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Trump Allies Take Fight to Bragg’s Backyard with Hearing on NYC Crime

The Manhattan district attorney prosecuting Donald Trump highlights new police data that shows murders and other violent crimes have fallen in the borough since last year.

Donald Trump’s congressional allies have taken the fight to Manhattan, where they’re hosting a field hearing to attack District Attorney Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, as weak on crime — all part of the Republican strategy to undermine the historic prosecution of the former president.

Led by Chairman Jim Jordan, the powerful House Judiciary Committee is hearing Monday from victims of violent crime, as Republicans argue that Bragg has dropped the ball on keeping the public safe in order to focus on prosecuting Trump. Bragg’s office has defended the Trump probe and points to new data showing that crime has significantly fallen in Manhattan.

The high-profile hearing represents yet another escalation in the ongoing battle between Bragg and Trump and his top allies on Capitol Hill.

Bragg announced this month that a Manhattan grand jury had indicted Trump in a hush money scheme to silence adult film star Stormy Daniels during his successful 2016 presidential campaign. On April 4, Trump pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts of falsifying New York business records.

Trump and other Republicans have blasted the Manhattan investigation and indictment as a politically motivated witch hunt designed to damage the 2024 GOP presidential front-runner.

Jordan, R-Ohio, and other House GOP committee chairs have launched their own investigations into Bragg’s probe of Trump and have called on the DA to testify before Congress, a request Bragg rejected. Jordan has also subpoenaed former New York County Special Assistant District Attorney Mark Pomerantz, who had led the DA’s office probe into Trump’s finances before he resigned last year.

Bragg, who has received multiple death threats, responded last week by suing Jordan to have the courts block the subpoenas, calling the congressional inquiry an “unconstitutional attempt to undermine an ongoing New York felony criminal prosecution and investigation” into Trump.

Now Jordan and Republicans are hosting a congressional hearing focused on Bragg right in his backyard, at the Javits Federal Building. Democrats, led by Ranking Member, Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., have used the hearing to push back, calling it “a political stunt” designed “protect Donald Trump.”

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said the hearing is clearly about Trump, regardless of what Republicans might say, suggesting it’s no coincidence that the panel focused its crime hearing on New York. “And of all the cities in New York, they would pick New York City and of all the boroughs of New York, they pick Manhattan. Apparently Manhattan is just lovely this time of year. What a remarkable coincidence.”

“How absurd,” he added. “Of course, this is not a coincidence at all. Instead, it is the GOP leadership and Congress doing what it has done best for the last six years. And that is to act as the criminal defense counsel for Donald J. Trump.”

Opening witnesses told personal stories critical of Bragg and called for change at the Manhattan prosecutor’s office

Madeline Brame, chair of the Victims Rights Reform Council, which was formed in honor of her son who was slain in Harlem in 2018, claimed the case against the alleged assailant fell apart upon Bragg taking office last year. In her opening statement, she called for Congress to withhold federal funding for the DA’s office.

“I’m not the only one, there are hundreds and thousands of us, we don’t give a damn about the politics,” she said. “We don’t care. It could be the man on the moon who’s running for president, OK, as long as whoever’s in the job [can bring] some civility and sanity to our city.”

Protesters outside the hearing held signs calling Jordan a “traitor” and an “insurrectionist” and chanted, “Let the public in!”

Jim Kessler, co-founder and senior vice president for policy of Third Way, a centrist Democratic think thank, noted in his opening statement that the murder rate in New York City is lower than that of Republican-led states such as Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama, states represented by Republican members of the Judiciary Committee. During questioning, Kessler noted that crime rates for a series of violent crimes were higher in Ohio, Jordan’s home state, than in New York City.

“We live in a violent country like no other advanced nation,” Kessler said. “And the fact is that New York City is not only safer than most large cities in America, it is safer than most cities any size and on a per capita basis. New York City is safer than most of the states of the members sitting on the dais on the majority.”

But as Democrats sought to highlight New York’s tougher gun laws in comparison to Republican-led states, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., noted that the crimes being highlighted by panel-members were committed with knives rather than guns.

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., suggested that the witnesses were being taken advantage of. “I fear that you are being used for a political purpose despite your sincerity,” she said, drawing boos from the crowd.

Firing back, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said the committee is “here not to use anyone but to uplift the voices of brave people who are here to tell their story.”

“Ms. Brame, do you feel used in this hearing?” Gaetz asked.

“I’m a willing participant,” Brame responded.

Gaetz asked a similar question of Jennifer Harrison, founder of Victims Rights NY whose boyfriend was fatally stabbed outside a New Jersey club in 2005. Harrison’s group’s website includes a petition urging Gov. Kathy Hochul to exercise her power to “Fire Alvin Bragg.”

“Let me ask you this way: Do you feel more used by this committee hearing or do you feel more used by a criminal justice system that allowed people to kill people that you love and care about with no consequence?” Gaetz said.

“The latter,” Harrison responded. “And I’m beyond grateful for the opportunity to testify here on behalf of victims because the Democrat Party, including Mr. Nadler and everybody here today has ignored us in this city.”

The committee has also heard from Jose Alba, a former Harlem bodega clerk whom Bragg’s office charged with second-degree murder and sent to Riker’s Island jail after he fatally stabbed a man who jumped behind the counter and attacked Alba last July. Alba had claimed self-defense. And after an outcry from New York Mayor Eric Adams and others, Bragg dropped the murder charge, according to NBC New York.

Others testifying include Paul DiGiacomo, president of the New York City’s Detectives’ Endowment Association, Barry Borgen, father of the victim of an antisemitic hate crime, and Democratic New York City Councilman Robert F. Holden, who called during the hearing for Bragg to prioritize arresting and jailing more people alleged to have committed crimes.

“The criminals will get guns, there’s nothing you can do about it,” Borgen said, pointing to Democratic arguments that tougher gun laws across the country would further limit violent crime.

Bragg’s office has pushed back, calling New York City “the safest big city in America” and highlighting New York Police Department data that showed violent crime had dropped in the first quarter of 2023 compared with a year ago in Manhattan.

Murders are down 14%, shootings dropped 17% and burglaries fell 21% in the borough, per the New York Police Department.

“In D.A. Bragg’s first year in office, New York City had one of the lowest murder rates of major cities in the United States (5.2) nearly three times lower than Columbus, Ohio (15.4),” Bragg’s office said.

“If Chairman Jordan truly cared about public safety, he could take a short drive to Columbus, Dayton, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Akron, or Toledo in his home state, instead of using taxpayer dollars to travel hundreds of miles out of his way.”

House GOP Conference Chair Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican and a key Trump ally, is not a Judiciary member and does not represent the New York City area, but said she attended Monday’s hearing to hold Democrats “accountable.”

Adams, a Democrat who has rankled some on the left with his approach to handling crime, told reporters at a press conference Monday morning, “welcome to the safest big city in America.” He called out the GOP for holding up gun safety laws and an appointment to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

“We need to focus on how do we deal with the gun violence that is suffocating America and let the DA do his job,” Adams said.

Scott Wong reported from Washington, Allan Smith reported from Manhattan.

Source : NBC News