donald J. Trump and his business practices abruptly resigned on Wednesday amid a monthlong pause in their presentation of evidence to a grand jury, according to people with knowledge of the matter, throwing the future of the high-stakes inquiry into serious doubt.
The prosecutors, Carey R. Dunne and Mark F. Pomerantz, submitted their resignations after the new Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, indicated to them that he had doubts about moving forward with a case against Mr. Trump, the people said.
The pause itself had already raised eyebrows, especially after Trump’s bookkeeping agency Mazar’s had essentially rejected its own expressed valuations of the organization. That supposedly opened up all sorts of potential for Bragg and his team to impeach Trump, his family, and Trump Organization execs. Instead, observers had scratched their heads about the sudden halt with a grand jury that would disband within a few weeks:
Without Mr. Bragg’s commitment to move forward, the prosecutors late last month postponed a plan to question at least one witness before the grand jury, one of the people said. They have not questioned any witnesses in front of the grand jury for more than a month, essentially pausing their investigation into whether Mr. Trump inflated the value of his assets to obtain favorable loan terms from banks.
The precise reasons for Mr. Bragg’s pullback are unknown, and he has made few public statements about the status of the inquiry since taking office. In a statement responding to the resignations of the prosecutors, a spokeswoman for Mr. Bragg said that he was “grateful for their service” and that the investigation was ongoing.
Dunne in particular was vital to the investigation, the NYT points out. He spent years developing the investigation and the case. And almost exactly a year ago, then-DA Cyrus Vance hired Pomerantz, a former federal prosecutor, in a move that signaled Vance’s seriousness about pursuing a criminal case against Trump and his organization. That was about the same time that the Supreme Court ruled in Vance’s favor and allowed the DA’s office access to Trump’s tax returns.
So what happened? For one thing, the DA hasn’t been able to flip Allen Weisselberg. Vance indicted Weisselberg on tangential matters and clearly hoped that pressure and then an indictment would convince him to testify against Trump. Instead, Weisselberg has chosen to fight it out:
Around this time, the prosecutors turned their attention to Mr. Weisselberg, pressuring him to cooperate. But he refused, and in July, they announced an indictment against him and the Trump Organization.
The case accused Mr. Weisselberg and the company of a 15-year scheme to pay for luxury perks for certain executives, like free apartments and leased Mercedes-Benzes, off the books.
Mr. Weisselberg pleaded not guilty and his lawyers filed court papers this week seeking to dismiss the charges. A judge has tentatively scheduled a trial for late summer.
Now it appears that Bragg has lost his taste for this fight. The resignations from Dunne and Pomerantz suggest that they don’t share his doubts about the case. If so, that will make for a very dicey political future for the DA, who has already landed in hot water in New York for at first pledging to avoid prison time on convictions unless legally required. Bragg at first stood his ground while he took shots from a wide range of New York officials, including fellow Democrat Gov. Kathy Hochul, forcing him to backtrack.
Allahpundit passes along this even more jaw-dropping point from Rolling Stone’s Noah Shachtman. His source told him earlier, well before Dunne and Pomerantz walked off the job, that the “day 1” memo blowback was the direct cause of the strange pause in the grand-jury process. The harsh criticism had made Bragg skittish about pursuing Trump, even though others thought that his reaction was “nuts”:
To be clear, this is from a conversation a week or so ago, after the source was made aware of the grand jury pause. The source noted how gun-shy the “day 1” memo fiasco had made Bragg … and thought it was nuts that the D.A. would allow it to apparently impact the Trump case.
— Noah Shachtman (@NoahShachtman) February 23, 2022
What’s next for Bragg if he backs down from Trump, especially if Dunne and Pomerantz publicly criticize him for not pursuing the case? It’s tough to say specifically, but since Bragg has enraged conservatives and moderates already, enraging progressives by letting Trump off the hook seems like a bad way to build a coalition for re-election. About the only way Bragg would get excused from the latest progressive disillusionment would be if the halt was related to some sort of prosecutorial misconduct, but it would have to be massive and undeniable for that kind of absolution to come for Bragg. And per Shachtman, that doesn’t appear to be what prompted Bragg’s retreat.
As for Trump, could this possibly work out any better? He faces other investigations — a criminal probe in Georgia related to “stop the steal,” and a civil probe in New York that covers some of the same ground that the Manhattan DA’s office was pursuing. In the meantime, Trump can (and most definitely will) claim vindication over the collapse of the criminal probe in Manhattan and argue that all of these are unfounded political attacks meant to hobble another run for the presidency. Unless Bragg has a good answer on why the case isn’t proceeding, Trump might sound pretty convincing, too.