Support The Bulwark and subscribe today.
  Join Now

Expecting a Trump Indictment, Republicans Attack the Prosecutor

The MAGA rag on Bragg.
March 22, 2023
Expecting a Trump Indictment, Republicans Attack the Prosecutor
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg leaves the courtroom after the conclusion of the Trump Organization tax fraud trial at the New York Supreme Court on December 06, 2022 in New York City. A jury found the Trump Organization guilty on all counts and convicted the organization of conspiracy, criminal tax fraud, falsifying business records, and filing false tax returns in a scheme to defraud the state. The case is unrelated to the civil case being brought by NY Attorney General Letitia James against the Trump Organization. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

Over the weekend, MAGA Republicans trotted out their talking points on the anticipated New York indictment of Donald Trump for the $130,000 hush-money payment he made to Stormy Daniels on the eve of the 2016 election. If the allegations are true, buying her silence to prevent a second Access Hollywood-type scandal—the payment was allegedly made days after that infamous recording was released—may well have preserved his ultimately successful bid for the presidency.

Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy dubbed any charges against Trump from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg “political vengeance.” As Joe Perticone noted yesterday in his Bulwark newsletter, Republican House committee chairs Jim Jordan, James Comer, and Bryan Steil called the expected indictment “an unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority.” This is a bit rich coming from the guys who’ve abused their congressional oversight authority on “cheap stunts run by partisan grandstanders,” as national columnist Al Hunt put it.

We now know what McCarthy, Jordan, Comer, and Steil would say if Trump did shoot someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue, and a DA had the gall to bring charges against him: Politically motivated! Partisan prosecutor!

On Sunday, Republican Rep. Byron Donalds said on Fox News that Bragg indicting Trump would reflect “two-tier prosecution” in the American justice system, which allegedly “target[s]” Republicans while presumably giving a pass to Democrats. He was rehashing the “double-standard” trope you’ve probably heard before from right-wing pundits and pols (think of the classified documents case): Trump gets treated one way, Biden another.

Let’s unravel the meaning of that assertion for this case specifically. In effect, Republicans are suggesting that Alvin Bragg wouldn’t prosecute Joe Biden if Biden had bribed a porn star with whom he’d had an affair to keep her quiet just days before his election.

Need we say more?

As for the suggestion that in political cases the Manhattan DA prosecutes only Republicans, perhaps those drafting the MAGA talking points should check the record. In 2015, Bragg was the prosecutor who convicted Democratic State Senate Majority Leader Malcolm Anthony Smith for public corruption and bribery. (Bragg also successfully prosecuted a Republican in the case who had entered into a quid-pro-quo arrangement with Smith.)

Or for an even more apt example, think back to 2011, when John Edwards, the former senator who had been the Democratic party’s vice presidential nominee in 2004 and a presidential candidate in the 2008 cycle, was prosecuted for campaign-finance violations related to covering up an extramarital affair. (Sound familiar?) It was President Obama’s Justice Department that prosecuted him.

(By the way, with all the talk about two-tier systems of justice, one might wonder where these House Republicans have been on the real double standard in prosecutions: the justice system’s treatment of black versus white Americans. And while Marjorie Taylor Greene bemoans conditions in which January 6th insurrectionists are held in the D.C. jails, she has been curiously reticent about the inmates of color who have long suffered through those conditions.)

Much as Trump rival Ron DeSantis must savor the opportunity to take political advantage of his competitor’s prosecutorial misfortune—which he did by referring multiple times on Monday to the sordid specifics of Trump’s alleged wrongdoing—the Florida governor also felt compelled to join the anti-Bragg fray. DeSantis said that when a prosecutor goes after hush money paid to a porn star “many, many years ago,” it’s “pursuing a political agenda and weaponizing the office.”

Which brings to mind that old saw about how it takes one to know one. DeSantis is today’s master of weaponizing public office, whether he’s enacting a “Don’t Say Gay” law, using state money to kidnap innocent immigrants, or getting books taken off the shelves of the state’s public schools.

DeSantis also managed to call Bragg a “Soros-funded prosecutor,” a construction he made use of five times in two minutes. While Soros has made significant contributions a number of DA campaigns, including Bragg’s, repeatedly invoking the Jewish philanthropist’s name in the way DeSantis did is a well-tread tactic designed to evoke conspiratorial associations. Soros-bashing is a preferred vehicle on the right for plausibly deniable antisemitism.

Meanwhile, in their letter to Bragg, Reps. Jordan, Comer, and Steil say they “expect” him to appear before Congress. Of course, as federal legislators, none has any business meddling with state prosecutors. As Democratic Rep. Daniel Goldman, a former federal prosecutor, tweeted, “Defending Trump is not a legitimate legislative purpose for Congress to investigate a state district attorney.”

Goldman’s tweet was a shot across the MAGA chairmen’s bow. He will be ready, as he has been before, to challenge them if they follow up their letter with a subpoena to Bragg. And if they do issue a subpoena, Bragg would—appropriately—decline to answer questions about any pending case.

No Justice Department, not even Bill Barr’s, would charge contempt for such a demurral. Should Jordan or Comer call other witnesses of the same ilk as they’ve summoned previously to corroborate their public case, the session will, like their prior hearings, undoubtedly fizzle like a spent holiday sparkler.

Demagoguery is never a good look, and sooner or later, it’s politically self-destructive. In November 2024, these Republican demolitionists may find it’s their House majority that voters decide to flatten.

Dennis Aftergut

Dennis Aftergut, a former assistant U.S. attorney and former Supreme Court advocate, is currently of counsel to Lawyers Defending American Democracy.