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Former President Donald Trump, talks reporters April 16, 2024, while visiting a New York bodega whose owner was attacked last year. (AP) Former President Donald Trump, talks reporters April 16, 2024, while visiting a New York bodega whose owner was attacked last year. (AP)

Former President Donald Trump, talks reporters April 16, 2024, while visiting a New York bodega whose owner was attacked last year. (AP)

Amy Sherman
By Amy Sherman April 19, 2024

Trump says business records case about hush money is a “Biden trial.” It’s a Manhattan trial

If Your Time is short

  • The Manhattan district attorney’s investigation into Trump’s business records began before Joe Biden was president. By the time Trump was charged in 2023, Biden was president.

  • The investigation took many twists and turns, but Trump’s fighting the subpoena of his business records lengthened the timeline.

  • District Attorney Alvin Bragg hired a former Justice Department prosecutor in 2022. But experts told us that doesn’t prove Biden was involved.

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg brought the charges against former President Donald Trump over falsifying business records to pay off adult film actor Stormy Daniels. But Trump says President Joe Biden is really the person behind the case.

Trump has made the claim many times in many places.

"This trial that I have now, that’s a Biden trial," Trump said April 16 in front of a New York City bodega on the second day of jury selection.

"Two days from now, the entire world will witness the commencement of the very first Biden trial," he said at an April 13 rally in Pennsylvania.

"As you witness this Biden trial, I ask all Americans to remember that this is not just about me, this is about our country and this is about you," Trump said in an April 15 video.

These statements are wrong. There is no evidence that Biden orchestrated the charges against Trump. 

Bragg said in April 2023 that Trump was charged with 34 counts of falsifying business records to cover up a $130,000 payment to Daniels made through Trump’s then-attorney Michael Cohen. (Daniels’ real name is Stephanie Clifford.) 

"Alvin Bragg is an independently elected state prosecutor who has nothing to do with Biden, the (Justice Department) or the federal government," said Karen Friedman Agnifilo, a criminal defense attorney who worked at the Manhattan district attorney’s office before Bragg took over. "In fact, if Trump were convicted, even if he wanted to, Biden could not pardon him. It is wholly and entirely separate in every way."

We contacted a Trump campaign spokesperson for this fact-check and received no reply.  

Manhattan investigation into Trump began before Biden was president

The investigation into Trump’s business records is based on New York state law.

The Justice Department prosecutes only federal crimes in federal courts and cannot control state prosecutions, said Frank O. Bowman III, a University of Missouri law professor and former local prosecutor in Denver and federal prosecutor in Florida. 

"Local district attorneys prosecute state criminal violations in state criminal courts," Bowman said. "They are not under the control of the U.S. Department of Justice. Moreover, in my experience, they are fiercely independent and would resent any effort from the U.S. Justice Department to interfere in their decision-making."

The Manhattan investigation into Trump began in 2018, before Biden was president. It faced many twists, turns and delays amid the coronavirus pandemic, 2020 presidential election and lead prosecutors quitting. 

After Cohen pleaded guilty to federal charges in 2018, then-Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. opened an investigation into the payments, Politico reported.

Federal prosecutors could not charge Trump then because of the Justice Department’s policy not to bring criminal charges against a sitting president, Politico reported.

After federal prosecutors concluded their investigation, Vance in August 2019 subpoenaed Trump’s personal and corporate tax records. Trump’s lawyers fought the subpoena, and the U.S. Supreme Court in July 2020 ruled in Vance’s favor.

By the time Vance obtained the records, it was February 2021, early in Biden’s presidency. Bragg was elected to replace Vance and took office in 2022.  

Any cooperation between federal and local prosecutors generally is voluntary, said Melissa Redmon, a former local prosecutor in Georgia and University of Georgia law professor.

When Bragg sought federal records about Cohen’s telephone, federal prosecutors declined, saying "it would be unduly burdensome." Trump’s attorneys subpoenaed records from the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York.

"We would have seen much more early information sharing if the offices were acting in concert," Redmon said.

Although Trump was implicated in Cohen’s case, federal prosecutors in New York never charged him.

Bragg hired former DOJ attorney, but that doesn’t prove Biden involvement

In earlier versions of this statement, Trump highlighted a Biden link in one of the attorneys Bragg hired to work the case. 

One of Bragg’s prosecutors, Matthew Colangelo, worked for the U.S. Justice Department and the New York attorney general’s office before Bragg said he would join the district attorney’s office in December 2022.

In March, Trump called Colangelo a "radical left" prosecutor who was "put into the district attorney's office to run the trial against Trump." 

In his two years at the Justice Department, Colangelo helped oversee the antitrust, civil, civil rights, environment and natural resources, and tax divisions. 

Colangelo served as acting associate attorney general, the department’s third-highest-ranking position, during the Biden administration’s first few months, until Vanita Gupta was confirmed. Colangelo then served as the principal deputy associate attorney general. Colangelo also served in the Obama administration.

When Colangelo worked for the New York attorney general, he investigated the Trump Foundation and led lawsuits against the Trump administration. The New York Times reported that Bragg and Colangelo overlapped at the attorney general’s office.

But Colangelo’s presence on Bragg’s team doesn’t prove that Biden, or officials in his White House or campaign, were involved in the case.

