Who is Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg? Prosecutor has battled Donald Trump in court before

Federal prosecutors and former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. considered charging Donald Trump for covering up hush-money payments and both declined, but Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg was undeterred.

Last year, he became the first prosecutor to secure a criminal indictment against a former president and on Monday the world's attention will turn to Bragg as Trump's trial on 34 counts of falsifying business records begins.

"The core is not money for sex," Bragg said in a radio interview in December. "We would say it's about conspiring to corrupt a presidential election and then lying in New York business records to cover it up."

Trump has responded with personal invective, calling Bragg a “thug” and a “degenerate psychopath” who “hates the USA!”

A review of Bragg's past work, however, shows a career with state and federal law enforcement and an interest in civil rights.

What is Alvin Bragg's background?

After growing up in Harlem, Bragg earned his undergraduate and law degrees from Harvard University and became an assistant state attorney general and an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

Between government jobs, he taught law and was co-director of the Racial Justice Project at New York Law School. Bragg also represented the mother and sister of Eric Garner in seeking information about his death during an arrest by New York City police in 2014.

When he took office Jan. 1, 2022, Bragg became Manhattan’s first Black district attorney.

Bragg won convictions of Trump companies, former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg

In 2022, Bragg's office won convictions against two parts of the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer. Allen Weisselberg was sentenced to five months in prison after pleading guilty to 15 charges in a scheme to avoid taxes. Two Trump corporations were fined a combined $1.6 million for convictions of 17 felonies.

Bragg said company officials “have to play by the rules” and that Weisselberg used his position to get lavish perks such as a rent-free Manhattan apartment, multiple Mercedes Benz cars and private school tuition for his grandchildren – “all without paying required taxes.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James won a massive civil judgment this year against Trump for fraudulently inflating his assets on loan applications. Based on Weisselberg’s testimony in James’ civil suit against Trump, Bragg just won a perjury conviction against Weisselberg, who was sentenced Wednesday to another five months in jail.

Before Bragg became district attorney, Trump pardoned political strategist Steve Bannon for federal charges related to the not-for-profit We Build The Wall Inc., which was charged with alleged money laundering and conspiracy in a scheme that raised millions of dollars. But Bragg and James announced a six-count indictment against Bannon and the group. The New York trial is scheduled in May.

Bragg has said he sued Trump more than 100 times when he worked in the state Attorney General's office, including successfully targeting the Trump Foundation for misuse of charitable funds for personal and political purposes.

Other prosecutors declined to filed hush-money charges against Trump

Vance, Bragg’s predecessor as Manhattan district attorney, initiated the case over payments in the runup to the 2016 election buying the silence of women who said they had affairs with Trump, which Bragg completed. But Vance didn’t file charges in the hush-money investigation before leaving office in late 2021. Trump has argued on social media there was no crime and that Vance “looked at it, took a pass.”

Justice Department investigators ended their investigation into the hush-money payments in July 2019 after convicting Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen. Cohen pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation because the payments he arranged to silence the women in the weeks before the 2016 election could have affected the results. But Trump wasn’t charged.

Bragg unveiled the charges against Trump in March 2023 by saying Manhattan is the country’s most significant business market and fraud wouldn’t be tolerated. Bragg alleged that Trump “repeatedly and fraudulently falsified New York business records to conceal crimes that hid damaging information from the voting public during the 2016 presidential election.”

“We cannot allow New York businesses to manipulate their records to cover up criminal conduct,” Bragg said

Judge Juan Merchan has issued a gag order to block Trump from commenting on Bragg or the judge if the messages are intended to influence the trial.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who is Alvin Bragg? Meet the Manhattan DA and Trump foe