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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 took the fight to Manhattan on Monday, 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, R-Ohio, the powerful House Judiciary Committee heard from victims of violent crime as Republicans argue that Bragg has dropped the ball on keeping the public safe to focus on prosecuting Trump. Bragg's office has defended the Trump probe, and it points to new data showing crime has significantly fallen in Manhattan.

The high-profile hearing was yet another escalation in the 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 Trump, the 2024 GOP presidential front-runner.

Jordan and other House GOP committee chairs have launched their own investigations into Bragg's probe of Trump and have called on Bragg to testify before Congress, a request he rejected. Jordan has also subpoenaed former New York County Special Assistant District Attorney Mark Pomerantz, who 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.

On Monday, Jordan and Republicans hosted a congressional hearing focused on Bragg right in his backyard, at the Jacob K. Javits Federal Building.

“For outside politicians to now appear in New York City on the taxpayer dime for a political stunt is a slap in the face to the dedicated NYPD officers, prosecutors and other public servants who work tirelessly every day,” Bragg said in a statement.

Democrats, led by ranking member Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., pushed back at the hearing, calling it “a political stunt” designed to “protect Donald Trump."

Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said it was no coincidence that Republicans focused their crime hearing on New York. "Apparently, Manhattan is just lovely this time of year. What a remarkable coincidence. ... 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.”

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis, R-N.Y., told reporters she thought the hearing "would be happening regardless" of Trump, "because this is an issue that I’ve been highlighting and pressing my colleagues [about] over and over.”

Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., said part of the reason Republicans wanted to hold the hearing in Manhattan is that their constituents see reports about New York City crime on the news and ask them about it.

Bragg’s office pushed back, calling New York City “the safest big city in America” and highlighting police data that showed violent crime had dropped in the first quarter of 2023 compared with a year ago in Manhattan. Murders are down by 14%, shootings dropped by 17%, and burglaries fell by 21% in the borough, according to police.

“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. 

Witnesses downplayed the statistics, saying a feeling of unsafeness in New York permeated residents, some of them fearful of taking the city’s expansive subway system or walk its streets.

“You cannot convince us not to believe our lying eyes with your numbers because we see it with our eyes day in and day out," said Madeline Brame, the chair of the Victims Rights Reform Council, which was formed in honor of her son, who was slain in Harlem in 2018.

Brame claimed the case against the suspect in the attack on her son fell apart when Bragg took office last year and called for Congress to withhold federal funding for the DA’s office. (After the hearing, Bragg’s office noted that all four people charged in the death of Brame’s son were convicted of or pleaded guilty to felonies.)

“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, meanwhile, shouted outside the hearing room, some yelling “We love Trump” and others calling Jordan a “traitor” and an “insurrectionist.”

Jim Kessler, a co-founder and the senior vice president for policy of Third Way, a centrist Democratic think tank, noted in his opening statement that the murder rate in New York City is lower than those of Republican-led states such as Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama. 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 those of Republican-led states, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., noted that the crimes panel members highlighted were committed with knives rather than guns.

Responding to Democratic arguments that tougher gun laws across the country would limit violent crime, Barry Borgen, a committee witness and the father of the victim of an antisemitic hate crime, said: “The criminals will get guns. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California and other Democrats suggested that the witnesses were being taken advantage of and used as props. "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, the founder of Victims Rights NY, whose boyfriend was fatally stabbed outside a New Jersey club in 2005. The 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 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 him last July. Alba had claimed self-defense. After an outcry from Mayor Eric Adams and others, Bragg dropped the murder charge, NBC New York reported.

Other witnesses included Paul DiGiacomo, the president of the New York City's Detectives' Endowment Association, and Democratic City Council member Robert F. Holden, who called for Bragg to prioritize arresting and jailing more people alleged to have committed crimes.

Adams, a Democrat who has rankled some on the left with his approach to handling crime, called out the GOP for holding up gun safety laws and an appointment to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

"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 at a news conference Monday morning.

Allan Smith reported from New York City and Scott Wong reported from Washington.

CORRECTION (April 17, 2023, 9 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article misstated the name of a federal agency. It is the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, not the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.