By Eugene Kiely, Lori Robertson and Robert Farley
In a speech from Mar-a-Lago hours after pleading not guilty to criminal charges in Manhattan, and in social media posts, former President Donald Trump has said the case against him is unfair. Here, we explain his attacks on the prosecutor, judge and venue.
Trump was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records “to conceal crimes that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election,” Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg announced on April 4. As we’ve explained, the case centers on allegations that Trump, shortly before the 2016 election, paid to silence a porn star, who said she had a sexual encounter with Trump, and then falsified business records to conceal state and federal election law violations.
The court documents cite two other alleged payments to suppress negative information about Trump.
Trump spoke for less than a half hour and recycled false claims and old grievances about voter fraud, the Russia investigation and the FBI investigation of his handling of classified documents. We focus on his claims about his criminal indictment — the first ever filed against a former president of the United States.
The George Soros Connection
As he has in the recent past, Trump accused liberal billionaire George Soros of financing Bragg’s election as district attorney in 2021. In his April 4 remarks at Mar-a-Lago, Trump called Bragg a “George Soros-backed prosecutor.”
Soros did not directly contribute to Bragg’s campaign, which reported raising nearly $3.2 million for his election after Bragg announced in June 2019 that he would run for Manhattan DA.
However, as we have written, Soros did contribute $1 million to a progressive group — Color of Change PAC — that spent more than $400,000 to help Bragg win election.
The Color of Change PAC describes itself as “focused on building independent Black political power, amplifying Black voices, electing candidates who share our values, and holding them accountable to our communities.” The PAC endorsed Bragg, who is Black, on May 8, 2021, pledging to spend over $1 million to help elect him.
On May 12, four days after endorsing Bragg, the California-based PAC registered with the New York State Board of Elections. Two days later, the PAC received a $1 million donation from Soros. The group reported receiving no other contributions for New York’s 2021 campaign cycle.
Soros has denied supporting Bragg or even knowing him.
On March 31, Soros told the news site Semafor: “As for Alvin Bragg, as a matter of fact I did not contribute to his campaign and I don’t know him.” Semafor did not ask Soros about his $1 million donation to Color of Change, although it linked to a New York Times story about Soros’ donation to the PAC.
The donation itself, however, isn’t evidence that Soros “hand-picked” Bragg for DA, as Trump has claimed. Instead, it shows that Soros donated to a political action committee that shares his goal of trying to change the criminal justice system.
Soros is an outspoken supporter of what he calls “reform-minded candidates” for prosecutor. In a July 2022 Wall Street Journal opinion piece, Soros explained “why I have supported the election (and more recently the re-election) of prosecutors who support reform,” saying he has “done it transparently.”
Trump Hints at Change of Venue Motion
On Truth Social, Trump wrote that he could not get a fair trial in Manhattan and suggested moving the trial to Staten Island — the only New York City borough that Trump won in 2016 and 2020.
Trump, April 4: VERY UNFAIR VENUE, WITH SOME AREAS THAT VOTED 1% REPUBLICAN. THIS CASE SHOULD BE MOVED TO NEARBY STATEN ISLAND – WOULD BE A VERY FAIR AND SECURE LOCATION FOR THE TRIAL.
It’s no secret why Trump – a native New Yorker who grew up in Queens – wants to move the trial to Staten Island.
In the 2020 presidential election, Biden won Manhattan with 84.5% of the vote to Trump’s 14.5%, including more than one precinct in which Trump received only 1% of the vote. By contrast, Trump won Staten Island with 61.6% of the vote to Biden’s 37.6%.
Cyrus R. Vance Jr., who opened the investigation into Trump when he was the Manhattan district attorney, told us in an email that he expects Trump’s lawyers to file a change of venue motion.
“Change of venue motions have been granted, of course, but very rarely,” Vance said. “Pretty much anywhere or everywhere this case is tried one can make the argument that jurors will either be biased for, or against the former president.”
Vance, who was Manhattan DA from 2010 until 2021, said both sides “ultimately have to rely upon the jury selection process done by a careful and balanced judge.”
