Lawmakers of both parties may have gotten more than they bargained for during a field hearing in New York City on Monday organized in the shadow of former President Trump’s indictment in the city.
Ostensibly about high crime rates in New York under the leadership of Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg (D), who is prosecuting Trump, House Judiciary Republicans faced a series of complaints from their Democratic colleagues that the hearing was little more than an effort to aid a political ally facing criminal charges.
Over the course of a sometimes-raucous four hours, Judiciary Chair Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) struggled to manage numerous interruptions from the audience, protestors and, at times, the invited witnesses.
“Today’s hearing is about the administration of justice and keeping communities safe, something that has always been a central focus of the House Judiciary Committee,” Jordan said in his opening remarks.
“As we all know, fairness under the law is a bedrock principle of American democracy. In this country, justice is supposed to be blind, regardless of race, religion or creed,” he added. “However, here in Manhattan, the scales of justice are weighed down by politics. For the district attorney, justice isn’t blind — it’s about looking for opportunities to advance a political agenda, a radical political agenda.”
Lawmakers trade barbs, crime stats
Lawmakers spent much of the hearing trading barbs over its motive and swapping statistics about crime rates – with Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) at one point moving to hold the hearing near Jordan’s district instead, pointing to higher rates of some crimes in Columbus, Ohio.
Seated at the witness table were eight witnesses, a mix of family members of victims or crime as well as advocates for both addressing crime and gun violence, and even a Democratic member of the New York City Council alarmed by crime rates in the city.
“To our witnesses here today who shared their pain and trauma in being victims of crime and violence: I am so sorry for the impact that has had on you and your families,” Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Penn.).
“I applaud your courage in trying to take that pain and move to change things going forward. But I fear that you have been revictimized by this hearing because this hearing is not going to provide that change. It’s not a serious effort to make our communities safer. Our Republican colleagues aren’t in New York City to prevent crime. They’re here to protect someone who’s been charged with committing crimes,” she said, referring to Trump.
Bragg’s office has pushed back on GOP claims that the city is overwhelmed by crime.
“D.A. Bragg is reducing crime in Manhattan, reversing a tough spike that began before he even took office. Virtually, every major crime category is lower in Manhattan now than it was last year,” a spokesperson for the office wrote in a statement following the hearing. “During the first quarter of 2023 the NYPD reported steep declines in most major crime categories, including murder, rape, robbery, and burglary.”
“For outside politicians to now appear in New York City on the taxpayer dime for a political stunt is a slap in the face to the dedicated NYPD officers, prosecutors and other public servants who work tirelessly every day with facts and data to keep our home safe,” the spokesperson added.
Throughout the hearing, the office’s official Twitter account posted statistics on enforcement action under Bragg.
Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the committee, sought to take that comparison further, drawing in a witness to rattle off a string of statistics about crime in red-leaning states.
And Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) accused Republicans of hosting the hearing in New York to embarrass or intimidate Bragg because of the Trump indictment.
“The majority denies that this is the purpose of today’s hearing,” Schiff said. “They would have you believe it is a mere coincidence that all of a sudden and out of the blue the chairman decided that the state of New York is a wonderful place to do a hearing.”
“Not the chairman’s home of Ohio with its high rates of murder, but New York state. And of all the cities in New York, they would pick New York City. And of all the boroughs of New York in New York they pick Manhattan. Apparently Manhattan is just lovely this time of year,” he continued. “What a remarkable coincidence we are meant to believe. Of all the gin joints and all the towns in all the world, we just happen to walk into this one. How absurd.”
Republicans highlight Bragg’s policies
Republican lawmakers and witnesses repeatedly brought up a “Day One” memo Bragg issued at the beginning of his term that instructed his office to use pretrial detention only for those charged with the most serious crimes. It also called for not prosecuting certain low-level offenses.
The New York Police Department commissioner and Republicans criticized the memo, and the district attorney revised his policies the next month. That did not deter GOP lawmakers from using the memo as fodder for attacks.
“He’s taken his soft-on-crime approach to real criminals,” Jordan said of Bragg, outlining parts of the memo. He then quoted Paul DiGiacomo, the president of the New York City’s Detectives’ Endowment Association who testified at Monday’s hearing.
“‘Bragg gives criminals the roadmap to freedom from prosecution and control of our streets. In Bragg’s Manhattan you can resist arrest, deal drugs, obstruct arrest and even carry a gun to get away with it.’ And guess what happened under this new policy? More crime,” Jordan said, listing off statistics of felony assaults, robberies, burglaries and grand larcenies and more in the city.
Fiery hearing leaves witnesses frustrated
But witnesses during the hearing expressed frustration at not getting more time to respond to Democrats’ talking points and at Jordan’s management of chatter and disruption to the hearing.
“Please don’t talk down to the witnesses,” one said as Jordan asked for quiet in the hearing room.
“They keep addressing us, the victims who are here to testify and make change. We’re here to effectuate change and they’re not allowing us to comment at all,” Jennifer Harrison, founder of Victims Rights NY.
Harrison’s group describes itself as being “literally on the battleground of good vs evil fighting against George Soros and his puppet candidates who want a complete breakdown of society.”
In one testy exchange toward the end of the hearing, Madeleine Brame — the chairwoman of the Victims Rights Reform Council and the mother of homicide victim — shot back at Rep. Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.) when the New York Democrat explained why he believes Republicans refrained from frequently mentioning Trump during Monday’s event.
“Don’t insult my intelligence,” Brame yelled out, which Goldman rejected. “You’re trying to insult me like I’m not aware of what’s going on here, okay. I’m fully aware of what’s going on here, okay.”
“That’s why I walked away from the plantation of the Democratic Party,” she added, leading Jordan to request that the committee be in order.
The hearing — which was preceded by a press conference held by Nadler, New York City Mayor Eric Adams (D), other Democratic lawmakers and gun prevention advocates — marked a shift in how Democrats have handled the off-sight hearings.
Other earlier hearings held beyond the halls of Congress were boycotted by Democrats, allowing the GOP to interview witnesses and air talking points with little challenge.
But Democrats sprung into action for the New York hearing, including roping in lawmakers otherwise not serving on the Judiciary Committee.
Goldman does not sit on the panel but he received a waiver to participate in Monday’s hearing, which took place in his district. House GOP Chairwoman Elise Stefanik (N.Y.) and Rep. Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.) also received waivers to attend the hearing.
“In a few minutes the House Judiciary Committee will convene what the chairman calls a field hearing. It may have some of the trappings of a hearing — we will have opening statements and witnesses and the members who will ask questions. But don’t be fooled, this is not a serious exercise. This is a political stunt,” Nadler said.
Adams told the cameras “welcome to the safest big city in America.”
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