Guilty verdict in Trump hush money trial vindication for Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg

NEW YORK — Donald Trump became the first U.S. president convicted of a crime when a jury found him guilty of felonies this week, also making Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg the only prosecutor ever to secure such a conviction.

Bragg had already earned a place in the history books when, in 2021, he was elected the first Black American to lead the Manhattan DA’s office in its more than 200-year history.

But that was quickly overshadowed by controversy surrounding the Trump probe he inherited when the pair of special prosecutors leading it quit less than two months into his tenure. The high-profile resignations catapulted the new DA’s decision not to immediately greenlight charges against the former president into national scrutiny.

In his February 2022 letter leaked to the New York Times, former prosecutor Mark Pomerantz called Bragg’s choice “misguided and completely contrary to the public interest.”

“I have worked too hard as a lawyer, and for too long, now to become a passive participant in what I believe to be a grave failure of justice,” Pomerantz wrote, later expanding on those sentiments in his controversial memoir about the probe, oft-cited by Trump in efforts to get the case tossed, “People vs. Donald Trump: An Inside Account.” Pomerantz could not be reached for comment.

The fiasco led to an outcry on the left while Bragg fended off nonstop attacks from conservatives for his progressive prosecutorial policies. When he let a grand jury hearing evidence against Trump expire amid intense criticism, the DA — who has tried to avoid engaging in political theater — stressed the sensitivity of confidential investigations and said he’d announce his decision when he’d made it.

Nearly a year later, a newly impaneled set of grand jurors handed up an indictment against Trump on March 30, 2023, accusing him of 34 counts of falsification of business records tied to his reimbursement to Michael Cohen for paying off porn star Stormy Daniels to stay silent about a 2006 tryst and a conspiracy to win the White House.

Trump’s indictment only increased the right’s attacks on Bragg — bombarded with a flood of racist death threats after becoming the defendant’s primary online target — as he faced skepticism from legal pundits about basing the case on a little-tested legal theory. That regarded the charges against Trump being bumped up to felonies as the records were allegedly falsified to conceal another crime, a New York election law outlawing two or more people from promoting someone’s candidacy through illegal means.

At trial, Trump’s team argued there was nothing wrong with the payoffs, contending they sought to protect Trump’s marriage, not win him the election, and that there was no conspiracy. They said Trump had nothing to do with how his payments to Cohen were classified, focusing mainly on discrediting the former fixer, exhaustively spotlighting his convictions and bitter feud with his longtime boss.

But in the end, jurors didn’t appear to buy Trump’s defense or share the pundits’ reservations, and they seemed more interested in David Pecker than Cohen, requesting a review of swaths of the media magnate’s testimony during their deliberations, including about the meeting where he said the conspiracy to hide information from voters began.

“This case had so much proof, just a mountain of proof, and I think the jury saw that,” former head of the Manhattan DA’s trial division Karen Agnifilo said at a press briefing Friday.

“This was not a case where Donald Trump couldn’t get a fair trial in New York. If that were the case, this would have been a five minute conviction — the jury was out overnight for about 12 hours.”

A DA spokeswoman declined to comment for this story. At a press conference after the verdict, Bragg noted the extensive hard evidence methodically presented at trial, including a bank statement reflecting Cohen’s hush money payoff with the handwritten notes of Trump’s finance chief tallying up what he was owed. Throughout the trial, the defense argued that Trump did not pay back Cohen for anything, claiming he was compensated for legitimate legal work.

Bragg said he’d fulfilled his duties when asked about securing the historic conviction after sustained questioning of his approach.

“I did my job. Our job is to follow the facts and the law without fear of favor. And that’s exactly what we did here, and what I feel is gratitude to work alongside phenomenal public servants, who do that each and every day in matters that you all write about and make the press and then lots of matters that you don’t,” the DA said.

“The only voice that matters is the voice of the jury, and the jury has spoken.”