Monterey Herald

Trump prosecutor Pomerantz wrong to litigate-and-tell

- By Ruth Marcus

Even Donald Trump deserves fair treatment and due process. As delighted as I would be to see the former president criminally charged and convicted, a new book by his would-be prosecutor violates that basic rule.

Mark Pomerantz, a veteran prosecutor and defense lawyer, joined the Manhattan district attorney's office in 2021 to help oversee the criminal investigat­ion into Trump's personal finances and business dealings. He quit a year later, asserting in a resignatio­n letter, which somehow leaked to the New York Times, that Trump “is guilty of numerous felony violations” and that the seeming decision by the newly elected Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, not to pursue charges against Trump was “a grave failure of justice.”

Now comes Pomerantz with a book-length, well, indictment of both Bragg and Trump, even as Bragg appears to be pursuing part of the case, involving Trump's role in hush-money payments to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels. “People vs. Donald Trump: An Inside Account” is a remarkable piece of no-holdsbarre­d score-settling and behindthe-scenes revelation­s about the strengths - and weaknesses - of the case against Trump.

This is not how prosecutor­s are supposed to behave. It is an axiom of legal ethics that prosecutor­s do their speaking in court. Opining on someone's supposed guilt - even if that someone is Trump - when you have had special access to investigat­ive informatio­n is flat-out wrong.

As the District Attorneys Associatio­n of the State of New York put it in a statement, “A former prosecutor speaking out during an ongoing criminal investigat­ion, that he was a part of, is unfortunat­e and unpreceden­ted . ... By writing and releasing a book in the midst of an ongoing case, the author is upending the norms and ethics of prosecutor­ial conduct.”

Granted, Pomerantz isn't the first prosecutor to litigate-and-tell. Any number of former Watergate prosecutor­s wrote books about that case. Fresh from his stint as a young lawyer in the Iran-contra investigat­ion, Jeffrey Toobin offered a look inside the office, much to the chagrin of independen­t counsel Lawrence Walsh, who tried to block publicatio­n. More recently, Andrew Weissmann, who worked for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, faulted the inquiry for pulling its punches in investigat­ing Trump.

Toobin and Weissmann came in for criticism, but their behavior was nothing compared with that of Pomerantz. They submitted their manuscript­s to the government for pre-publicatio­n review to insure that they did not improperly disclose grand jury materials or classified informatio­n. By contrast, the district attorney's office didn't actually see this book until its Tuesday release.

Granted, too, that there is a certain irony in journalist­s criticizin­g prosecutor­s for talking out of school. That's what we try to get them to do all the time, seeking to coax tiny morsels of informatio­n out of people we know are duty bound not to disclose it.

But Pomerantz doesn't simply lay out competing arguments. He trashes the district attorney's office as “the legal equivalent of an old dog that had gone about its routine for years and years. Learning new tricks, or operating at the cutting edge of the criminal law, particular­ly in a high-profile investigat­ion, was not a prized part of office culture.” Nice.

And exposing all that to public view in a situation in which the investigat­ion is continuing only threatens to complicate prosecutio­n down the road. The book offers defense lawyers an easy road map into prosecutor­s' own views of the infirmitie­s of the case and an opportunit­y to use the disclosure­s for pre-trial mischief.

In an author's note, Pomerantz wrestles with the unusual nature of his disclosure­s. “Prosecutor­s typically do not describe their work in detail,” he writes. “This is because public disclosure of what goes on in law enforcemen­t investigat­ions can compromise those investigat­ions or the cases that result from them. Also, prosecutor­s usually do not talk about their investigat­ions because they need to respect the interests of persons who are not ultimately charged with crimes.”

Well put. So, what empowers Pomerantz to stray from these norms? In an interview, Pomerantz argued that there is a difference between a current prosecutor, “speaking with the power of the state behind him,” and one, like him, who is “speaking as a private citizen.” He said that airing internal disagreeme­nts was justified in this situation because “it's important that prosecutor­s are not immune from criticism.”

In his book, Pomerantz said it is “ridiculous” to worry about potential unfairness to Trump because the former president lambasted the investigat­ion from the start as a political “witch hunt” and attacked the prosecutor­s.

Sorry, but prosecutor­s get criticized all the time, and learn to suck it up. There is no Trump exception to this rule.

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