Linking Biden to Trump’s New York conviction is unjustifiable

Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Matthew Colangelo — who has long been the focus of Trump’s ire, both before and after Justice Juan Merchan entered a gag order — is a longtime public servant and civil litigator.

But his less-than-two-year tenure at DOJ at the outset of the Biden administration and his subsequent move to Alvin Bragg’s office has become the sole basis for what Justice Department leaders have called “conspiratorial speculation” — much of it fueled by Trump himself — that Biden engineered Trump’s Manhattan conviction. House GOP leaders are so enamored of that narrative that Judiciary Chairman Jim Jordan requested Bragg and Colangelo testify before Congress, and they’ve agreed to testify July 12 (the day after Trump’s sentencing). But even in advance of that hearing, 80% of registered GOP voters already believe that narrative, according to the CBS News/YouGov poll released on Monday.

And the notion that Biden is pulling Bragg’s strings, with or without Colangelo, is both demonstrably false and perniciously racist.

After Biden’s inauguration, Colangelo — like dozens of other experienced lawyers — served as a placeholder for the political nominee whom he would ultimately serve as a deputy. Specifically, he was temporarily the acting associate attorney general, and after Vanita Gupta was confirmed, he was her principal deputy until he left the Justice Department in early December 2022.

Courtoom sketch of prosecutor Matthew Colangelo
Prosecutor Matthew Colangelo speaks as Donald Trump sits with his attorneys at a hearing in New York on March 15.Jane Rosenberg / Reuters

The idea that Colangelo got anywhere close to criminal law is both bizarre and unfounded. Why? The very nature of the associate attorney general job is to supervise all of the civil and some of the policy/community-facing units in DOJ (e.g., the Office on Violence Against Women, the Office for Access to Justice, the COPS program), but not the criminal ones, as a Justice Department organization chart reflects. Indeed, a letter to Jordan issued Monday by the department’s Office of Legislative Affairs reinforces that Colangelo’s job was “to oversee the civil litigation components that report to the Associate [Attorney General’s] office.” Simply stated, he had no oversight of any of the work of the criminal or national security divisions.

In fact, Colangelo operated so far from DOJ’s criminal work that a colleague remembers his exclusion from conversations about the Trump investigations and therefore believes Colangelo did not even “tangentially know” about any Trump investigations or prosecutions, apart from what was known to the public. Anthony Coley, who was Attorney General Merrick Garland’s chief spokesperson until early 2023, attended the AG’s daily senior staff meeting every day alongside roughly seven others, including Colangelo. Coley recalls that whenever he briefed Garland on press about the various Trump criminal investigations, Gupta and Colangelo left the room. (Coley emphasized that such conversations stopped taking place after special counsel Jack Smith was appointed.) Coley also tells me these “skinny-down” meetings were by design, as Garland operated on a strictly need-to-know basis.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, the Justice Department’s letter informs Jordan and his colleagues that “a comprehensive search for email communications since January 20, 2021, through the date of the [Trump] verdict, between any officials in Department leadership, including all political appointees in those offices, and the District Attorney’s office regarding any investigation or prosecution of the former President” turned up “none.” 

How, then, did Colangelo end up on Bragg’s team if he has historically been a civil lawyer? For starters, a source who knows Colangelo tells me that, although he had previously worked in DOJ’s civil rights division during the Obama administration, he never intended to stay at the Biden Justice Department for the long haul, as evidenced by the fact that, when he took the job in Washington after years in the New York Attorney General’s Office, his family stayed behind in New York. 

The opportunity to join Bragg’s team came about because Colangelo and Bragg were friends from their time together in the attorney general’s office, where Colangelo became something of a Trump World expert. First, under Bragg’s supervision, he worked on the case against the Trump Foundation, in which the attorney general alleged Trump and his children misused charitable funds to benefit his 2016 campaign and to pay off business debts. Following a “drawn-out legal battle” in late 2019, a court order not only forced the foundation to distribute $2 million to several charities but a settlement led the foundation to shutter entirely. Both developments were seen as victories for Attorney General Letitia James and her team.

Colangelo then worked on the investigative phase of what became the Trump civil fraud case, tried last fall. Through both cases, he had become somewhat of an expert on the Trump Organization’s characters, operations and documentation. But Colangelo was never the driving force behind the criminal case; indeed, as has been publicly reported, by the time Colangelo joined Bragg’s staff on Dec. 5, 2022, plans for convening a grand jury in the DA’s criminal case had already been underway for months. The indictment followed four months later.

In announcing Bragg and Colangelo’s decision to testify voluntarily next month, a spokesperson for the district attorney said, “it undermines the rule of law to spread dangerous misinformation, baseless claims, and conspiracy theories following the jury’s return of a full-count felony conviction in People v. Trump.” And that’s especially true when it comes to Trump and his allies’ obsession with Colangelo. There’s nothing about his work for the DOJ, the access that came with it or his past to support the personal attacks on him — or the baseless assertion that he was the conduit through which Biden devised and controlled Bragg’s case.

Will that stop Trump, Jordan and their allies? Don’t count on it.

Leave a Reply