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Trump targets Alvin Bragg, the prosecutor in his criminal case, while visiting site of fatal bodega stabbing

By Gregory Krieg, Kristen Holmes, Kate Sullivan and Alejandra Jaramillo, CNN

New York City (CNN) — Donald Trump is trying to turn the tables on Alvin Bragg.

The former president ended the second day of his hush money trial in Manhattan by visiting a Harlem bodega where, in 2022, store clerk Jose Alba stabbed an attacker, then got brought up on a murder charge by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.

The case was dropped less than three weeks after the incident, but not before Bragg, who is now leading Trump’s prosecution, came under withering attack by the city tabloids and other mostly right-wing critics over what many – including Mayor Eric Adams – viewed as a clear act of self-defense.

While the trial in Lower Manhattan will mostly keep Trump off the campaign trail, his visit to the bodega brought the campaign to the city – where anxieties over a pandemic-era rise in crime drove Adams’ mayoral campaign in 2021 and, despite rates now dropping, has made Gotham a useful cudgel for Republicans ahead of the 2024 general election.

“They want law and order, they have a lot of crime, tremendous crime and their stores over there, stores are being robbed,” Trump said of bodegas in New York during his visit.

The New York GOP’s message, which Trump called back to during a brief session with reporters outside the store, resonated in 2022 as Republicans won congressional seats outside the city after focusing their campaigns on public safety and worries that violent crime here would radiate out into the suburbs.

Trump on Tuesday made his visit to Harlem’s Sanaa Convenient Store, formerly known as Blue Moon, to meet with a co-owner of the store and Francisco Marte, the founder of the Bodega and Small Business Association. Throngs of supporters, protesters and curious rubberneckers began to amass on Broadway a little after 3 p.m., as word spread that the presumptive Republican presidential nominee was expected.

By the time Trump emerged from his black SUV a little after 6:30 p.m., the crowds were exchanging chants, with detractors calling him a “traitor” and a “fascist” while fans screamed his name, “four more years,” and, at one point – at the urging of campaign staff – began to sing the National Anthem.

A group of women, about 50 yards up the block behind a police barrier yelled out for Trump, calling him, in Spanish, “my tiger!” Meanwhile, employees of the Romantic Depot shop across the street – “NY’s Best Lingerie Store” – waved a red banner advertising a product named after Trump.

“It’s Alvin Bragg’s fault. Alvin Bragg does nothing. He goes after guys like Trump who did nothing wrong,” Trump said. “There are hundreds of murderers all over the city, they know who they are and they don’t pick them up. They go after Trump.

Bragg’s office dismissed Trump’s talking point, first in a social media post showing the downward trajectory of major crimes, then in a statement defending its handling of the Alba case.

“This matter was resolved nearly two years ago, and the charges were dismissed after a thorough investigation,” a Bragg spokesperson told CNN. “D.A. Bragg’s top priority remains combating violent crime and the office has worked hand in hand with the NYPD to drive down overall crime in Manhattan, including double digit decreases in homicides and shootings since he took office.”

Marte, the small business advocate, said the Trump campaign contacted him for a meeting, which he parlayed into an invitation to visit a bodega. His group does not support political candidates, he added, but was pleased Trump decided to come and highlight their concerns about violent crime in the city.

In an interview about an hour before Trump arrived, Marte praised the former president’s “tough on crime” rhetoric, but said he hoped Trump wouldn’t use the occasion to attack the city or exaggerate the threat.

“New York is a little dangerous. It is dangerous, but we are working on that. But we need support,” said Marte, before saying President Joe Biden would also be welcome.

Trump is currently on trial in New York four days a week, severely limiting his ability to campaign or fundraise outside of the state. The trial is forcing his team to come up with creative ideas to campaign while remaining local.

“It makes me campaign locally, that’s OK,” Trump said of the trial. “We’re going to give New York a very good shot for the presidency, we think we should be able to do it, a lot of things have changed.”

New York remains a Democratic stronghold. Trump lost to Biden by 23 points in 2020, and argued the influx of migrants into the state could push more New Yorkers to cast their ballots for him in November.

