As a New York grand jury investigating Donald Trump appears poised to expire, questions have emerged about what could now happen to the high-profile criminal inquiry into the former US president.
The six-month special grand jury, which started under former Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr in late 2021, and continued under the current DA, Alvin Bragg, reportedly investigated discrepancies in the Trump family’s valuation of real estate.
Recent developments overwhelmingly suggest that the investigation will conclude without any criminal charges against Trump. The two top prosecutors helming this inquiry, Mark Pomerantz and Carey Dunne, abruptly quit in February, indicating discord between investigators and Bragg.
The New York Times published Pomerantz’s resignation letter in March, in which he wrote that Vance had “directed the team to present evidence to a grand jury and to seek an indictment of Mr Trump and other defendants as soon as reasonably possible”.
But Bragg, who took office in January, reportedly assessed their case and disagreed.
Despite these reports, Bragg has insisted that the investigation continues. “As anyone who has worked on criminal cases in New York knows, New York county has grand juries sitting all the time,” Bragg said in a prior statement. “There is no magic at all to any previously reported dates.”
But several veteran attorneys said they do not think the investigation will result in any charges despite these pronouncements. Some said that they weren’t all that surprised, given the turbulent developments of late around the investigation.
“Nothing was going to happen, because why else would the prosecutors who were running the case leave?” Neama Rahmani, president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told the Guardian. “I think the resignations speak volumes.”
Rahami said that the nature of grand juries often actually favors the prosecution. Only a majority of grand jurors need to vote in favor of an indictment, not the whole panel. More, the standard for returning an indictment is not all that high, just “legally sufficient evidence of a crime and whether there is reasonable cause to believe that the accused person committed that crime”. So, if prosecutors want an indictment, they can almost always get one.
“When you present evidence for the grand jury, it’s a completely one-sided affair,” Rahami said. “If you want to get the indictment and you want to win, you’ll get it.”
Rebecca Roiphe, a former prosecutor in the Manhattan district attorney’s office who is now a professor at New York Law School, said that the resignations of Pomerantz and Dunne revealed “some kind of disagreement about the strength of the case”. The seasoned prosecutors might have believed that they had enough for an indictment, and Bragg might have disagreed.
“Prosecutors look at evidence and sometimes come to different conclusions about the strength of the case, the wisdom of going forward, and how to exercise their discretion,” Roiphe said. “So it looks like that’s what happened.”
Bragg’s prior insistence that the investigation continues also raises questions. “It seemed unlikely to me that he really thought, at that point, that he was going to find something new.
“It’s not the kind of case where you’re flipping witnesses, so what would he have expected to find that Pomerantz and Carey Dunne hadn’t already found? It just seems like there wasn’t anything,” Roiphe said.
“I think it’s dead. There has been no activity that I’ve heard of, from the grand jury, in quite a long time,” a source familiar with the case told the Guardian.
The source said that one witness who had testified before the grand jury had not been contacted by the district attorney in months. The New York Times previously reported that a minimum of three key witnesses either hadn’t heard from prosecutors, or asked to testify.
The source said prosecutors might have made a strategic error in how they pursued charges against the Trump Organization’s former financial chief, Allen Weisselberg. “I think that the problem with the case is that it was brought for the purpose of trying to convince Weisselberg to become a witness against Donald Trump or one of his children. That was a gamble, and it didn’t work,” the source said. “Now, they’re stuck with going to trial in this case, which takes a lot of time, a lot of effort.”
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, appeared to corroborate that prosecutors had not contacted some key potential witnesses. “I have never met with or spoken with DA Alvin Bragg which surprised me, as I had met with and spoken with former DA Cyrus Vance a dozen times,” Cohen told the Guardian.
Daniel R Alonso, a former chief assistant district attorney in Manhattan who’s now a partner at Buckley LLP’s New York office, says that despite Bragg’s insistence that the investigation continues, it does not appear that an indictment will emerge.
“The DA says the investigation is continuing. He’s been very clear about that, so I have no basis on which to say he’s not telling the truth,” Alonso said. “That said, it strikes me as an unlikely prospect that they will be filing an indictment against Trump for the facts that everyone has been reading about over the last few months.”
While the New York City criminal investigation into Trump appears to be on the decline, the state attorney general’s civil inquiry remains ongoing; that investigation also focuses on real estate valuations. Trump’s attorney did not respond to a request for comment.