On March 20, 2023, the day before former U.S. President Donald Trump claimed he would be indicted by the Manhattan District Attorney's (DA) Office over alleged hush-money payments to adult film star Stormy Daniels, Trump's reelection campaign's Twitter asserted that, "Joe Biden's [U.S] 'Justice' Department sent their top people to the Manhattan District Attorney's office to help in the prosecution of President Trump."
"This way we have it a little bit away from Washington," Trump explained in the video shared with the tweet, making it appear local and unrelated to federal or presidential politics. "But their top guy was put in that office to help prosecute," he said.
In the weeks leading to Trump's potential indictment over his role in concealing payments to Daniels in 2016, Republicans have sought to portray the Manhattan DA's investigation as politically motivated and as part of a political effort by President Joe Biden to undercut an election opponent.
The U.S. Department of Justice, which has federal jurisdiction, declined to prosecute a similar case. The Manhattan DA (also known at the New York County District Attorney's Office) is a local office focused on crimes committed in Manhattan, where the Trump Organization is based. The latter office is responsible for prosecuting violations of state laws.
Are Former Justice Department Officials Involved in Manhattan Case?
Trump's reference to a former "top guy" at the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) who was put in the Manhattan DA's office "to help prosecute" him likely points to former DOJ official Matthew Colangelo. Prior to becoming senior counsel to the state district attorney in Manhattan in December 2022, Colangelo was former acting associate attorney general for the federal DOJ. "In that job," The New York Times explained, he was "the third highest-ranking [person] at the department," and he "helped oversee the Civil, Civil Rights, Antitrust and Tax divisions, among others."
Prior to that, he worked for the New York State Attorney General's (AG) Office alongside current Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg. There, he led "dozens" of lawsuits against the Trump administration, per The New York Times:
[At the New York AG's Office,] Mr. Colangelo led dozens of lawsuits against the Trump administration, including a successful challenge to the inclusion of a question about citizenship to the census in 2020. He also oversaw an investigation into Mr. Trump's charity, the Trump Foundation, which caused the organization to dissolve, and led that office's civil inquiry into Mr. Trump's financial practices…
Colangelo, whose appointment under Biden was on an acting basis, stepped aside when a permanent associate attorney general, Vanita Gupta, was appointed in April 2021. However, he remained at DOJ as her deputy prior to joining the Manhattan DA's office.
According to the Manhattan DA, Colangelo will focus on the "most sensitive and high-profile white-collar investigations" they handle as well as "the Office's cases, policies, and strategies in housing and tenant protection and labor and worker protection."
Are Other Biden DOJ Officials Involved in Manhattan DA's Case?
The viral tweet from Trump's campaign and his assertion that the DOJ sent its top "people" to Manhattan imply that multiple federal DOJ attorneys who once worked under Biden now work for Bragg.
Pundits at Fox News have also in recent weeks attempted to highlight assertions that suggest, at least superficially, the possibility of multiple DOJ lawyers' active involvement in the Manhattan case, repeatedly referring to "10 prosecutors" in the room during Grand Jury proceedings:
The actual number of potentially Biden-linked attorneys also appears to be unclear to Republicans in Congress. In a letter to Bragg, Republican leaders demanded his appearance before Congress to answer questions about what they described as "an unprecedented abuse of prosecutorial authority." The letter, in part, appears to seek information that would suggest collusion between Biden officials in the DOJ and investigators with the Manhattan District Attorney's office:
[B]ecause the circumstances of this matter stem, in part, from Special Counsel Mueller's investigation, Congress may consider legislative reforms to the authorities of special counsels and their relationships with other prosecuting entities. Accordingly, to advance our oversight, please produce the following documents and information for the period January 1, 2017, to the present:
1. All documents and communications between or among the New York County District Attorney's Office and the U.S. Department of Justice, its component entities, or other federal law enforcement agencies referring or relating to your office's investigation of President Donald Trump; [...]
It is unclear, however, what other Manhattan DA investigators besides Colangelo — if any — have previous high-level involvement with the Biden justice department. The Manhattan investigation is headed by that office's chief of the investigation division, Susan Hoffinger, who has never been a part of any presidential administration's Department of Justice.
Republicans have vowed to investigate aggressively Bragg's potential decision to indict Trump.