FILE- Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg speaks at a press conference after the arraignment of former president Donald Trump in New York on Tuesday, April 4, 2023. Republicans upset with Donald Trump’s indictment are escalating their war on the prosecutor who charged him, trying to embarrass him on his home turf. The House Judiciary Committee is holding a field hearing Monday, April 17, near the offices of Bragg. The committee’s Republican majority is billing it as an examination of the Democrat’s “pro-crime, anti-victim” policies. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)BY MICHAEL R. SISAK
NEW YORK (AP) — Republicans upset with Donald Trump’s indictment are escalating their war on the prosecutor who charged him, trying to embarrass him on his home turf partly by falsely portraying New York City as a place overrun by crime.
The House Judiciary Committee, led by U.S. Rep. Jim Jordan, an Ohio Republican, is holding a field hearing Monday near the offices of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
The committee’s Republican majority is billing it as an examination of the Democrat’s “pro-crime, anti-victim” policies. One committee member, U.S. Rep. Andy Biggs, an Arizona Republican, tweeted that Bragg has “turned NYC into a wasteland,” and that “lawlessness is completely out of control.”
Democrats say the hearing is a partisan stunt aimed at amplifying conservative anger at Bragg, Manhattan’s first Black district attorney.
New York City officials have urged Jordan to cancel the hearing. C-SPAN has declined to air it on TV.
“This is simply an in-kind donation or contribution to the Trump campaign,” Mayor Eric Adams, a Democrat and former police captain told CNN Friday. “This is really a charade and it’s just unfortunate, during a time like this, they will use taxpayers dollars to host this charade.”
Monday’s hearing is the latest salvo in Jordan’s weekslong effort to use his congressional powers to defend Trump from what he says is a politically motivated prosecution.
Jordan has sent letters to Bragg demanding testimony and documents, claiming his office is subject to congressional scrutiny because it gets federal grants. He subpoenaed a former prosecutor, Mark Pomerantz, who previously oversaw the Trump investigation.
Bragg sued Jordan last week to try to block the subpoena, calling it a “brazen and unconstitutional attack” and a “transparent campaign to intimidate” him over the Trump case. A federal judge scheduled an initial hearing for Wednesday.
Monday brings a House hearing designed to pump up the argument that Bragg is so focused on Trump, he is letting street crime flourish.
Attacking New York City, and its mostly Democratic leaders, over crime is an old trick for politicians who represent rural and suburban districts. It is a punch that can still land with some audiences, though in reality the city’s violent crime rate remains substantially below the U.S. average.
In 2022, Bragg’s first year in office, there were 78 homicides in Manhattan, a borough of 1.6 million people. That was a drop of 15 percent from the year before. By comparison, Palm Beach County, Florida, where Trump is one of about 1.5 million residents, had 96 killings.
“People hear New York and they think crime, and that’s because they’ve been trained to think that way,” said Dr. Jeffrey Butts, the director of the Research & Evaluation Center at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. “It’s not real. It’s just the stories that people tell.”
“If you’re living in some predominantly small, white county in Iowa, you hear New York and you just imagine all the scary movies and TV shows you’ve seen,” Butts said. “I think that’s what Congress is playing off of.”
For Bragg, scrutiny from Republicans — and even some Democrats — is nothing new.
A Harvard-educated, former federal prosecutor, chief deputy state attorney general and civil rights lawyer, Bragg won an eight-way Democratic party primary and then soared to victory with 83% of the general election vote.
Soon after taking office, Bragg authored an internal memo that, among other things, said his office would not prosecute certain low-level misdemeanors.
That set up some early clashes with the New York Police Department leadership and also got the attention of Republicans outside the city, who quickly made Bragg a poster child for Democratic permissiveness.
Republican Lee Zeldin, then representing eastern Long Island in Congress, made Bragg a focal point of his campaign for governor, repeatedly promising to remove the independently elected prosecutor from office.
Zeldin lost, but his rhetoric about crime resonated in the suburbs, helping Republicans defeat Democrats in a number of key New York seats.
New York, in fact, wasn’t immune from the nationwide spike in crime that took place during the COVID-19 pandemic. Most categories of crime in the city are still above 2019 levels. Several types of crime, including burglaries, car thefts and assaults, rose in Manhattan during Bragg’s first year in office, though they have been falling again this year.
Despite focusing on Bragg, the House Judiciary Committee has not invited him to testify, nor is anyone from his office expected to participate. Instead, the committee is planning to hear from at least six witnesses.
Among them: Jose Alba, a former convenience store clerk arrested after he stabbed an attacker to death in his shop. Bragg’s office dropped the charges but critics say he should have dismissed them sooner; Madeline Brame, who blames Bragg for seeking long prison sentences only for two of the four people involved in her son’s killing; and Jennifer Harrison, a victim advocate whose boyfriend was killed in New Jersey in 2005 — outside Bragg’s jurisdiction and long before he took office.
Bragg’s campaign sent an email to supporters Friday deriding the hearing as a “politically motivated sham.” U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the committee’s ranking Democrat, told the news outlet Gothamist the hearing is “an attack on our system of justice.”
On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., called the planned hearing “a circus if there ever was one.”
Since taking power in the House, Republicans have launched a sweeping oversight agenda delving into the far reaches of President Joe Biden’s administration, his family and the workings of the federal government.
While conducting oversight is a key function of Congress, the House GOP’s wide-ranging probes have often delivered more sizzle than substance. Long on allegations, committees led by Jordan and others have been slow to produce findings that resonate and sometimes have diverged into conspiracy theories.
Associated Press reporters David B. Caruso in New York and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.
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