A Manhattan grand jury voted to indict Donald Trump on Thursday, according to multiple news sources — the first time a current or former U.S. president has faced criminal charges.
Last week, when Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s office was poised to issue an indictment against the former president, Trump called for Bragg’s arrest and accused him of being “racist in reverse.”
But Bragg, Manhattan’s first Black district attorney, made clear that he wasn’t backing down. In an internal memo to his staff, he said that his office “will continue to apply the law evenly and fairly.”
Over the past year, Bragg has been among three Black prosecutors at the forefront of a much wider effort to demonstrate that Trump — whose tenure as president was bound up with corrosive white identity politics — isn’t above the law.
Bragg’s office is leading a criminal probe into a hush money scheme that includes the adult film star Stormy Daniels and Trump.
As early as this spring, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, the first Black woman to serve in the role, could bring racketeering and conspiracy charges against Trump for his attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election in Georgia. And last September, following a three-year investigation, Attorney General Letitia James, the first Black woman elected to statewide office in New York, sued Trump, three of his adult children, and the Trump Organization, among others, in a civil fraud case.
Here’s a closer look at Bragg, Willis, and James — as well as their respective roles in what may well be the legal undoing of a former president.
‘We do not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office’
Bragg assumed office in January 2022, brandishing a slew of impressive legal credentials. The 49-year-old Harvard Law School graduate formerly served as the chief deputy attorney general of New York and as an assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.
Yet, almost immediately, the newly minted Manhattan DA drew criticism from Republicans and even some of his fellow Democrats over his “Day One Policies and Procedures” memo, which laid out that his office would show restraint in areas where it had traditionally sought prison sentences.
The episode demonstrated Bragg’s alignment with the so-called progressive prosecutor movement, a nationwide effort to make the criminal legal system more ethical.
The memo wasn’t surprising. Bragg grew up in Harlem — on Strivers’ Row — at the height of the crack cocaine epidemic in the 1980s and ’90s and witnessed firsthand the devastating and uneven impact of the country’s reliance on overly harsh punishment.
Bragg’s commitment to fairness and justice are on full display in the ongoing criminal probe into the hush money scheme involving Trump.
Earlier this month, the former president excoriated the district attorney over the investigation and urged his supporters to protest attempts to arrest him — to “TAKE OUR COUNTRY BACK.”
But the hostility didn’t faze Bragg.
“We do not tolerate attempts to intimidate our office or threaten the rule of law in New York,” he said in the recent memo.
Calling out ‘egregious examples of misconduct’
Letitia “Tish” James is the first woman and first Black person to serve as New York attorney general.
During James’ first term, she gained national attention for filing several lawsuits against Trump’s administration over federal policies that were implemented during his term. She touted her office’s legal battles against Trump during her announcement to run for governor in October 2021. In a February 2022 response to one of the lawsuits, the Trump family accused James of conducting prosecutorial misconduct. Eric Trump went on Twitter, where he labeled James’ work as “third world,” “embarrassing,” vicious and “blatantly unethical.”
Three months into her gubernatorial campaign, she dropped out of the race and went on to win her reelection campaign in November 2022 for attorney general. Meanwhile, James’ office continued its probe against Trump, his three adult children and the Trump Organization. As a result of that three-year investigation, James filed a $250 million civil fraud lawsuit in September 2022 that accuses the Trumps and their company of committing financial fraud for 10 years, including all four years of his term in office.
Eric Trump, one of the co-defendants, responded to the multimillion-dollar fraud lawsuit by calling James “the most corrupt attorney general in New York History and is an embarrassment to prosecutors across this country.”
With help from Trump’s family and executives with the Trump Organization, the defendants allegedly inflated Trump’s net worth by creating 200 false and misleading asset valuations to get bank loans, gain tax benefits, and commit other fraudulent financial crimes, the lawsuit alleges.
“For too long, powerful, wealthy people in this country have operated as if the rules do not apply to them. Donald Trump stands out as among the most egregious examples of this misconduct,” James said in a statement at the time of the lawsuit’s filing. “There are not two sets of laws for people in this country; we must hold former presidents to the same standards as everyday Americans.”
