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There’s an old saying in the law: When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. When neither is on your side, pound the table.
Yesterday the House Judiciary Committee pounded the table. It held a field hearing in New York City to discuss crime rates. It was a circus, of course (no elephant puns, I promise). But it was deadly serious, too — an attempt to mess with the district attorney who brought felony charges against former President Donald Trump. Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-OH) isn’t trying to protect against rising crime — he’s seeking to protect someone accused of committing multiple crimes.
Victims of crime testified. To be clear: we should respect those who have lost loved ones to violence. My family lost a close friend to gun violence nearly a decade ago, and the pain lives on. But the most effective way to help victims of crime is to have fewer victims — to keep crime low.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg won office in 2021 vowing that “public safety and fairness go together.” In fact, after rising during the first months of the pandemic before he took office, violent crime is dropping in Manhattan. Since he started the job in January 2022, shootings in Manhattan have declined by double digits. Manhattan homicides are down by 15 percent, falling faster than the homicide counts in the five boroughs of New York as a whole.
Bragg has taken grief for some of his reform policies, and the New York Post and political foes curse his name regularly. Trump called him an “animal,” a not-exactly-subtle racist taunt against the first Black district attorney in that legendary office. But as my colleagues (and former New York prosecutors) L.B. Eisen and Ames Grawert point out in the New York Daily News, Manhattan has the sixth-lowest murder rate among the 50 largest municipalities in the United States. The murder rate in Columbus, Ohio — a much shorter trip from Jordan’s district than New York City — is three times higher than that of Gotham. In 2020, the property crime rate in the city of Pensacola, Florida, within the district of Jordan’s fellow Trump enthusiast Rep. Matt Gaetz (R), was two times higher than New York’s. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy’s hometown of Bakersfield, California, had double the murder rate of New York in 2020.
If the hearing was not an earnest attempt to plumb the causes of crime in the nation’s safest big city, what was it?
Jordan’s stunt is part of a broader move to meddle in Bragg’s investigation. Even before the indictment, House Republicans threatened to withhold federal funding and subpoena confidential records from Bragg. The lawmakers have demanded a series of internal documents that Congress should not access during a pending criminal prosecution.
This intrusion departs from any recognizable form of congressional oversight, as my colleague Martha Kinsella explains. According to Supreme Court jurisprudence, a congressional subpoena must have a valid federal legislative purpose that is adequately identified. Personal aggrandizement is not a valid legislative purpose. (This is a principle established during the dark days of the House Un-American Activities Committee and Sen. Joe McCarthy, when demagogues commandeered Congress’s investigative machinery to punish political opponents and cow dissidents.) Above all, attempts to usurp the appropriate role of law enforcement violate the separation of powers. When Congress meddles in prosecutions at the state or local level, it also violates principles of federalism.
In any case, this stunt will soon be forgotten. The civil trial for alleged rape brought by E. Jean Carroll against Trump starts soon. A grand jury in Fulton County, Georgia, will likely bring charges in May for Trump’s effort to undo the results of the 2020 election. Even the classified document probe seems to be heating up, with Trump’s lawyer recusing himself from the case, a sign he may be called as a witness in a criminal trial of his client.
Out of office and stripped of his claims of immunity, Trump is an ordinary citizen. He will have to face the legal system in New York.
Based on all this, Donald Trump is a one-man crime wave. Perhaps the next hearing can examine what happens if he is held to account.