“Many cases involve facts so well known that everyone will have heard of the case,” Vance said. “The jury selection process by the judge and the parties is to find jurors who are willing and swear to put aside anything else but the evidence they hear in court, and the instructions on the law by the judge. Harvey Weinstein is a case in point.”
Vance won a conviction of Weinstein, a former movie producer who was sentenced in 2020 in New York to 23 years in state prison for sexually assaulting one woman and raping another.
Bragg’s Comments Before His Election
In his Mar-a-Lago speech, Trump misleadingly claimed that Bragg “campaigned on the fact that he would get President Trump. ‘I gotta get him. I’m going to get him.’ This is a guy campaigning. You want to get President Trump at any cost and this before he knew anything about me, didn’t know a thing about me. He was campaigning.”
On Truth Social, Trump re-posted a video of Bragg in a January 2021 radio interview talking about how he would handle an investigation into possible criminal activity by Trump if he were elected district attorney.
But in the video, the interview with Ebro Darden on HOT 97 is heavily edited. Below are excerpts of the interview. The bolded parts are in the edited video. Left out were comments Bragg made, repeatedly, about not prejudging the case before seeing and weighing the facts.
Ebro began the interview asking whether, if he were elected, Bragg would convict Trump.
Bragg, Jan. 15, 2021: I’m the candidate in the race who has the experience with Donald Trump. I was the chief deputy in the attorney general’s office. We sued the Trump administration over 100 times, for the Muslim travel ban, for family separation at the border, for shenanigans with the census. So I know how to litigate with him. I also led the team that did the Trump Foundation case. So I’m ready to go wherever the facts take me, and to inherit that case. And I think, you know, it’d be hard to argue with the fact that that’d be the most important, most high-profile case. And I’ve seen him up front, and seen the lawlessness that he can do.
Ebro: And you believe it should happen?
Bragg: I believe we have to hold him accountable. I haven’t seen all the facts beyond the public. But I’ve litigated with him, so I’m prepared to go where the facts take me once I see them, and hold him accountable. …
Ebro: So Alvin, you said leading you where the facts may lead you with regard to dealing with Donald Trump. From what you know today, and you know, I know you are being careful with your words because you’re running for office, so I respect that, but I know as a voter and a taxpayer, all I know is some of the things I’ve seen would’ve put me in jail. So, how is it not going to put someone at his level in jail? Now I know the answer is he’s an old white man and he’s got a lot of money. And he was just coming out of the office of president. But that doesn’t sit well with me as a citizen of the United States, and a resident of, you know, this area.
Bragg: No doubt. You’re right. So I’m being careful not so much for running for office, but because every case does have to be judged on its facts and I don’t know all the facts, right? And so I’ve been doing this for 20-plus years so I want to be fair. But with that said there’s a lot that’s out there publicly. You know, I look at what the attorney general’s looking at as a civil case, which could become a criminal case if the Manhattan DA’s office, where on the one hand he’s saying, “Hey, look, this piece of land is worth a dollar when I want to go pay taxes on it, but when I want to go get a loan, all of a sudden it’s worth a million.” Right?
Ebro: But that’s public information that he did that.
Bragg: And so what I’m saying, that’s why I’m focusing on that. That kind of conduct right there could definitely be the basis for a case. You know, I’ve done a mortgage fraud case. I’ve gone to trial. You know, I’ve done a tax fraud case. That kind of conduct right there is deeply troubling. And that’s what I’m thinking about when I say, you know, holding him accountable. So yeah, there … You are right, we’ve got two standards of justice. Harvey Weinstein, Jeffrey Epstein. Being a rich old white man has allowed you to evade accountability in Manhattan. That includes Trump and his children. They were engaged in fraud in a SOHO real estate deal as children. So you’re right, we’ve got two standards of justice. I grew up in the second standard in Harlem. I know all about it. And you’re right, I’m being a little careful because I don’t want to prejudge and then I get into office and the first motion I get from the Trump team is I’ve got to recuse myself because I prejudged the facts. But you’re right, there’s a lot out there in the public domain that is so troubling. And I say that not just as someone who’s watching it but as someone who’s done these kind of cases, someone who’s litigated with Donald Trump about fraud and, by the way, won. We held him accountable in the Trump Foundation case. My office did the Trump University case. So I’ve seen a pattern of lawlessness over 20 years. And so I am inclined to believe all I see in the public domain, and … believe that there’s a path forward there to make a case.
