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Fact check: Trump’s false and unsubstantiated claims about his Manhattan criminal case

By Daniel Dale, CNN

Washington (CNN) — Former President Donald Trump has repeatedly made false and unsubstantiated claims while denouncing the Manhattan criminal case against him over his alleged falsification of business records related to a hush money scheme executed during the 2016 presidential election.

With Trump’s trial scheduled to start Monday, here is a fact check of some of Trump’s remarks.

Trump’s baseless claims that Biden is secretly running the case

Trump has repeatedly claimed that the Manhattan case has been secretly orchestrated by President Joe Biden, Biden’s White House or the Biden-era federal Justice Department. As supposed evidence, Trump has cited the fact that Matthew Colangelo, who had served as a senior Justice Department official under Biden, left the department in 2022 for a job in the office of the Manhattan district attorney who is prosecuting the case, Alvin Bragg.

For example, Trump said in February: “What it is, is election interference. It’s being run by Joe Biden’s White House. His top person was placed here in order to make sure everything goes right.” He continued, “His top person, Colangelo, and some others have been placed into the DA’s office to make sure they do a good job of election interference.” Trump claimed in a social media post in March that unspecified Biden “Thugs” sent Colangelo to the district attorney’s office to “oversee” Bragg, “perhaps to make sure that Bragg followed their illegal orders and commands.” In a social media post on Wednesday, Trump wrote, “BIDEN’S DOJ IS RUNNING THE CASE.”

Facts First: There is no basis for Trump’s claims. First, there is no evidence that Biden, his White House or his Justice Department has had any role in launching or running Bragg’s case, let alone that Biden operatives are issuing secret commands in the case and Bragg is a locally elected official who does not report to the federal government. Second, there is no evidence the White House or the Biden administration had anything to do with Colangelo’s decision to leave the Justice Department and join the district attorney’s office as senior counsel to Bragg; Colangelo and Bragg had been colleagues before Bragg was elected Manhattan district attorney in 2021. Third, there is no basis for the claim that Colangelo oversees Bragg; Bragg is Colangelo’s boss.

Before Colangelo worked at the Justice Department, he and Bragg worked at the same time in the office of New York’s state attorney general, where Colangelo investigated Trump’s charity and Trump’s financial practices and was involved in bringing various lawsuits against the Trump administration.

On a minor point, Colangelo was never Biden’s very top official at the Justice Department. Colangelo served as acting associate attorney general in the first months of the Biden administration in early 2021 and then as principal deputy associate attorney general. As acting associate attorney general, he was third in command of the department.

Trump’s false claims that Manhattan has hit all-time highs for murder and violent crime

Trump has repeatedly claimed that Bragg is spending time prosecuting him despite a record-high number of murders and violent crime in Manhattan, one of New York City’s five boroughs.

Facts First: Trump’s claims are not even close to true; Manhattan, like New York City as a whole, is nowhere near record highs for murder or violent crime more broadly. In 1990, when New York City set its all-time murder record, Manhattan recorded 503 murders; it recorded 73 murders in 2023, a decline of about 85%. Manhattan’s numbers for other kinds of violent crime are also far lower today than they were in the early 1990s.

For example, Manhattan recorded 252 rapes in 2023, down about 63% from the 689 in 1990; 3,841 robberies in 2023, down about 86% from the 26,907 in 1990; and 5,116 felony assaults in 2023, down about 49% from the 10,089 in 1990.

It’s also worth noting that murder in Manhattan has declined since 2020, Trump’s last full calendar year in office, when there were 84 murders in the borough; it has declined, too, from 2022 (78 murders) and 2021 (92 murders). However, some other kinds of violent crime, such as robbery and felony assault, have increased in Manhattan since 2020, though they declined from 2022 to 2023.

Crime levels are always affected by a complicated mix of factors, and it is unclear how much impact Bragg has had on either the upticks or the declines. The fluctuations in Manhattan have been broadly aligned with trends in New York City as a whole.

“We have a tendency to want to blame one person, or credit one person, when in reality these are complex systems that rise and fall for often complex, random reasons that we don’t have the ability to explain – but it’s easier to say, ‘It was Joe Schmoe over there,’” Jeff Asher, a crime data expert and co-founder of the firm AH Datalytics, told CNN when Trump was making similar claims about Manhattan last year.

Trump’s dubious claim that the judge’s daughter posted an image of him behind bars

Trump has accused the judge presiding over the Manhattan trial, Judge Juan Merchan, of having a conflict of interest because his daughter Loren Merchan has been a Democratic political consultant at a firm that has worked for prominent federal clients, including Biden’s 2020 campaign. But Trump also claimed in a social media post in March that Loren Merchan “has just posted a picture of me behind bars, her obvious goal,” and he wondered in another March post how it is fair for him to be subjected to a Merchan gag order while, among other things, “the Judge’s daughter is allowed to post pictures of her ‘dream’ of putting me in jail.”

Facts First: There is no evidence that Loren Merchan was the person who posted a picture of Trump behind bars on social media. A spokesperson for the court, Al Baker, said Loren Merchan didn’t make the post.

