Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance on Tuesday offered a word salad non-apology for taking campaign contributions from the lawyers of rich and powerful people he has failed to prosecute over the years, saying he “certainly…would perhaps have done things different.”
In 2012, Vance dropped a case against President Trump’s children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., for possible real estate fraud. Three year later, Vance chose not to pursue misdemeanor sexual assault charges against movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
In both cases, Vance fumbled major investigations, and, in both cases, Vance accepted campaign contributions from the lawyers of the folks he failed to prosecute.
On Tuesday morning, Spectrum News NY1, a local television station in New York City, ran a story headlined, “Manhattan DA answers questions about campaign distributions,” which led, “District Attorney Cy Vance says he regrets taking campaign money from defense attorneys with cases before his office.”
But Vance didn’t actually use the word “regret,” instead offering a vague, makeshift response.
“I certainly, with hindsight being 20/20, I would perhaps have done things different in terms of receiving contributions,” he told NY1. “And since I’m prepared to not accept contributions from lawyers, I would have done things different.”
As for doing things different moving forward, Vance has hired the Center for the Advancement of Public Integrity to review his campaign contributions, and until the office develops new policies, Vance says won’t accept campaign donations from anyone, including defense attorneys.
Reached by ThinkProgress about specifics of any new policies, Vance’s office said only that they had addressed the policies in public statements.
Vance’s reelection declined to comment for this article. In a statement released Sunday, he offered no specifics about how he would change his policies moving forward.
“In my seven years as district attorney, I’ve never allowed someone’s wealth, power, race, or campaign contributions to influence my decisions,” the statement said. “Over the past few days, I’ve learned that it’s not enough for me to have confidence in my independence from donors. The people of New York deserve to be confident about it as well.”
The people of New York certainly don’t seem confident at the moment. When questions about the Trump case arose, Vance returned the money, but as The New York Times editorial board put it, “the issue of whether there had been a quid pro quo lingered.”
What seems to bother Vance is rather that the contributions became news, not that he took money from rich and powerful lawyers representing rich and powerful people who may have gotten away with fraud and abuse thanks to his decision not to prosecute.
“I did not anticipate those events to become the major news items that they were,” Vance attempted to explain to NY1. “The timing of them was just the way the world works.”
Specifically, regarding Weinstein’s attorney, Elkan Ambramowitz, Vance said it is the “kind of potential conflict that [he] would address” and that he would have been prepared to turn down Ambramowitz’s donations if the donations had been made now. He did not explain why he wasn’t prepared to turn down the donations at the time.
“Elkan is an exceptional lawyer, respected by many,” Vance said. “I don’t think he had contributed close in time necessarily to the representation he was involved with. But yes, I would certainly be prepared to say that if Elkan came before the office, that I should not be able to receive campaign funds from Elkan.”
Notably, Vance has doubled down on his decision not to prosecute Weinstein in the wake of an avalanche of allegations of rape, sexual assault, and harassment over the last two weeks, instead shifting the blame on the city’s police force.
Statement by Chief ADA Karen Friedman Agnifilo on allegations against Harvey Weinstein — pic.twitter.com/4kLfEk60re
— Cyrus Vance, Jr. (@ManhattanDA) October 10, 2017
“After the complaint was made in 2015, the NYPD — without out knowledge or input — arranged a controlled call and meeting between the complainant and Mr. Weinstein,” a statement from Vance’s office said. “The seasoned prosecutors were not afforded the opportunity before the meeting to counsel investigators on what was necessary to capture in order to prove a misdemeanor sex crime.”
At any rate, Vance told NY1, there is nothing he can do to remove himself from the small and friendly legal community in Manhattan — the same social circles in which lawyers for Weinstein and Trump and so many other wealthy and powerful people and the people who protect them from facing any consequences for their actions run.
“We operate, obviously, in a community of New York County lawyers,” Vance said. “And it’s entirely understandable that I would see lawyers at functions around the town, and in some cases these are lawyers I’ve known for years. That can’t be eliminated.”
This article has been updated to include clarifications from the district attorney’s office.