The lawsuit is calling for them to repay the funds and be removed from leadership at the Trump Organization, and is seeking to ban them from holding any future leadership roles in the state. The presiding judge set a trial date for Oct. 2.
James, 64, has broken other glass ceilings. In 2013, she was elected New York City’s first Black woman public advocate. In that role, she “passed more legislation than all previous public advocates combined, including a groundbreaking law that banned questions about salary history from the employment process to address the pervasive gender wage gap,” according to her online biography.
James previously served as a public defender and in the City Council, where she represented the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Prospect Heights, Fort Greene and Clinton Hill, and parts of Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant.
The prosecutor weighing racketeering and conspiracy charges
Willis, the Fulton County district attorney, is the Atlanta-based prosecutor tasked with deciding whether to indict Trump and his GOP allies for their alleged attempt to overturn the former president’s 2020 Georgia election loss to Joe Biden.
Trump loyalists have been accused of attempting to appoint “fake electors” to declare his victory in Georgia, despite Biden winning the state’s 16 electoral votes by a narrow margin more than two years ago.
Trump himself was recorded during a phone call in which he attempted to persuade Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” the estimated 11,000 votes the Republican former president needed to declare himself the winner in 2020.
Willis launched her criminal probe into Trump’s alleged election interference in February 2021. Last month, a grand jury recommended indictments against multiple people involved in the case, including charges of perjury against witnesses who testified during the investigation.
The case thrust Willis into the national spotlight during a legal career spanning nearly two decades. The 51-year-old Democrat’s father was a Black Panther who also worked as a defense attorney.
Willis followed in her dad’s legal footsteps by earning a degree from Emory University’s School of Law in 1996 after receiving her bachelor’s degree from Howard University four years earlier.
She began serving as an assistant district attorney in Fulton County in 2001 and opened her own private practice in 2018, losing a bid to become a Fulton County judge the same year.
Atlanta-based legal assistant Davida Huntley became friends with Willis after meeting her on the campaign trail in 2018. Willis spoke at Huntley’s home the same year during a gathering Huntley hosted for then-gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams.
“I would describe her as a woman of persistence, a woman of value, a woman who goes after what she wants and is willing to roll with the punches,” Huntley told Capital B during a phone interview on Monday. “I take her as a straight, no chaser individual. She does not mince words.”
Willis won an uncontested November 2020 general election race to become district attorney after defeating her former boss, former Fulton County DA Paul Howard Jr., during their Democratic Primary runoff race earlier that year.
Her victory made her the first woman ever to lead the district attorney’s office in Georgia’s most populous county.
Atlanta-based political consultant Rodney Adams has known Willis for roughly six years. He described her rise to prominence as “pretty meteoric.”
In addition to investigating Trump, Willis has gained notoriety for prosecuting Atlanta rapper Young Thug and other members of the alleged Young Slime Life gang, a case that has also earned her criticism for using hip-hop artists’ lyrics against them during the investigation.
“She’s a pretty effective prosecutor,” Adams said of Willis. “She tries to hold people to the letter of the law and is not one really to try to do a lot of overreach. … She’s trying to deal with street crime at the level that she’s at, trying to get it addressed.”
Willis’ investigation into Trump’s alleged election interference may have earned her some powerful enemies in the Republican Party. Earlier this year, GOP state lawmakers in Georgia introduced legislation that would create an oversight commission with the power to discipline local elected prosecutors or force them to retire.
Willis has characterized the measure as a “racist” attempt by Georgia Republicans to check the power of recently elected district attorneys of color like her.
She pointed out the number of minority DAs in Georgia went from five to 14 in 2020.
“I’m tired, and I’m just going to call it how I see it,” Willis told the Atlanta Journal Constitution earlier this year. “I, quite frankly, think the legislation is racist. I don’t know what other thing to call it.”
Adams said that he believes that the GOP’s proposed law is less about race than preserving control of the state as the party loses its decades-long stranglehold on statewide elected offices in Georgia.
“It’s a last ditch effort from a party of desperation that sees the writing on the wall that they’re about to be pushed out,” he said. “It’s sheer partisan. It wouldn’t matter what race or gender the prosecutors were. They would still be doing it.”
This story has been updated.
Do you have a minute? We want to hear from you about how we’re doing.