On Tuesday, Trump used the appearance at the bodega to attack Bragg.

“Alvin Bragg does nothing. He goes after Trump, who did nothing wrong,” Trump said.

The visit to this bodega came two years after Alba, who was not present for the visit, was charged with second-degree murder after he stabbed Austin Simon in a confrontation.

Alba and his lawyers argued that he acted in self-defense, saying surveillance video of the incident – which showed that Simon tried to pull Alba out from the booth before Alba grabbed a knife off the counter – confirmed their account.

“Mr. Alba was simply doing his job when he was aggressively cornered by a much younger and bigger man,” Alice Fontier, a spokeswoman for Alba’s attorney, said at the time.

The charge against Alba were dropped amid an angry, tabloid-fueled backlash to Bragg’s decision to charge him at all.

Adams publicly backed Alba and applauded the move to dismiss the charge against him.

“I think in this case, we had an innocent, hardworking New Yorker that was doing his job and someone was extremely aggressive towards him,” Adams told reporters at the time. “And I believe after the DA’s review, the DA, in my opinion, made the right decision.”

Prosecutors, in their court motion, said they “determined that we cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was not justified in his use of deadly physical force.”

In April 2023, House Republicans on the Judiciary Committee invited Alba to testify at a so-called “field hearing” in New York City. In his opening statement, Alba wrote that he was “not motivated by a political agenda” and only wanted “to tell the public about the horrible experience I had to go through because of crime in this city.”

“I stabbed that man in self-defense. But when the police came, even though I was injured myself, I was placed under arrest,” Alba recalled. “When I came before the judge, the prosecutor said I was being charged with Murder in the Second Degree. They asked for bail, even though so many people are being let go these days, and I couldn’t afford it.”

Alba filed a lawsuit, seeking unspecified damages, against the City of New York, Bragg and others involved in his arrest on September 29, 2023, claiming Alba was discriminated against because he is Hispanic. Simon was Black.

“While in theory, Bragg’s ‘racial equity’ policies are a well-intentioned attempt by him to implement evenhanded justice, the means and methods employed by Bragg have instead had an opposite effect,” Alba’s lawyers wrote, “and resulted in discrimination against certain defendants based on race.”

Lawyers for the city have asked for the lawsuit to be thrown out, telling the court in their own filing that prosecutors and police acted reasonably in the moment – and that “the undisputed facts show that after the plaintiff’s arrest, there was even more evidence to support a finding of probable cause for his prosecution.”

New York state lawmakers in 2019 passed a criminal justice reform package designed to end the use of use of cash bail and jail for most cases involving misdemeanors and less serious felonies. The new law went into effect in 2020, shortly before the first cases of Covid-19 were reported in the city, which would be hit hard by the pandemic.

But rising crime during that period sparked a political backlash that led Democrats in Albany to repeatedly revise and limit the scope of the law. There is no clear evidence of a connection between bail reform and the spike in crime, but Republicans here and around the country have used the issue as a cudgel against Democrats, arguing they are “soft on crime.”

The Alba case offered an ironic twist in the political narrative, with many Republicans and right-wing news sources effectively arguing that Bragg’s office took too harsh a tack against the clerk, calling the initial charge tone-deaf and misdirected.

Bragg, who ran on a platform of progressive reform, was elected alongside Adams, a former police officer who promised a crackdown on crime, in 2021. He came under immediate fire from critics after he released a memo outlining new charging, bail, plea and sentencing policies.

The policies, Bragg said, were rooted in his own experience – being held at gunpoint six times in his life, three of them by overzealous police officers. But his plan faced immediate blowback from police union leaders and right-wing media.

“Safety is paramount. New Yorkers deserve to be safe from crime and safe from the dangers posed by mass incarceration,” Bragg tweeted during the uproar that followed. “We will be tough when we need to be, but we will not be seeking to destroy lives through unnecessary incarceration.”

CORRECTION: This story has been updated to reflect that Jose Alba faced one charge of second degree murder.

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