The decision to drag a former president into court over an alleged affair with a porn star – a revelation long forgotten in the malaise of one of the most turbulent periods in US political history – lies with one man.
Alvin Bragg, an “old-school lawyer” said to be uncomfortable with the more political aspects of his job, may seem like an unlikely character to start a new civil war in Washington DC.
But the Manhattan district attorney is swiftly becoming public enemy No 1 among Republicans rallying around Donald Trump, who has himself called Mr Bragg a George Soros-funded “racist in reverse”.
Mr Bragg, a 49-year-old Democrat, made history when he was elected Manhattan’s first black district attorney in 2022.
He had remained tight-lipped about his office’s investigation into Donald Trump and his alleged role in hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. But on Monday night, he was forced to make a rare statement, saying his office would not be intimidated.
It came after Mr Trump called on his supporters to protest, while his main rival Ron DeSantis said of Mr Bragg: “He, like other Soros-funded prosecutors, they weaponise their office to impose a political agenda on society at the expense of the rule of law and public safety.”
George Soros, the liberal billionaire philanthropist, supported Mr Bragg’s campaign through his Color of Change political action committee, which donated at least $500,000 (£408,100).
Like Mr Trump, Mr Bragg, 49, is a New York native, but with a vastly different background. Born in Harlem, Mr Bragg has described how his neighbourhood was impacted by the 1980s crack cocaine epidemic during his youth.
He went on to study at Harvard University before working as a civil rights lawyer and federal prosecutor. He represented the family of Eric Garner, a black man whose 2014 death from an illegal police chokehold sparked a national outcry.
Mr Bragg leant heavily on his backstory during his race to lead one of the country’s most powerful law enforcement offices: the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
On the campaign trail, he described how being held at gunpoint numerous times – including by police – had informed his approach to prosecutorial reform.
“In addition to being the first black district attorney, I think I’ll probably be the first district attorney who’s had police point a gun at him,” he said following his victory.
“I think I’ll be the first district attorney in Manhattan who’s had a loved one re-enter from incarceration and stay with him. And I’m going to govern from that perspective.”
Low-level crimes not prosecuted
Early in his tenure, Mr Bragg announced his office would no longer prosecute some low-level offences such as marijuana misdemeanours, fare evading and prostitution.
An outcry from local police unions and business leaders amid rising violence in New York City prompted him to apologise and revise the policy. He has since pointed to statistics showing fewer murders and shootings under his leadership.
However critics, including Mr Trump, have attacked him as a “Racist in Reverse” who is lenient with criminals while pursuing a politically-motivated “witch hunt”.
Mr Bragg inherited the Trump investigation from his predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr, who began the probe while Mr Trump was still in the White House.
He soon came under attack from staff within his office who believed he was shying away from plans to bring charges against Mr Trump’s business.
But in December, Mr Bragg secured the conviction of the Trump organisation’s long-time finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, who is currently serving a five-month prison sentence.
He has since pivoted to what he’s called the probe’s “next chapter” – bringing fresh scrutiny to the hush money payments, which have been repeatedly looked at over the last six years.
Mr Bragg has attempted to keep political commentary out of the process, previously stating: “The second we start thinking we’re politicians, we’ve taken a real wrong turn”.
Nevertheless, if criminal charges are brought against Mr Trump, in all likelihood Mr Bragg will find the fate of his tenure is intertwined with the former president’s.
The case against Mr Trump centres on a $130,000 payment made to stop porn actress Stormy Daniels going public about an alleged affair with Mr Trump, which he denies.
The payment was made by Mr Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, days before the 2016 presidential election.
The years-long investigation is investigating whether Mr Trump illegally covered up the payment made and whether it violated campaign finance laws.
With the probe nearing its end, Mr Bragg’s office has a consequential decision to make: will Mr Bragg be the first prosecutor to bring criminal charges against a former US president?
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