Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Wis.), who chairs the House Administration Committee, has raised the possibility of Congress pulling federal funds away from local district attorneys if lawmakers determine that those DAs are using their prosecutorial powers to go after political foes.
“Often the federal government is funding and providing resources to prosecutors across the United States. The purpose of that is to make our cities safer,” Steil said in an interview with Just The News on Monday. “If we find out through this investigation that instead those are being used to weaponize DAs across the country with a purpose of grinding a political axe rather than making our communities safer, we’re going to have to go back into the funding model.”
Steil made those comments amid reports that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg may pursue felony charges against former President Donald Trump over a 2016 payment he allegedly facilitated to adult film actress Stormy Daniels to dissuade her from going public with claims that they had an affair. Legal scholar Jonathan Turley has said Bragg’s office may argue the payment should have been classified as a campaign expense but was wrongly classified as a business expense by the Trump Organization, in violation of Section 175 of New York law, which can classify the falsification of business records as a Class E felony. Turley has said the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has already declined to prosecute the payment to Daniels as an election law violation.
Bragg has yet to file charges, but Trump and other critics have already begun challenging the grounds for such a prosecution. Several critics have noted Bragg’s office has dismissed cases and lowered punishments for local criminal cases, including some robberies, while the office is now reportedly seeking to treat a campaign finance issue involving Trump as a felony.
Bragg’s critics have raised further allegations that the Manhattan DA is acting out of political animosity toward Trump. Throughout the 2021 Manhattan DA race, Bragg noted his experience suing the Trump Organization and the Trump administration more than 100 times, including a case that led to the exclusion of a citizenship question on the 2020 census survey that the Trump administration sought to include. Trump has also linked Bragg to campaign donations by Democrat megadonor George Soros.
Soros has been linked to millions of dollars in local DA races. Conservative commentators have argued Soros’s funding in DA races is going toward candidates that prefer to dismiss or lower punishments for certain criminal cases, lowering disincentives against criminal behavior, and leading to a rise in crimes.
“We continue to see DAs across the country engage in political behavior. That sure looks like it’s the case in this situation,” Steil told Just The News, referring to the case involving Bragg and Trump. “What we want our DAs to do is actually go and work in the judicial system in an unpolitical way to actually hold criminals accountable and put guilty criminals behind bars the way it used to work.”
Debate Over Federal Resources for DAs
On Monday, Steil joined House Oversight Committee Chair James Comer (R-Ky.) and House Judiciary Committee Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) in a letter to Bragg’s office, asking about the course of the investigation into the Trump case and about federal funding that Bragg’s office currently receives. In their letter, the Republican committee chairmen said Bragg’s potential case against Trump would represent an “unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority.”
The DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs provides federal assistance to state and local agencies. The Bureau of Justice Assistance lists dozens of grant opportunities for state and local prosecutors on its website.
Congress, which holds the power of the purse, could theoretically withdraw federal funds or place new stipulations on their use by Bragg and other DAs around the country. Republicans control the House, but any measures to take federal funding away from Bragg’s office would face tougher odds in the Democrat-controlled Senate and the White House.
Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), who is the ranking member on the House Judiciary Committee and who was copied on the Republican letter to Bragg’s office, has condemned the Republican plans to question Bragg and his employees as an intimidation tactic.
“No matter what crimes Donald Trump may have committed, Republicans tie themselves in knots protecting him. Even at the expense of the American people, law enforcement and our legal system. Jim Jordan and Kevin McCarthy: hands off NYC & quit meddling in ongoing investigations,” Nadler said in a Monday tweet.
“Using a congressional committee to bully a state DA sounds like … the weaponization of the federal government,” Nadler said in another Monday tweet.
Bragg has also cast the Republican letter to his office as an intimidation effort.
“We will not be intimidated by attempts to undermine the justice process,” a spokesperson for Bragg told news outlets in his office’s first public response since Trump raised the possibility of being arrested.
“In every prosecution, we follow the law without fear or favor to uncover the truth. Our skilled, honest, and dedicated lawyers remain hard at work,” the spokesperson added.