A combination picture shows the candidates of the District Attorney of New York posing for a portrait in New York City, New York, U.S. Top row (L-R): Tahanie Aboushi, Diana Florence, and Dan Quart. Middle row (L-R): Alvin Bragg, Lucy Lang, and Tali Farhadian Weinstein. Bottom row (L-R): Liz Crotty, Eliza Orlins, and Thomas Kenniff. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
- The next Manhattan DA will take over the criminal investigation into the Trump Organization.
- Insider asked the nine candidates how they’d handle the high-profile case.
- Some criticized opponents’ perceived conflicts of interest, while others noted the risks to investigators following the January 6 Capitol riot.
Manhattanites will vote in the primary for the next Manhattan district attorney on Tuesday, almost certainly vaulting the winner into a position where they’ll oversee one of the most high-stakes investigations in the office’s history: The criminal probe into the Trump Organization.Unlike other New York City elections this year, the primary race will be decided outright rather than through a ranked-choice vote. The field is wide. Eight candidates are running on June 22 – Alvin Bragg, Tali Farhadian Weinstein, Tahanie Aboushi, Lucy Lang, Eliza Orlins, Liz Crotty, Diana Florence, and Dan Quart – and the primary winner will likely beat Thomas Kenniff, the sole Republican competitor, in the November general election. The scarce polling shows that a plurality of voters remain undecided, meaning it’s anyone’s race to win.
Insider asked all nine candidates how they’d handle the DA’s investigation into the Trump Organization’s and ex-president Donald Trump’s finances. Many of them declined to comment directly on the investigation, saying it would be unethical to speculate about an ongoing case, while some criticized opponents for perceived conflicts of interest in Trump’s case.
But all of them vowed to protect New Yorkers, keeping in mind the violence at the US Capitol on January 6.
Investigating the former president
Cyrus Vance Jr., the current Manhattan District Attorney, casts a long shadow: He has served three terms over 12 years, replacing Robert Morgenthau, who held the position for 35 years. Manhattan has one of the largest DA offices in the country and has overseen numerous high-profile cases, including Harvey Weinstein’s.
The Democratic primary candidates – all running on more progressive platforms than Vance’s – have focused mostly on local criminal justice issues in their campaigns. But there is no escaping the Trump probe.
Since 2019, prosecutors have been examining whether the Trump Organization broke state tax, insurance, or bank loans by manipulating its property values. Vance’s office recently empaneled a special grand jury which is expected to weigh bringing charges against the company, Trump himself, or executives at the Trump Organization before Vance’s retirement at the end of the year.
Virtually every candidate told Insider they would take a straight-and-narrow approach to the Trump investigation: looking at the facts and making a decision based on the evidence before them. “If the facts demonstrate that a crime has been committed, it is up to the district attorney to make a determination as to whether that crime should be prosecuted,” said Eliza Orlins, a public defender seeking to reform the district attorney’s office. “Donald Trump is no different from any other person in that way.”
Several candidates Insider interviewed pointed to their past tangles with Trump – or people like him.
Alvin Bragg pointed to his experience as a top official in the New York State Attorney General’s office, which has sued the Trump administration and Trump personally.”My approach to this case will be the same as mine to every case: follow the facts and deliver justice for New Yorkers,” Bragg said. “That’s what we did in the Attorney General’s office where I led the team that sued Trump and his administration more than 100 times, including successfully suing the Trump Foundation, removing the citizenship question from the census, and challenging the travel bans and other unlawful policies.”
Lucy Lang, a former Vance official who now lectures at Columbia Law School, criticized Vance’s decision not to bring charges in a separate Trump Organization investigation in 2012. She said she would introduce measures to insulate the office from political and personal decision-making. (Vance said he didn’t believe the evidence showed beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime had been committed.)
“The senior-most adviser to my campaign was the former assistant district attorney who handled the first investigation into the Trump Organization,” Lang said. “I know what he went through when that case was shut down – when senior staff at the office met with well-heeled defense lawyers and decided to end the investigation. That case should not have been shut down.”Candidates also emphasized their experience in handling complex financial investigations. Diana Florence, a veteran of the Manhattan DA’s office now running for the top job, emphasized she was “the only candidate in this race who has successfully taken on big real estate and construction fraud – the very same industry that Trump works in.” Liz Crotty, a former prosecutor who’s worked as a criminal defense attorney for the past ten years, said her work on cases like the Justice Department’s probes into corruption in the United Nations’ Food-for-Oil program has made her “familiar with the demands and complications of complex financial investigations.”
