As they prepared to potentially indict Donald Trump for relentlessly lying to banks about his wealth, Manhattan prosecutors were forced to consider whether the former American president was a criminal mastermind or had just lost his mind, according to a new tell-all memoir by a member of that team.
In his tell-all book about how that investigation fell apart, former special assistant DA Mark Pomerantz explained the kind of hurdles his team had to overcome to build a historic criminal case against the Teflon Don.
“To rebut the claim that Trump believed his own ‘hype’… we would have to show, and stress, that Donald Trump was not legally insane,” Pomerantz wrote.
“Was Donald Trump suffering from some sort of mental condition that made it impossible for him to distinguish between fact and fiction?” he asked, noting that a group of high-powered lawyers advising the DA’s office “discussed whether Trump had been spewing bullshit for so many years about so many things that he could no longer process the difference between bullshit and reality.”
The Daily Beast on Friday received an advance copy of People vs. Donald Trump: An Inside Account, which hits store shelves next Tuesday.
The book has managed to already piss off DA Alvin Bragg Jr., who claims it could hurt the investigation he paused but just revived—as well as Trump, who is threatening to sue for defamation.
Pomerantz was recruited in December 2020 by Bragg’s predecessor, Cy Vance Jr., to come out of semi-retirement and lead the investigation. But he and another top lawyer quit in protest when Bragg, who inherited the case, wouldn’t pull the trigger in February 2021.
The book offers a rare look inside the way prosecutors build a criminal case, detailing how investigators collected evidence, interviewed witnesses, and disagreed over how exactly to proceed with what could be the most significant undertaking by a local DA in American history. Pomerantz is convinced that the evidence proves Trump lied on financial documents, and he lays out the various criminal charges his team was ready to slap on the disgraced former president.
But the book also shows this case wasn’t easy—despite the commonly held view that Trump should be indicted already.
“We had a case, but it was not without issues, and certainly could not be described as a slam dunk,” Pomerantz wrote.
One of the most surprising revelations is that junior prosecutors on the team had serious reservations about their ability to successfully prosecute Trump in court—even though, according to Pomerantz, no one thought he was innocent. Although the evidence clearly showed that the Trump Organization routinely lied to banks about the head honcho’s wealth, in some cases simply multiplying fanciful numbers to hyperinflate the value of golf courses and buildings, it was harder to prove that Trump did it with the intent to defraud. The book describes how overworked prosecutors under pressure to wrap up the investigation before the scheduled political departure of Vance, the DA who greenlit the investigation, at one point “had a mini-revolt.”
“The team thought it would be irresponsible to try to indict the case before the end of the year,” Pomerantz wrote, adding later that “many of the lawyers were relentlessly negative, dwelling on all the difficulties and issues with the case and seemingly refusing to acknowledge the positives.”
Some team members referred to the case as “weak,” while another cited “many fatal flaws.” Some met privately with Bragg to tell him about their reservations. At Zoom meetings, a few team members remained quiet and stone-faced, making Pomerantz feel as if he alone was charging forward.
“It was frustrating to feel like we were about to march into battle and were strapping on our guns and equipment, but when we looked around at the rest of the platoon we saw a lot of conscientious objectors,” Pomerantz wrote.
Another surprising twist was that the entire case unraveled in part because of the DA’s reliance on witness testimony from Michael Cohen—the lawyer who paid porn star Stormy Daniels hush money to keep her quiet about her sexual affair with Trump, got convicted for that and perjury, got disbarred, and has spent much of his time trashing the boss that betrayed him. The head of the office’s major economic crimes bureau, Julieta Lozando, refused to believe a word out of Cohen’s mouth—and eventually left the team.
It only got worse when New York Attorney General Letitia James filed public documents detailing the extent of the fraud at the Trump Organization, only to have Cohen do several interviews crediting himself as a key witness. It reached a breaking point at a meeting on Feb. 9, 2022 when Bragg “commented that he ‘could not see a world’ in which he would indict Trump and call Michael Cohen as a prosecution witness,” Pomerantz wrote.
The former prosecutor laments the Cohen situation, writing that “his relentless focus on his own importance had not been helpful to his credibility. Unfortunately, he had studied the art of self-aggrandizement at the feet of the master. Cohen’s penchant for publicity, exaggeration, and grandiose statements had played into the hands of people who distrusted him.”
While the book was expected to offer a damning portrayal of Bragg’s mishandling of the case, it actually does some of the opposite by explaining how the top prosecutor just couldn’t be convinced that the case was strong enough. The real break appears to be Pomerantz’s insistence that it’s better to try and fail than simply give up.
However, he still takes stabs at the new DA.
In one scene, Pomerantz describes how Bragg totally bungled his first big briefing about the most consequential case his office might ever bring.
“Alvin came into the meeting late, spent much of the time looking at his phone, and then left early, saying he just wanted to see the important documents, as though the whole sprawling case could be reduced to a collection of a few crucial documents, which made no sense,” Pomerantz wrote. “This was the key meeting for the new district attorney to ‘vet’ our incipient case against the former president!”
Apparently, the prosecutors on the team understood the gravity of the investigation, with one interoffice memo warning about how a prosecution “might trigger civil unrest, or… public tumult,” and even threaten the lives of the prosecutors themselves.
Investigators even considered bringing a lesser charge against Trump that seemed easier to prove but would only result in a dud.
“I thought a misdemeanor case would be a ‘chickenshit’ maneuver, because the misdemeanor charges would undervalue the seriousness of the misconduct we had been investigating,” Pomerantz wrote.
In the end, Pomerantz and Dunne settled on what they considered the best angle to prosecute Trump: tie it all together to show that Trump acted “with the intent” to commit crimes because the papertrail of fake documents was so unbearably long.
“The right way to proceed, we thought, was to bring felony charges based on the full panoply of false business records that Trump had helped to generate: the phony documents relating to the hush money payment and Michael Cohen’s reimbursement, the false financial statements, the false accounting spreadsheets that were created to support the financial statements, and so forth,” Pomerantz wrote.
All told, the book describes what seems like a zealous special prosecutor steeped in complex financial records who couldn’t get colleagues on board with a moonshot case—and a change of leadership that sealed its fate.
The question now is whether Bragg is finally ready to do it. After much prodding by Pomerantz to hire a bigshot federal prosecutor to takedown Trump back in early 2022, Bragg finally did it recently when he recruited Matthew Colangelo, a top Justice Department official who previously helped take down the former president’s law-breaking Trump Foundation charity.
And as Bragg said last month, “we now move on to the next chapter.”