Washington, DC – The New York prosecutor overseeing charges against former United States President Donald Trump has hit back against top Republican legislators, calling their accusations that the case is politically motivated “baseless and inflammatory”.
In a letter addressed to the heads of powerful House of Representatives panels on Friday, Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg dismissed the lawmakers’ request for documents from the state’s Trump investigation.
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Bragg, an elected Democrat, reiterated that Congress has no right to interfere in a local prosecution.
“Like any other defendant, Mr Trump is entitled to challenge these charges in court and avail himself of all processes and protections that New York State’s robust criminal procedure affords,” said the letter, signed by Leslie Dubeck, the district attorney’s general counsel.
“What neither Mr Trump nor Congress may do is interfere with the ordinary course of proceedings in New York State.”
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was seen leaving his office after the historic decision to indict Donald Trump.
Bragg has led the investigation into hush-money paid to an adult film star, which led to a grand jury voting to charge the former US president 👇 pic.twitter.com/FHYqB3udzd
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) March 31, 2023
The letter came less than 24 hours after a grand jury voted to indict Trump, in relation to a hush-money payment made by his former personal lawyer to adult film actress Stormy Daniels ahead of the 2016 presidential election. The exact charges remain unclear.
It is the latest response in a back-and-forth exchange between Bragg’s office and the Republican chairs of the House judiciary, oversight and administration committees.
The senior Republicans first sent a letter to Bragg’s office on March 20 – days after Trump, who is seeking the presidency again in 2024, said he expected to be arrested in the New York probe.
At that time, they demanded the district attorney testify about what they called a “politically motivated prosecutorial decision” and also requested internal documents relating to the investigation.
Bragg responded by asserting that their requests constituted an “unlawful incursion into New York’s sovereignty”. In the US federal system, states are responsible for policing and running their own judicial systems.
The Republican lawmakers wrote to Bragg again last week, arguing that “the potential criminal indictment of a former President of the United States by an elected local prosecutor of the opposing political party (and who will face the prospect of re-election) implicates substantial federal interests”.
On Friday, Bragg’s office called the Republican legislators’ focus on the Trump case “an improper and dangerous usurpation of the executive and judicial functions”.
Trump’s indictment marked the first time a former president has been criminally charged. It sparked an avalanche of criticism by Republicans, who accused Bragg of interfering in the 2024 elections.
Many of Trump’s potential presidential primary rivals also came to his defence and slammed the New York prosecutor.
“The weaponization of the legal system to advance a political agenda turns the rule of law on its head,” Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who is expected to announce a presidential bid, said in a social media post. “It is un-American.”
Republican House Speaker Kevin McCarthy also accused Bragg of weaponising the “sacred system of justice” against the former president, while GOP Congressman Clay Higgins said in a tweet: “Bragg is a political pawn in a game he’s too stupid to comprehend. He’s a peon, a fat zero.”
Friday’s letter also offered Bragg a chance to defend the indictment, which has not been made public.
“The charges filed yesterday were brought by citizens of New York, doing their civic duty as members of a grand jury, who found probable cause to accuse Mr Trump of having committed crimes in New York,” it said.
Grand juries, which approve indictments, consist of randomly selected citizens.
Bragg’s office also rebuked the Republican House panel chairs for failing to denounce Trump’s attacks on the justice system, noting that the former president warned last week of potential “death and destruction” if he is charged.
“Instead, you and many of your colleagues have chosen to collaborate with Mr Trump’s efforts to vilify and denigrate the integrity of elected state prosecutors and trial judges and made unfounded allegations that the Office’s investigation, conducted via an independent grand jury of average citizens serving New York State, is politically motivated,” the letter said.
Trump is expected to be arraigned next week, when he will be processed into the criminal justice system and appear in court to be formally presented with the charges.
US law does not bar people facing criminal charges from running for president, so Trump is likely to push forward with his 2024 campaign.