He’s prosecuting Trump. Just don’t ask him to talk about it.

NEW YORK — Five days before his criminal trial against former President Donald Trump, the top prosecutor in Manhattan sat across from the liberal Rev. Al Sharpton in a hotel conference room packed with fellow Democrats.

For 12 minutes, they talked — about growing up in Harlem, about teaching Sunday school and about fighting gun violence. But not once did District Attorney Alvin Bragg mention Trump to the MSNBC host. Not once did he bring up the biggest case he’s ever tried. And Sharpton had agreed not to ask.

“I only talk about that matter in court filings and in the court. That’s what we do,” Bragg said in a brief interview Wednesday as he left Sharpton’s National Action Network convention.

On Monday, Bragg will become the first prosecutor to put an American president on trial. He will be one of the biggest characters of the 2024 election and a hero to many Democrats, regardless of the outcome. Yet he appears to be a reluctant participant in his own narrative, avoiding interviews and declining to discuss the case in public settings.

It’s a sharp contrast to the approach of New York’s top litigator, Democratic state Attorney General Tish James, who has relished her role in securing a massive civil judgment against Trump — even getting standing ovations from similar audiences in recent months. In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is also leaning into her prominent role trying Trump on election interference charges, even after a romantic relationship with her top prosecutor almost forced her off the case.

Unlike the others, Bragg faced incredible political pressure from his Democratic base to indict Trump. And now that the case is going to trial, the first-term DA is shying away from owning the prosecution. Bragg isn’t even planning on being in the courtroom every day, according to a person familiar with his thinking who was granted anonymity to discuss his plans.

At a time when the idea of an independent judiciary is under fire across the country — by those on both the left and right — Bragg is hoping to dull the criticism that he’s unfairly prosecuting Trump to hurt the presumptive Republican presidential nominee.

“I’ve been an officer of the court going on more than 20 years, and the way we comport ourselves is important,” Bragg said. “In the courtroom first and foremost, [but] obviously, there’s a public dimension. So we are guided by the rules of the court and fair play.”

His approach is more reminiscent of U.S. Special Counsel Jack Smith, who has avoided saying much about his investigation into Trump’s role in the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and his handling of classified documents after leaving the White House.

That sort of avoidance is sound legal strategy, said Eliza Orlins, a Manhattan public defender who ran against Bragg in 2021.

“If he really were out there flaunting it, it would be pretty inappropriate,” Orlins said. Trump’s legal team has already tried to delay the trial every which way, with limited success. “It would taint the potential jury pool if the district attorney were out there saying things, slam dunking.”

It’s also Bragg’s temperament, according to people close to him — understated, not fiery.

“He’s been in the crosshairs of the MAGA crowd since the day he took office, for sure,” said Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine, a Democrat who is a friend and ally of Bragg. “And the number of death threats incoming prove it.” But Bragg hasn’t been knocked off course, he added. “Emotionally, he’s still extremely solid because he’s a resilient, strong person. He knows why he’s doing this.”

Bragg indicted Trump on 34 felony counts of falsifying business records — charges that could lead to prison time, if he’s convicted. The case argues that Trump hid the politically damaging information of an affair with porn star Stormy Daniels from voters by filing false checks and business records to obscure the hush money payments.

Trump has attacked Bragg personally, calling him “a degenerate psychopath that truely hates the USA!” and an “animal.” Bragg is Black.

But even as an elected official in Manhattan, where the overwhelming majority of the population opposes Trump, Bragg hasn’t fought back. James, by contrast, has quipped that Trump inflating his net worth wasn’t “The Art of the Deal” like his book, but “the art of the steal.”

When Bragg was asked about his case on public radio station WNYC in December, the furthest he went was a technical clarification of the question.

“The core is not money for sex,” Bragg said. “We would say it’s about conspiring to corrupt a presidential election and then lying in New York business records to cover it up.”

But his relative silence on the eve of the Trump trial — declining to be interviewed for a New York Times profile, avoiding the Sunday show circuit — is also a clear component of Bragg’s communications strategy, a quiet response to the incessant complaints of Trump, and his supporters, that the case wouldn’t be brought if Trump were not Trump.

It wasn’t always this way for Bragg. He won a competitive open primary for the seat three years ago in part by arguing his previous job working in the state Attorney General’s office put him in the best position to take up the Trump investigation, which had wallowed in the Manhattan DA’s office for years.

“Again and again, he’s shown a readiness to stand up to powerful people and interests in the fight for justice,” former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara wrote in a fundraising email from Bragg’s campaign, “whether it’s launching the investigation into the Trump Foundation or cracking down on abusive landlords.”

But once he got into office, Bragg faced backlash for not charging Trump immediately. The lead prosecutors who had been handling the case in his office resigned in dramatic fashion, while Bragg’s liberal supporters grew restless with the lack of an indictment for more than a year.

“I bring hard cases when they are ready,” Bragg said at a press conference early last year, defending his deliberation.

Just like Trump, Bragg’s own political future could be tied to the result of the case.

Crime rates in Manhattan are trending down over his tenure, but are still above pre-pandemic levels. Like other progressive prosecutors, he’s faced intense pushback to his focus on offering alternatives to incarceration. He’s been tagged on Fox News and in the conservative New York Post as a primary example of progressive policing policies gone wrong.

Bragg is up for reelection in 2025, and the Trump case is somewhat of an electoral gamble for him.

“The political tradeoff is, if he wins the case, then Trump will reelect him,” said Hank Sheinkopf, a moderate Democratic political consultant. “If he loses, he can be beaten by the sense that things are out of control on the streets.”

So even as the Trump trial swirls around him, Bragg is keeping a busy schedule with other things.

After the interview with Sharpton, Bragg said he was going to a cybersecurity conference to talk about how his office is prosecuting people who finance terrorism with cryptocurrency. Then to internal meetings with his street crime prosecution team.

“We have a lot that is important to everyday New Yorkers,” he said. “I’m continuing to be focused on really, really important things.”

Moments later, a Fox News reporter and two camera operators bound down a staircase to catch Bragg on his way out of the building. “Why not focus on crime? Instead of Trump?” the reporter shouted to him. Bragg’s security guard got in between them and rushed the district attorney out a side door.

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