What Manhattan’s D.A. Candidates Say About The Trump Investigation

Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s announcement Friday that he wouldn’t seek reelection left eight Democratic candidates vying for the office. Vance’s decision spurred questions about what would happen to his office’s investigation into Trump after he left. (For details, read my Intelligencer story here.) Prior to Vance’s announcement, I asked each of the candidates how they would handle an investigation into Trump if elected D.A. I also asked whether they had experience investigating and prosecuting finance and corruption crimes, as well as similar questions. I reached out through their reps.

None of the Manhattan D.A. candidates said whether or not they would pursue a case against Trump, but this is to be expected: It would be inappropriate for a would-be prosecutor to say who they’d go after before they’ve reviewed the info. Showing their hands now could jeopardize any possible case, attorneys I’ve spoken with said.

Here’s what the D.A. hopefuls had to say about the Trump probe:

Tahanie Aboushi (answers forwarded by rep via email) 

On approaching Trump investigations, Aboushi said: “I will inherit many cases from the incumbent and my approach to any case—whether it's high-profile or not—will be the same across the board because I am not running for DA to try a particular case.” Aboushi said she’s  “running to change a system that has historically made people of color the face of crime while enabling the rich and powerful to run this city with impunity. As DA, I will bring about transformational change by being free from influence and focused on justice.”  Aboushi, a civil rights lawyer, responded to the question about prosecutorial experience by saying: “I have been a civil rights attorney for over 10 years in this city and during that time I have gone up against many big-city agencies, including the NYPD and NYFD.” 

Alvin Bragg (statement from rep via email)

“Alvin will set up a dedicated team of top prosecutors to continue ongoing cases and evaluate new ones. His rule has always been to do the right thing, for the right reasons, in the right way. And as he’s done throughout his career, he will follow the facts, and not shy away from a case no matter the status or power of the person being charged,” a rep for Bragg said in response to the question about continuing the investigation. Bragg, who most recently worked as chief deputy attorney general in the New York Attorney General’ office and prior to that, a federal prosecutor in Manhattan, said he helmed cases against Trump and his business interests. Among them: a lawsuit against Trump’s foundation that resulted in a $2 million judgement, which stemmed from claims that he used the charity’s money for political purposes.

Liz Crotty (via phone)

“I think that the answer is standard amongst all of us in that we cant discuss a case, a pending investigation, where we don’t have the facts. … If there is an indictment, if a grand jury votes na indictment, it doesn’t change bc of who the D.A. is, in general terms,” Crotty said. “If they have a voted indictment where there’s reasonable cause to believe a crime was committed,you would continue with any indictment. It’s not like because the D.A. changes, [an] indictment goes away.” Pressed further on this, Crotty said:  You can’t conjecture about a case like this, about a hypothetical about what you would do or wouldn’t do... I would have to look at all facts before I made a decision about anything.” Crotty, who worked in the Manhattan D.A.’s office from 2000 to 2006 and then opened a criminal law firm several years later, pointed to her work there when asked about past handling of financial crimes, including the oil-for-food case

Tali Farhadian Weinstein (answers forwarded by rep via email) 

“If you hurt the people of New York by cheating and stealing, you should be held to account no matter who you are or what power you may have. Under my watch, prosecutors will do what I always have, which is to follow the evidence wherever it takes them. We don’t know where the evidence will take us here, of course, because we have not seen it,” Farhadian Weinstein said of approaching Trump investigations. The candidate pointed to her past work as a federal prosecutor when asked about experience, saying she conducted “complex investigations and prosecution of corruption and financial crimes, as well as violent crimes.” She claimed to be “the only candidate who has worked across American legal institutions -- from the Supreme Court to the Office of the Attorney General at the Department of Justice to federal prosecution and local prosecution -- and that puts me in a unique position to take on an investigation that may well present unprecedented challenges.” 

Diana Florence (via phone) 

The candidate, a prosecutor in the office for more than 25 years, most recently helming the Construction Fraud Task Force, said she was “the only person, the only candidate in this race, who has taken on big real estate and construction fraud—the very same industry that Trump works in.” Florence said she’d redirect resources to focus on “crimes of power” and corruption, ranging from tax fraud to human trafficking. When she worked under the late Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau, “we were the gold standard for prosecuting white collar fraud, and I learned my chops from the finest lawyers under Morgenthau— and that’s what I want to restore the office to.”   “It means redirecting our resources to crimes of power,” said Florence, who resigned the D.A.’s office in January 2020 amid claims she withheld evidence. “The majority of the lawyers in the office are focused on low-level crimes of poverty. That’s not only an unfair system but it allows this corruption and fraud to reign. She said there would be harsher tactics that fines and civil action for corruption. “Criminal enforcement is game-changing.” 

Lucy Lang (answers forwarded by rep via email) 

“It would be inappropriate for any candidate for Manhattan district attorney to make commitments about any specific case before the office. As the next Manhattan District Attorney, I will ensure that the powerful and well connected are held to the same standard of justice as every New Yorker. No one is above the law,” Lang said in response to the question about approaching a Trump investigation. Lang, who worked as a prosecutor in Manhattan, said she’d handled complex criminal cases. She pointed to a “years-long” investigation into murder, financial crime and narcotics which, she said, “reclaimed an entire block in East Harlem for local residents.”  Lang pointed to her past work in explaining how she’d provide a smooth transition to continuing possible Trump-related investigations. “For an investigation of this magnitude—no matter who is under investigation—the most important qualities the next Manhattan DA can bring are a full understanding of New York criminal law and procedure, Manhattan criminal courts and experience building and managing complex investigations.”

Eliza Orlins (answers forwarded by rep via email) 

“As a public defender, I’ve seen firsthand how our rigged criminal legal system protects the wealthy and powerful at the expense of everyone else. That’s why as DA, I will implement a Decline to Prosecute policy that will free up resources for investigations of those who have always benefited from their own system of justice. This includes Donald Trump,” Orlins said in an email. Orlins criticized Vance as a “career prosecutor who let Donald Trump and his friends off the hook again and again. Why would we want someone with that same experience to take over the role?” saying that “the only person we can trust to prosecute people like Trump is someone with courage, motivated not by their friendships with the powerful, but by helping the people of New York City. That’s the experience I will bring to this role.” She said “it would be irresponsible for me to say with certainty how I would or would not prosecute any case before seeing the evidence, I will most certainly continue these investigations. Unlike our current DA, if Donald Trump has broken the law, I will prosecute him."

Dan Quart (answers forwarded by rep via email)

The state Assemblyman, when asked about continuing Trump-related investigations, said “his most dangerous actions related to undermining the rule of law and the ability of prosecutors to do their jobs free of bias and prejudgement. We must not follow his example.”  “As District Attorney, I will evaluate any and all ongoing cases and prosecutions when I take office. It would be my responsibility as the next Manhattan DA to ensure that all investigations and prosecutions have sufficient resources including investigators and ADAs to properly address that case,” Quart said. He recognized that he’d been publicly critical of Trump, but that it was “separate and distinct from how I would approach this case as District Attorney. As DA, I will judge each case based on the facts and if there is evidence a serious crime has been committed, I will prosecute it. That is true for the President as much as it’s true for anyone else.” Asked about his experience with financial crime cases, Quart said he had two decades of experience “on all sorts of cases, including complex commercial litigation, financial litigation, and appellate work and I know how to prosecute these effectively.”