The Inside Story of Alvin Bragg’s Case Against Trump


Bragg’s legal argument is complicated, but it stems from a simple episode: In the days before the 2016 election, Trump’s personal attorney and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, paid $130,000 in hush money to the adult-film star Stormy Daniels. Prosecutors argue that Trump, who denies that he had sex with Daniels, then lied on 34 business records — 12 ledger entries, 11 invoices and 11 checks — to disguise his repayment of Cohen as legal fees.

On its own, falsifying those documents would be misdemeanors, relatively minor crimes. Bragg elevated each of the charges to felonies by arguing that they were committed to hide or further another crime — which, in an unusual move, he did not charge. He said he wasn’t required to specify that crime, but added that it might have been a violation of state or federal election law. What may further complicate the case is that it relies heavily on testimony from Cohen, a disbarred lawyer who served prison time after pleading guilty to violating campaign-finance laws, evading taxes, making false statements to a bank and lying to Congress.

After the indictment, a chorus of critics — some but not all on the right — questioned the legal reasoning, wisdom and winnability of the hush-money case. Today, many experts believe that Bragg’s legal strategy looks considerably stronger, validated by a federal judge who rebuffed Trump’s effort to delay or even kill the case by having it moved to federal court, and by the Manhattan judge presiding over the case, who in February officially greenlit Bragg’s premise by setting a trial date.

None of which means the case has ceased to be controversial. The furor lives on, primarily in the political space. Trump and his allies have branded the case a witch hunt, a selective prosecution brought by a Democratic district attorney in the pocket of George Soros, boogeyman of the right. Many Democrats, in turn, worry that Trump’s narrative of persecution is only fueling his presidential campaign, especially because this case of sexual peccadillo and faked paperwork might look frivolous next to his three other indictments, which cut closer to his presidency and the foundations of American democracy.

“We’re all kind of like, ‘I can’t believe Alvin is at the center of this,’” says Erin E. Murphy, a New York University law professor who is part of Bragg’s close-knit friend group from law school and was one of more than 70 friends, colleagues and legal and political experts interviewed for this article. She adds: “He’s just so not political. He’s like, not a hyperpartisan political person in any way, shape or form. So there’s just this dissonance.”

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