Baker said in a March statement that someone else had started using Loren Merchan’s former handle on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter, after she deleted her own account and thus abandoned the handle about a year prior. A review of the evidence by The Spectator, a conservative-leaning British outlet, supports Baker’s denial.

Baker said: “The X, formerly Twitter, account being attributed to Judge Merchan’s daughter no longer belongs to her since she deleted it approximately a year ago. It is not linked to her email address, nor has she posted under that screenname since she deleted the account. Rather, it represents the reconstitution, last April, and manipulation of an account she long ago abandoned.”

Trump’s exaggerations about Merchan’s gag order

Trump, denouncing Judge Merchan’s gag order on him, claimed in social media posts in early April that Merchan “is not allowing me to talk.” At a campaign rally Saturday in Pennsylvania, Trump said, “On Monday, in New York City, I will be forced to sit, fully gagged. I’m not allowed to talk. Can you believe it? They want to take away my constitutional right to talk.”

Facts First: Trump’s claims are exaggerations. Merchan did issue a gag order, but it is far narrower than Trump suggested. Merchan has not generally forbidden Trump from talking; Trump is still permitted to defend his conduct at issue in the case (both in public and in any testimony he chooses to offer), to attack Merchan and Bragg, and to campaign for the presidency with rallies, interviews, social media posts and other commentary.

The gag order forbids Trump from three specific categories of speech: 1) speaking publicly or directing others to speak publicly about “known or reasonably foreseeable witnesses” in the case – specifically concerning their potential participation in the case; 2) speaking publicly or directing others to speak publicly about prosecutors in the case other than Bragg, about staff members in Bragg’s office and the court, and about the family members of prosecutors, staffers or the court – “if those statements are made with the intent to materially interfere with, or to cause others to materially interfere with, counsel’s or staff’s work in this criminal case, or with the knowledge that such interference is likely to result”; 3) speaking publicly about or directing others to speak publicly about jurors or prospective jurors in the case.

In early April, after Trump criticized Merchan’s daughter, Merchan expanded his previous gag order to cover family members of the court and district attorney.
He wrote: “The average observer, must now, after hearing Defendant’s recent attacks, draw the conclusion that if they become involved in these proceedings, even tangentially, they should worry not only for themselves, but for their loved ones as well. Such concerns will undoubtedly interfere with the fair administration of justice and constitutes a direct attack on the Rule of Law itself.”

Trump has appealed the gag order, so it’s possible the order will be overturned or narrowed by an appeals court. Submissions on the matter are due on April 29.

Trump’s unexplained claims about Bragg and Soros

While attacking Bragg, Trump has repeatedly invoked liberal billionaire and Democratic donor George Soros without explaining the nature of their connection. For example, he called Bragg “this Soros Prosecutor” in a social media post on Wednesday; in a statement last year, he claimed that Bragg was “hand-picked and funded by George Soros.”

Facts First: Trump’s claims about Soros and Bragg need context. Soros did not make any donations to Bragg’s election campaign, and a Soros spokesperson, Michael Vachon, told CNN in 2023 that the two men have never once communicated in any way; there is no evidence that Soros had any role in Bragg’s decision to prosecute Trump. However, Soros, a longtime supporter of Democratic district attorney candidates who favor criminal justice reform, did support Bragg’s election campaign indirectly: he was a major donor to a liberal political action committee, Color of Change PAC, that says it spent just over $500,000 on an independent expenditure effort in support of Bragg’s candidacy.

Vachon told CNN in 2023: “Between 2016 and 2022, George Soros personally and Democracy PAC (a PAC to which Mr. Soros has contributed funds) have together contributed roughly $4 million to Color of Change’s PAC, including $1 million in May 2021. None of those funds were earmarked for Alvin Bragg’s campaign. George Soros and Alvin Bragg have never meet in person or spoken by telephone, email, Zoom etc. There has been no contact between the two.”

Soros has been a frequent target of antisemitic conspiracy theories painting the Jewish philanthropist as a puppetmaster behind various US and international events. In 2023, Color of Change president Rashad Robinson called Trump and his allies’ latest invocations of Soros both “antisemitic” and “anti-Black”; he told CNN that the attacks overstate both Soros’ role in the PAC’s decision-making and the PAC’s role in Bragg’s election victory.

You can read a longer fact check on this subject here.

Trump’s false claims that he has been indicted more than Al Capone

As Trump has denounced his four indictments – the one in Manhattan, another local indictment in Fulton County, Georgia, and two federal indictments – he has repeatedly claimed that he has been indicted “more than Al Capone,” the notoriously vicious 1920s and 1930s gangster.

Facts First: Trump’s claim is false. Trump has been indicted four times, while Capone was indicted at least six times, as A. Brad Schwartz, the co-author of a book on Capone, told CNN in 2023. (You can find details about Capone’s indictments here.) And that doesn’t include various criminal charges against Capone that did not involve an indictment, such as some misdemeanors, or obscure Capone cases for which CNN couldn’t immediately determine whether there was an indictment.

Schwartz also noted: “This isn’t a race, of course, but it may be worth noting that Capone is also way ahead in individual counts (the 1931 Prohibition indictment alone added up to five thousand conspiracy charges).” Trump faces a total of 88 counts over the four indictments.

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