In a November 2020 interview with CBS News, Bragg also said that while he could not prejudge a case until he saw the evidence, Cohen said in the guilty plea to federal charges in 2018 related to hush money payments to Daniels that he had conspired in the crime with Trump.
“If the reporting about it has been accurate and you know, I mean, the Southern District of New York had a charging instrument where apparently the president was Individual-1, right?” Bragg told CBS News, adding that Trump was “a co-conspirator of someone who pled guilty and, you know, has said that the president was his co-conspirator.”
“And so, presumably, the evidence is there. And if it’s a matter of, kind of, prosecutorial discretion, I mean, if they’ve already said it in a charging instrument. So I presume it could be, you know, accurate and charge ready,” Bragg said.
Trump Lawyer Has ‘No Issue’ with Judge
Joe Tacopina, one of Trump’s lawyers, has said he has “no issue … whatsoever” with the judge overseeing this case. New York Supreme Court Judge Juan Merchan “has a very good reputation,” Tacopina told CNN. Yet, Trump has claimed Merchan “HATES ME” and that “he must be changed!”
Trump made those comments on Truth Social on March 31 and April 2. The former president made a similar comment in his Mar-a-Lago speech.
Asked if he thought Merchan was biased, Tacopina said, “I have no reason to believe this judge is biased.”
Tacopina also told ABC News about Trump: “I’m not his PR person. I’m not his spokesperson. He’s entitled to his own opinion.”
It’s worth noting that there is no record of Merchan making any donations to political candidates, according to a search on OpenSecrets.org of Federal Election Commission records.
Merchan has been an acting justice on the New York Supreme Court since 2009, according to a bio from the New York State Office of Court Administration. In 2006, then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg appointed Merchan to the Family Court for Bronx County.
At Mar-a-Lago, Trump took issue with Merchan having been the judge who sentenced the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, to five months in jail in a tax fraud case. In one of his Truth Social posts, Trump claimed Merchan “’railroaded’” and “strong armed” Weisselberg to plead guilty and “treated my companies, which didn’t ‘plead,’ VICIOUSLY.”
In August, Weisselberg pleaded guilty to evading taxes on $1.76 million of income from his employer, the Trump Organization, paid in the form of rent and utilities for his Manhattan apartment, “multiple Mercedes Benz automobiles, private school tuition for his grandchildren, unreported cash and furnishings for his apartment and home in Florida,” the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office press release on the plea deal said. Weisselberg paid more than $2 million in back taxes and penalties under the deal, and admitted there was a scheme at the company for other employees to avoid taxes on compensation and for the Trump Organization to evade payroll taxes. He agreed to testify in the trial of the Trump Organization.
In that trial, a jury found the company — specifically the Trump Corp. and Trump Payroll Corp. — guilty of criminal tax fraud and other charges. In January, Merchan sentenced the companies to pay $1.6 million in fines, the maximum penalty under state law.
Trump himself did not face charges in those tax fraud cases. While Trump might not be happy about the outcome, Merchan said at Weisselberg’s January sentencing hearing that had there not been a plea deal, he would have imposed a harsher sentence than the five months of jail time — which was expected to be reduced to 100 days with good behavior, multiple news organizations reported.
In an April 4 Truth Social post, Trump claimed Merchan “GAVE HORRIBLE JURY INSTRUCTIONS.” But Politico reported that Merchan had told the members of the jury to “set aside any biases you might have in favor of or against Mr. Trump and his family” in deciding the case.
Trump further claimed that the judge and his family were “HIGHLY PARTISAN.” On social media and in his speech, Trump said that Merchan’s daughter “worked for Kamala Harris” and “now receives money from the Biden-Harris campaign.” The career of Merchan’s daughter is irrelevant; she’s not the judge in this case. She works for a digital campaign consulting firm that does work for progressive clients, including the two campaigns mentioned by Trump.
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