Multiple lawyers told us it’s unsurprising that Bragg would hire Colangelo, a longtime prosecutor with experience investigating Trump. Prosecutors commonly move between jobs at federal, state and high-profile local offices.

"The more relevant prior position held by Colangelo is not his DOJ jobs, but the NY AG position in which he participated in the Trump Foundation investigation," Bowman said. "I'd bet that Bragg hired him in part because of his familiarity with the intricacies of Trump's businesses and financial dealings. But, again, that proves exactly nothing about Biden influence on the Manhattan case."

Bill Otis, former head of the Appellate Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia and a former special counsel to former President George H.W. Bush, raised questions about Bragg hiring Colangelo.

"There are about a zillion smart lawyers on the East Coast," he said. "Why does Alvin Bragg need to use one with high-level links to Biden's DOJ?"

Nevertheless, Trump is exaggerating, Otis said. Bragg hiring Colangelo "does not prove Biden's personal involvement in investigating and/or charging Trump, but it's another smelly straw in the wind."

Our ruling

Trump said that "this trial that I have now that’s a Biden trial." 

The Manhattan district attorney’s investigation of Trump began in 2018, before Biden was his party’s presidential nominee. Bragg filed the charges in 2023. Trump’s fighting a subpoena lengthened this timeline.

Trump has criticized that Bragg hired Colangelo, a former Justice Department prosecutor who investigated Trump when he worked for the New York attorney general. It’s not uncommon for seasoned prosecutors to move among federal, state and local offices. Reasonable people may question the political wisdom of Bragg’s hire, but it doesn’t prove that Biden has directed the Manhattan investigation.

We rate Trump’s statement False.

RELATED: Fact-check: Trump misleads on jury selection, request to Judge Merchan for time off

RELATED: A fact-checker’s guide to Trump’s first criminal trial: business records, hush money and a gag order

RELATED: Read all of PolitiFact’s coverage on Donald Trump indictments

Our Sources

C-SPAN, Former President Trump Visits Bodega in Harlem After Day 2 of Jury Selection in Hush Money Trial, April 16, 2024

WHYY, At Trump’s last campaign stop before his hush money trial, immigration is a top issue, April 14, 2024

Former President Donald Trump, campaign video, April 15, 2024

Truth Social, Donald Trump post, April 15, 2024

U.S. Department of Justice, Former Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta Accessed April 19, 2024

Politico, How a hush money scandal turned into a criminal case: The whirlwind history of People v. Trump, April 15, 2024

Biden campaign email, April 15, 2024

Just Security, A Complete Guide to the Manhattan Trump Election Interference Prosecution, March 27, 2024

White House, Remarks by President Biden on New Actions to Protect U.S. Steel and Shipbuilding Industry from China’s Unfair Practices | Pittsburgh, PA, April 17, 2024

CNN, Fact check: Trump’s false and unsubstantiated claims about his Manhattan criminal case, April 14, 2024

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, District Attorney Bragg Announces 34-Count Felony Indictment of Former President Donald J. Trump, April 4, 2023

New York State Senate, Section 175.10 Falsifying business records in the first degree, Accessed April 5, 2024

U.S. Attorney’s Office, Michael Cohen Sentenced To 3 Years In Prison, Dec. 12, 2018

U.S. Attorney’s Office, Michael Cohen Pleads Guilty In Manhattan Federal Court To Eight Counts, Including Criminal Tax Evasion And Campaign Finance Violations, Aug. 21, 2018

Associated Press, Michael Cohen ends prison term after Trump-related crimes, Nov. 22, 2021

ABC, Timeline: Manhattan DA's Stormy Daniels hush money case against Donald Trump, April 4, 2024

CNN, Breaking down Trump’s attacks on the daughter of the judge in his New York hush-money trial, April 7, 2024

NBC News, Manhattan D.A. Alvin Bragg discusses charges against Trump, April 2023

U.S. Attorney’s Office, Former Acting Associate Attorney General Matthew Colangelo, 2021

The Bulwark, "There is no breaking point with Donald Trump." March 27, 2024

Washington Post, What to know about Trump’s New York charges — and any potential sentence, April 8, 2024

CNN, ​​Appeals judge denies Trump’s request to delay start of hush money trial so he can challenge gag order, April 9, 2024

CNN, Fact Check: Trump repeats baseless claims about Biden orchestrating his trials, March 25, 2024

CBS, Trump lawyer demands investigation into Manhattan D.A. as possible indictment looms, March 13, 2024

PolitiFact, Merrick Garland, other Justice Department nominees pledge political impartiality, March 12, 2021

Telephone interview, Patrice Schiano, doctoral lecturer at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, April 19, 2024

Email interview, Frank Bowman, University of Missouri Curators' Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri School of Law, April 19, 2024

Email interview, Karen Friedman Agnifilo, criminal defense attorney and former executive chief of the trial division and chief assistant district attorney at the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, April 19, 2024

Email interview, Melissa Redmon, University of Georgia law professor and former deputy district attorney in Fulton County, April 19, 2024

Email interview with Bill Otis, former head of the Appellate Division of the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia and Special Counsel to George H W Bush, April 4 and 19, 2024

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Trump says business records case about hush money is a “Biden trial.” It’s a Manhattan trial

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