MANHATTAN (CN) — Saying it’s time for “new leadership,” the New York prosecutor investigating former President Donald Trump’s taxes will not seek reelection.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., 66, announced the news in a staff memo on Friday. His departure was anticipated; by January, Vance had raised nearly no money for reelection, and his office said he was not actively fundraising.
Vance, who took his post in 2010, said representing the people of New York “during this pivotal era for our city and our justice system has been the privilege of a lifetime.”
“I never imagined myself as district attorney for decades like my predecessors. I never thought of this as my last job, even though it’s the best job and biggest honor I’ll ever have,” he wrote.
“I said twelve years ago that change is fundamentally good and necessary for any institution. Having secured these lasting impacts in our communities, our public policy, and our crimefighting capacity, the time has come to open the pathway for new leadership at the Manhattan D.A.’s Office.”
Vance went on to cite Muhammad Ali, quoting the boxer as having said, “don’t count the days, make the days count.”
The New York District Attorney’s Office has for several years been leading a criminal investigation that the Supreme Court boosted last month in refusing to block a subpoena of former President Donald Trump’s tax records.
The scope of Vance’s full investigation is still under wraps. It began with a focus on hush-money paid to Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal ― both of whom said they had sexual encounters with Trump.
Cohen was sentenced to three years in prison for his role in making the payments happen, “at the coordination with and the direction of Individual-1,” according to prosecutors. Subsequent filings dispensed with the veiling of “Individual-1” used to shield Trump’s name from court records.
Vance’s memo Friday ends with the same concise statement he gave after the Supreme Court green-lit the subpoena of Trump’s taxes: “The work continues.”
As to who will continue that work, eight candidates so far are running to replace Vance, with the official filing deadline several weeks away. They seem to represent the generational turnover Vance has said played a role in his decision to depart.
As The New York Times reported Friday, five prosecutor candidates, two of whom worked in Vance’s office, have distanced themselves from the Manhattan’s current top prosecutor. The remaining candidates have no prosecutorial experience.
Running are former Brooklyn prosecutor Tali Farhadian Weinstein; former Chief Deputy Attorney General Alvin Bragg; Diana Florence and Lucy Lang, who both worked in Vance’s office; and former prosecutor Liz Crotty, now a private litigator.
Without prosecutor experience, and considering that fact an advantage, are New York State Assemblymember Dan Quart; civil rights attorney Tahanie Aboushi; and public defender Eliza Orlins.
Because Manhattan is heavily Democratic, the race could well be decided by the June Democratic primary. The person elected will be just the fourth Manhattan district attorney in the last 80 years. Vance’s predecessor, Robert Morgenthau, was in office for 34 years. Frank Hogan before him served for 31 years.
Vance turns 67 on June 22.
Leading up to the race, candidates have discussed cutting staff and money from the District Attorney’s Office — currently endowed with $125 million and 500 attorneys — and declining more broadly to prosecute low-level offenses.
Under Vance, Manhattan cut prosecutions by nearly 60% by 2019, the Associated Press reports, by ending prosecutions for most marijuana possession and smoking charges, and for jumping subway turnstiles.
Progressive candidates to take Vance’s place would like to see that effort expanded for low-level crimes. But Vance’s successor will also have to take on high-profile criminal investigations.
"What's really important is that if there's a case or if it's just an investigation that's pretty far along that it'd be left in the hands of somebody who knows what they're doing, who's competent, who's experienced, who has judgment and who doesn't think politically," said Daniel R. Alonso, Vance's former chief assistant district attorney, now a partner at the firm Buckley LLP.
In announcing Vance’s departure, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office noted his accomplishments in prosecuting Trump and former film producer Harvey Weinstein.
Critics of Vance have said some investigations of well-connected figures, including Weinstein, did not go far enough.
In 2015, Vance’s office opted not to press charges against Weinstein because of concerns that a jury would not believe the Italian model who accused Weinstein of groping her during an interview.
Vance was also criticized for dropping rape charges against French financier Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2011, and for declining to prosecute Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. on 2012 fraud allegations.
In 2018, Vance brought the first criminal charges against Weinstein, who was found guilty of felony forced sex acts and sentenced to 23 years in prison.