Manhattan’s district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr, the veteran prosecutor overseeing a criminal investigation into the former US president, Donald Trump, announced on Friday that he intends to retire instead of seeking re-election, opting against a primary fight with progressive candidates who say he is a relic and not a reformer.
Vance made the announcement in a memo to staffers, ending months of speculation about his future and signaling it is likely to be a brand-new DA who sees the Trump case through, although Vance could still make a decision about charges before his term expires at the end of the year.
Vance, a Democrat, counted the fallen movie mogul Harvey Weinstein’s rape conviction a year ago among his crowning achievements.
But he has faced withering criticism over other high-profile cases, including dropping rape charges against the former International Monetary Fund chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn in 2011 and declining to prosecute Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr over fraud allegations in 2012.
“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,” Vance, 66, said on Friday.
His decision not to seek re-election was widely expected, but he held off on making it official while the US supreme court weighed whether his office could obtain Trump’s tax records. The court ruled in Vance’s favor last month.
Some of the Democrats campaigning to replace Vance want to slash the office’s budget, cut staff and skip prosecutions for a wider range of low-level offenses.
Eight candidates are on the ballot for the party’s June primary, an election likely to decide Vance’s successor because Manhattan is so heavily Democratic.
Vance ended most marijuana possession and subway turnstile jumping prosecutions, slashing the cases handled by his office by nearly 60%, to about 42,000 in 2019. He embraced diversionary programs for first-time offenders and established a unit to remedy wrongful convictions.
The supreme court ruling on Trump’s taxes was a capstone for Vance’s tenure as district attorney, ending an 18-month fight with Trump’s lawyers and bolstering a grand jury investigation that has drawn worldwide attention.
Vance’s investigation includes examining whether Trump or his businesses lied about the value of assets to gain favorable loan terms and tax benefits, and hush-money payments paid to women on Trump’s behalf.
It’s one of the most high-profile prosecution jobs in the world, dramatized on TV’s Law and Order and Blue Bloods. The district attorney oversees a staff of 500 lawyers and has a budget of about $125m.
A separate forfeiture fund bankrolled by Wall Street settlements and worth more than $800m is used for grants to criminal justice and community organizations and big initiatives, such as testing backlogged rape kits.
Vance, whose father was the former president Jimmy Carter’s secretary of state, ran as a death penalty opponent and positioned himself as a criminal justice innovator, taking interest in national and global efforts to prevent cyber-attacks, gun violence and the theft of artwork and antiquities.
After making a campaign pledge to re-examine the 1979 disappearance of six-year-old Etan Patz, a 2012 tip led to a new suspect and ultimately a conviction.
Weinstein’s conviction in a landmark #MeToo case last year boosted Vance’s lagging legacy, giving him a career-defining win in a tenure clouded by concerns that he repeatedly gave powerful people special treatment.
They included sidestepping an effort to pursue charges against Weinstein in 2015 and striking a deal in 2016 so well-connected gynecologist Robert Hadden could avoid prison for allegedly sexually abusing patients. Vance’s office reopened the Hadden case amid public outcry last year, and the doctor was indicted on federal charges.