It’s Jim Crow Alabama. In an old plantation town, a young black man—a sharecropper’s son—wants change. He walks up great steps of the county courthouse to dead silence. Proudly he marches under the glare of a puff-chested man chewing on a piece of straw. Stoically, that young man arrives at the counter of the county clerk, and there drops his petition to make it official: He’s to run for mayor.
The straw-chewing man, the town’s current mayor—with thumbs hooked into his silver-plated belt and a hard face shadowed by a cowboy hat—resolves to stop him. So he calls central casting for an evil Southern sheriff.
The sheriff, staked out in his cruiser and blocking his bloodshot eyes with black aviators, spies the new candidate as he pulls out his Oldsmobile from the courthouse lot onto the town’s main line. The sheriff pulls up behind him, hits his lights, and pulls him over.
“Well, well,” says the Sheriff, sauntering around the car. “What’s this? The air pressure on this here tire looks low. My, my. That’s a shame,” he gleefully drawls. “County laws, ya see, say you gotta be free from all misdemeanors and vi-o-lations before our ol’ clerk there can certify that little petition ’a yours.”
“But,” he mockingly sighs, “I’m gonna have to write you up for this here low tire pressure. That’s an un-safe condition. Violation of the ve-hic-il code.”
No one today would have a difficult time understanding the injustice of this scene. Yes, a law is a law but even if the vehicle code, in fact, had been violated, all would understand the real “crime” that would have been prosecuted in this instance. But as it was for the black man in the South, so too it is for President Trump in Manhattan today: the law prohibits targeting a man for state action, including and especially criminal prosecution, just because of his politics.
Once the sheriff in our scenario above set his sights on the black man for the sole reason that the man decided to run for office, a civil right for anybody, the sheriff formed a criminal intent. Once he pulled up behind that man and flipped on his lightbar, he committed a criminal act.
So, too, for Alvin Bragg. For Bragg, the Manhattan district attorney, the act is clear: By indicting President Trump, he has breached a political tradition that survived even through the Civil War, of sparing former presidents criminal prosecution by their political rivals. As for Bragg’s intent, the evidence stacks up beyond a reasonable doubt.
Alvin Bragg campaigned on the promise to prosecute President Trump. He did not campaign on stanching spiking crime in his jurisdiction. He did not campaign on equal justice for all. He campaigned on enforcing the law—some law, any law—against Trump.
Bragg did not name the law Trump violated. He did not explain the reasons Trump should be targeted. During the primary, a radio host began an interview with Bragg with one question: “are [you] going to convict Donald Trump?” “That is the number one issue,” he answered. Though Bragg admitted that he had not “seen all the facts,” he yet insisted “we have to hold him [to] account.”
One who had “seen all the facts” was Bragg’s presumptive opponent, Cy Vance, the incumbent district attorney. Vance declined to prosecute Trump, and that’s why, Bragg said, he decided to run to replace him.
Quite aware of the law against political persecution, Bragg said that he had to choose his words carefully. If he showed too much bias, he said, a court could order him recused from a case against Trump. And then, Bragg went right back to promising to prosecute Trump. He listed all the times he sued Trump, as if each case was a mantel trophy. “There’s a path forward . . . to make a [criminal] case,” he promised.
What case, exactly? For what? That was beside the point. He’s a “rich old white man,” Bragg said.
Even mob bosses get the privilege of prosecutors who at least pretend to follow the crime to the man. Bragg had no clue as to the supposed crime but a clear obsession with the man. He promised to follow the man to the crime—any crime. That’s wrong, plain and simple.
It matters not whether Bragg gets lucky in his quest and actually finds a crime—and he probably has not in President Trump’s case—anymore than it matters whether our sharecropper’s son running for mayor really did violate the vehicle code. It’s illegal retaliation either way.
One is allowed to enjoy constitutional rights in America without the state making you a target. That’s why we passed federal laws to put agents of the state who engage in such behavior in federal prison—which is where Alvin Bragg belongs if a jury of his peers should find him guilty of harboring illegal intent in his prosecution of Trump. If he is dedicating enormous sums of his office’s money and man hours all to retaliate against one man because that man is white and decided to run for president, he is guilty of a crime.
Bragg had his office look into one charge against Trump and then, when his prosecutors told him that it wouldn’t work, had them look into another. And when his prosecutors told him that that wouldn’t work either, he had them look again into the first one. Over and over, he had his prosecutors brainstorm with Trump’s enemy, the disgraced ex-lawyer and felon Michael Cohen, in what likely exceeded over a dozen meetings—all to cook up a case against Trump. If a jury finds Bragg would have dismissed the case had Trump advanced different politics or been another race, then Bragg committed a crime and belongs in prison.
As Nancy Pelosi tweeted about President Trump after news broke of his indictment, Bragg would have the opportunity to “prove his innocence” after his. But in Bragg’s case, no one would need to look very hard for why he would be facing the jury. At high noon and in the middle of Fifth Avenue, it seems Alvin Bragg conspired to violate President Trump’s civil rights. He should not get away with it.