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Alvin Bragg's former colleague explains the D.A.'s working style


We are covering former President Donald Trump's arraignment on this program today. And as part of that coverage, we wanted to spend a moment learning about the man behind the indictment. That would be Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. He is an experienced prosecutor, from Harlem, a Democrat, the first Black person to serve as Manhattan DA. What else should we know about him? And what's his style as a prosecutor? Well, Peter Skinner worked with Bragg for several years in the Southern District of New York and spoke with me today before the arraignment began.

So let's dive right in. I want to ask about a specific case that you prosecuted with Bragg. This was a money laundering case, and I gather it was complicated. This was back when you were both assistant U.S. attorneys in New York. Give me some detail on how he approached it.

PETER SKINNER: Well, so Alvin and I were trial partners in the Southern District of New York where we used to work together. You typically tried cases as teams. You know, in those cases, you're working very closely with someone in a very kind of intense environment for weeks or months. So you get to know them fairly well.

KELLY: Yeah.

SKINNER: You want someone who's, first and foremost, capable and help you get the job done in the courtroom, but you also want someone who you're going to get along with. And, you know, Alvin checked those boxes.

KELLY: I'm told there's a good story from this trial, a moment where the judge had told the jury, look. Go take a long lunch, and then everybody's going to come back and we'll do the charge conference, meaning where you finalize the jury. What happened?

SKINNER: That's right. And this was a judge who didn't allow cellphones in the courtroom. So we got back to the conference room. Kind of the first thing everybody always did was look at their phone. My phone had a whole bunch of missed messages and voicemails from my wife that I started to listen to. She was telling me that the roof of our apartment had collapsed.

KELLY: Oh, my God.

SKINNER: She was home with our two young kids, one of them an infant. And it was torrentially raining out. So rain had somehow collapsed the roof. And, you know, she needed me to come home right away, obviously. And I was kind of looking around in the trial room, you know, panicked because I was the one who was supposed to handle the charge in front of the judge that afternoon. I'd written the charge, and, you know, I was supposed to take the lead on it. And Alvin obviously knew the charge, was familiar with it, but it just wasn't what he was prepared to do. But he didn't hesitate. He was immediately like, you have to go home. You have to be with your family. Take care of this. I will cover the charge. It's not a problem. And he did. You know, he went in alone. He handled the charge. He did it well. And, you know, this was kind of no small thing. I mean, I think a lot of other people in that situation would have said, well, you know, let's get you home as quick as we can after you handle the charge. But, you know, Alvin didn't hesitate. And I think that, you know, it's kind of a good story that describes how he approaches things. You know, he's decisive. He's clear-eyed in a difficult situation.

KELLY: Did you all win this money laundering case?

SKINNER: We did. We did. We won. We won the trial.

KELLY: Congratulations. I wonder how we apply all this to this current moment. Because whatever the outcome, Alvin Bragg is making history; as we keep noting, the first criminal indictment of a former president of the United States. Is this a guy you would have pegged to put himself in the middle of something so big?

SKINNER: Certainly not intentionally, but I am happy that he is one there making these decisions. I think that the man that I know would be very careful and deliberate in making these decisions, would do them for the right reasons.

KELLY: You have since moved on. You've gone into private practice. So I know it's been a few years since you've worked with him, but have you tracked his career enough to gauge whether things he has gone on to do have prepared him for this moment? I mean, it's an unprecedented situation. So nobody has direct experience. But does he bring the correct background to this?

SKINNER: Yeah, I think he does. I mean, he has worked for most of his career in a variety of different prosecutorial positions. He's led multiple different prosecuting offices. He's worked as a defense lawyer earlier in his career, which I think is also an important part of being an effective prosecutor, being able to appreciate the perspective of the defense. So I really think that he does have the necessary background to try and make these important decisions.

KELLY: If you were double-teaming this along with him again, any advice you'd give him?

SKINNER: Just do the right thing, right? I mean, at the end of the day, all you can really do is show up, be prepared, do the best you can on a daily basis and try to make sure that you're doing the right thing.

KELLY: Peter Skinner. He is now at a law firm, Morrison Foerster. He's the former colleague of Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg. Thanks so much.

SKINNER: Thanks so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Linah Mohammad
Prior to joining NPR in 2022, Mohammad was a producer on The Washington Post's daily flagship podcast Post Reports, where her work was recognized by multiple awards. She was honored with a Peabody award for her work on an episode on the life of George Floyd.
Jonaki Mehta is a producer for All Things Considered. Before ATC, she worked at Neon Hum Media where she produced a documentary series and talk show. Prior to that, Mehta was a producer at Member station KPCC and director/associate producer at Marketplace Morning Report, where she helped shape the morning's business news.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.