NEW YORK — The Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg, is hiring a former senior justice department official with a history of taking on Donald Trump and his family business, as the office seeks to ramp up its investigation into the former president.
The official, Matthew Colangelo, who before acting as third in command at the Justice Department, led the New York attorney general’s civil inquiry into Trump, will likely become one of the leaders of the district attorney’s criminal investigation into the former president.
His work on the attorney general’s Trump inquiry may inform his work on the criminal investigation he is expected to join. Manhattan prosecutors have scrutinized whether the former president illegally inflated the value of his assets. In recent months, the prosecutors have also renewed their focus on a hush-money payment to a porn star who said she had an affair with Trump.
Colangelo, 48, who also worked in the Obama administration as a senior labor department official, will join the district attorney’s office as senior counsel. In addition to helping with its “most sensitive and high-profile white-collar investigations,” he is expected to focus on housing and tenant protection and labor and worker protection, priorities for Bragg.
“Matthew Colangelo brings a wealth of economic justice experience combined with complex white-collar investigations, and he has the sound judgment and integrity needed to pursue justice against powerful people and institutions when they abuse their power,” Bragg said in a statement confirming the hire.
The U.S. Attorney General, Merrick B. Garland, said in a statement that he had relied on Colangelo’s “wise counsel and excellent judgment” since his first day in the office.
Bragg and Colangelo overlapped while working at the New York attorney general’s office, where Bragg rose to become chief deputy attorney general and Colangelo was chief counsel for federal initiatives. In that role, Colangelo led dozens of lawsuits against the Trump administration, including a successful challenge to the inclusion of a question about citizenship to the census in 2020. He also oversaw an investigation into Trump’s charity, the Trump Foundation, that caused the organization to dissolve, and led that office’s civil inquiry into Trump’s financial practices.
That inquiry led to a September lawsuit from the attorney general, Letitia James, that accused the president of overvaluing his assets by billions of dollars.
By then, Colangelo was working at the Department of Justice, having been appointed as acting associate attorney general when President Biden took office. In that job, the third highest-ranking at the department, Colangelo helped oversee the Civil, Civil Rights, Antitrust and Tax divisions, among others.
He stepped aside when a permanent associate attorney general, Vanita Gupta, was appointed, but continued working as her deputy, and supervised lawyers in those divisions.
Colangelo, who also spent seven years working on housing and employment issues at the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said in a statement that he was “honored to reunite with District Attorney Bragg.”
“Expanded enforcement of worker-protection and tenant-protection laws will make our communities safer for all New Yorkers and level the playing field for responsible employers and landlords,” Colangelo’s statement said. “And assisting with the district attorney’s focus on financial crimes will promote confidence in the legal system by making clear that the same rules apply to everyone — no matter how powerful.”
He is joining the district attorney’s office as prosecutors move to jump-start their investigation into Trump, which began in 2018 and has already led to the trial of the former president’s family business, in which the jury will begin deliberating on Monday.
While Colangelo has broad knowledge of the Trump Organization’s business practices and extensive litigation experience, he comes to the investigation having spent little time working on white-collar criminal prosecutions. He has never been a line prosecutor or worked as a criminal defense lawyer.
But Tom Perez, the former U.S. secretary of labor, said that Colangelo, whom he hired twice and who was his chief of staff at the labor department, was a quick study.
“Matthew is the perfect person for a job of this sensitivity, because he’s unflappable, he’s legally brilliant, he has impeccable judgment and he’s humble enough to involve people who have been around the block,” Perez said in an interview.
Colangelo’s time in the Obama administration, his prior litigation against Trump’s administration and his role on James’ inquiry will likely set off protest from the former president, who has referred to the criminal and civil investigation as a unified “witch hunt.” Some of James’ lawyers have been detailed to the Manhattan district attorney’s office to work on the criminal inquiry, and one of them, Gary Fishman, is on the trial team prosecuting the Trump Organization.
When Bragg took office in January, his predecessor, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., had directed prosecutors to begin presenting evidence about Trump’s inflation of his assets to a grand jury. But Bragg grew concerned about the strength of the case. In February, when he told the two senior prosecutors leading the investigation, Mark F. Pomerantz and Carey Dunne, that he was not prepared to authorize charges, they resigned.
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