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Prosecutor who resigned from Trump investigation slams DA for putting the case on ice

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

The former lead New York prosecutor investigating Donald Trump says he has no doubt that the former president is guilty of, quote, "numerous felonies" in New York. His remarks came in a heated resignation letter that was first reported in The New York Times. This resignation and what is in that letter casts doubt on the future of the criminal case against the former president. Joining us to sort all of this out is NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Hey, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey. Great to talk to you.

SUMMERS: You, too. All right. Tell us what just happened here.

BERNSTEIN: So this is just the latest twist in a highly unusual case. You'll remember that the former president took the Manhattan district attorney all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court twice to try to prevent him from looking at Trump's taxes. Finally, last year, the DA got the tax documents, indicted the former president's company and his CFO, and as we now know, was getting ready to indict the former president who has denied any wrongdoing and called the whole case politically motivated.

SUMMERS: But in January, a new DA took office, right? What has his approach been?

BERNSTEIN: So the new DA, Alvin Bragg, expressed skepticism about this new case, which had to do with fraudulent property values. And Bragg halted an ongoing grand jury investigation. This caused two top prosecutors to resign. One of them, Mark Pomerantz, who had prosecuted John Gotti, was brought in especially for this case. He submitted his - this resignation letter in which he said putting the grand jury probe on ice was a grave failure of justice and that he and his team had, quote, "no doubt" Trump was guilty of financial crimes. This is highly unusual, a highly unusual expression of passion for a prosecutor who was involved in a case that's still technically open.

SUMMERS: So the case is technically open, but it's not really moving forward so much right now. Is this criminal investigation really over?

BERNSTEIN: So both the Manhattan DA's office and the New York attorney general's office, which is also working on the criminal case, say no. The DA's office put out a statement saying the investigation continues. A team of experienced prosecutors is working every day to follow the facts and the law. So there may yet be charges. What we do know was that a decision was made to pull back on an investigation that was very swiftly moving to an indictment as early as this spring. And former prosecutors tell me it's not so easy to just start something up like that again.

SUMMERS: That's a pretty strikingly sharp difference in opinion there between the former and current district attorneys in Manhattan. Do you know why that is?

BERNSTEIN: So we don't understand all the permutations, but we do know this. The former Manhattan DA, Cyrus Vance Jr., had a reputation for extreme caution. It says something that he was ready to indict. His office had struggled for years to gather evidence. And because Trump's team presented so many legal hurdles, the case outlasted Vance's term in office. A number of legal experts have raised questions about why the advice of two very senior prosecutors who work for Vance would be rejected. But I've also spoken to current and former prosecutors who point out these are very hard cases to prosecute, and different DAs can make different calls.

SUMMERS: OK. So this is an investigation that has been going on since 2018. Andrea, what is next?

BERNSTEIN: Yeah, a long time. So even if there are never any charges against Trump the person, his company and his chief financial officer face serious felony charges in an ongoing alleged scheme to cheat taxpayers. So that in itself is unprecedented for a former and maybe would-be president. There is also a very advanced civil investigation in New York. The New York attorney general is bringing this case, and it looks at whether Trump's company systematically engaged in fraud over property values. That case could result in significant monetary damages, maybe even shutting down some of Trump's companies. So Trump still faces a legal reckoning in New York.

SUMMERS: That is NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.