Attacks over perceived conflicts of interest
Several candidates have attacked Bragg and Farhadian Weinstein – the two frontrunners in the race – for what they say are conflicts of interest.
Bragg frequently talks about his work for the New York State Attorney General’s office suing the Trump administration. Tali Farhadian Weinstein, the best-funded candidate in the race (her husband is hedge fund billionaire Boaz Weinstein), occasionally mentions her involvement in a lawsuit that successfully fought Trump-era practices at US Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Farhadian Weinstein was also floated as a potential federal judge during the Trump administration, although she ultimately was not nominated. She’d applied for the position during the Obama administration.
Lucy Lang said Bragg’s comments on his former office’s wrangles with the Trumps “calls his objectivity into question and would undermine his ability to oversee the ongoing investigation.”
Tahanie Aboushi, the Bernie Sanders-endorsed candidate in the race, has criticized Farhadian Weinstein for her ties to “New York’s wealthy elite” and said she couldn’t be trusted to prosecute wealthy people like Trump. Lang and Dan Quart, a New York state assemblyman and experienced pro-bono lawyer in the race, also criticized Farhadian Weinstein for her perceived closeness to the Trump administration.
In a statement to Insider, Farhadian Weinstein, who worked as a Justice Department lawyer for Obama-era Attorney General Eric Holder, and has been endorsed by both Holder and Hillary Clinton, said her experience has insulated her from undue influence. “My life trajectory has left me unintimidated by people with power and money,” Farhadian Weinstein said. “As has been true throughout my long career in law enforcement, I will take on this job without fear or favor.”
Farhadian Weinstein said it would be improper to discuss how to handle the Trump investigation while the case is still open.
“That is the only ethical approach for matters the next DA will inherit,” she said. “But I have been clear that I intend to prosecute vigorously those who have cheated and stolen from New Yorkers regardless of power or status.”
Kenniff, the Republican candidate and a former Westchester County prosecutor, said he had no ties to the Trumps or the Republican Party outside the Manhattan GOP.
“I have no affiliation with Donald Trump, the Trump Organization, or any of their associates,” he said. “I have fundraised exclusively from small grassroots donors, and have received no money from any Republican groups at either the local, state, or national level. My candidacy is about ensuring the safety of New York City and the fairness and integrity of the criminal justice system here; nothing more, and nothing less.”
The specter of January 6
Throughout the DA’s investigation, Trump has followed the same playbook he has with every other legal challenge: attack his enemy as politically-motivated liars.Given the deadly insurrection at the US Capitol on January 6, a court hearing involving Trump would be a risky affair. Officials in New York and Atlanta, where Trump is under investigation for potential election law crimes, have said that local law enforcement is prepared to handle whatever chaos might come from Trump supporters if the former president is forced to show up in court.
“The insurrection on January 6th was a direct attack on the very fabric of our democracy. As the next Manhattan District Attorney, my message is clear – we will not let fear triumph over the fair pursuit of justice,” Lang said. “Any threats against the office will be treated seriously, and dealt with immediately in partnership with local and federal authorities.”
Most candidates said they wouldn’t be intimidated by Trump’s verbal attacks on the DA’s office, and would take the threat of any physical attacks seriously.”
I always have concerns about the security of prosecutors, police officers, and everyday residents of Manhattan,” Crotty told Insider. “Threats to DA personnel would be taken extremely seriously and acted upon accordingly, no matter what the source of those threats are.”
Bragg said that partisan attacks from Trump were to be expected and that he would draw on his experience from the New York Attorney General’s office.”
That is what Trump does, and that’s what he did when our team in the Attorney General’s office sued him and his administration,” Bragg said. “Our job is to do the right thing, for the right reasons, in the right way. That’s what I did when I prosecuted politicians of both political parties, when I prosecuted an FBI agent for lying, and when we did the Trump cases.”