Annalisa Merelli writes: Manhattan district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr is a Democrat who has been New York County’s chief prosecutor since 2008. He is also, at the moment, a very controversial figure.
On Oct. 4, the New Yorker (paywall) revealed that Vance had ordered his prosecutors to drop an investigation into Donald Trump’s children, Ivanka and Donald Jr, for allegedly inflating the worth of a property in New York to prospective buyers. Just a few days later, the same magazine (paywall) revealed that he had decided not to press sexual abuse charges against Harvey Weinstein, the high-powered Hollywood producer, after listening to a police tape of Weinstein aggressively propositioning a model, Ambra Battilana Gutierrez. Weinstein has now been accused of sexual harassment and rape by a host of women.
What links these two cases is that in both of them, Vance received hefty campaign donations from lawyers for the people involved. Donald Trump’s lawyer, Marc Kasowitz, had given $25,000 to Vance’s campaign, the New Yorker reported. Vance had returned the money after Kasowitz asked him to intercede on the Trump children’s behalf—as is customary with people involved in investigations. But a few months after deciding not to prosecute them, Vance accepted another, larger donation and fundraising help from Kasowitz, worth a total of about $50,000. Similarly, a few months after Vance decided to drop the case against Weinstein, the producer’s attorney, David Boies, donated $10,000 to the prosecutor’s campaign.
In both cases, naturally, Vance denies that his office’s decision not to prosecute had anything to do with campaign donations. But even if this is true, it’s hard for him or any other US district attorney to dispel the taint of corruption in cases like these. It’s widely understood that in politics, votes cost money and money usually comes attached to requests for favors. That undermines trust in the justice system. And this is a uniquely American problem, as the US is the only country in the world that elects prosecutors by popular vote. [Continue reading…]