NEW YORK: Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg became the first prosecutor in US history to charge a former or sitting president when he filed his indictment against Donald Trump.
The 49-year-old Democrat is no stranger to landmark moments: he is the first Black Manhattan DA, winning election to the post in November 2021.
A New York grand jury’s indictment of Trump on Thursday over hush money paid to pornographic actress Stormy Daniels has put Bragg firmly in the national spotlight and drawn the ire of conservatives across the United States.
The Democrat ran for DA as a progressive candidate, pledging to seek alternatives to imprisonment and to increase prosecutions of white-collar financial crimes.
More on Trump indictment
- US: Who is Stormy Daniels, the adult-film star linked to former US president Trump’s indictment?
- Former US president Donald Trump faces fingerprints, mug shots after historic indictment
- US: What’s next for former president Donald Trump after indictment
- US: Former President Donald Trump indictment throws 2024 presidential race into uncharted territory
- Among 160 years of presidential scandals, Trump stands alone
Born in Harlem in 1973, Bragg has said his experiences of aggressive policing by the New York Police Department (NYPD) when he was a teenager in the 1980s shaped his support for restorative justice.
He told The American Prospect magazine in 2021 that he had been “deeply affected by the criminal justice system, most directly through three gunpoint stops by the NYPD during unconstitutional stops.”
“You can’t really fully have public safety without trust,” said Bragg, who was educated at Harvard and previously worked for the New York attorney general and the Southern District of New York.
But his start to life as a DA was far from smooth sailing.
Just days after taking office in January last year, Bragg announced that he would no longer prosecute low-level offenses, such as fare evasion and resisting arrest.
He also said he would seek lesser offenses for certain robberies and avoid seeking jail time for all but the most serious crimes.
By February, Bragg had been forced to revise the policy following a backlash from the NYPD and criticism from centrist Democratic Mayor Eric Adams, who had pledged to crack down on violent crime.
Bragg also received early flak for perceived hesitance in the Trump probe he inherited from his predecessor Cyrus Vance, who started it in 2018.
Two lead prosecutors quit the investigation into Trump’s business dealings in February 2022, throwing the future of the inquiry into doubt.
The New York Times reported that the pair had resigned after Bragg raised doubts about pursuing a case against Trump.
While the DA’s office would only say in a statement that the case was ongoing, in the background, it was honing in on the $130,000 payment made to Daniels in 2016.
In December, Bragg secured the convictions of the Trump Organization and another Trump entity over a years-long scheme to defraud and evade taxes through the falsification of business records.
Longtime Trump Org CFO Allen Weisselberg was sentenced to five months in prison and agreed to pay $2 million in fines for his role in the scam.
Trump was not charged over the case.
That is said to have given Bragg the confidence to form a grand jury to begin hearing evidence in the hush-money probe.
“Bragg has shown himself to be flexible and pragmatic,” former prosecutor Bennett Gershman told AFP, praising the DA for an “aggressive investigation” of Trump.
The former president has repeatedly lashed out at Bragg, calling him a “racist” and a “radical left” district attorney.
After Trump called Bragg “corrupt and highly political” earlier this month, the DA told staff that his office will “not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York.”