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The truth and half-truths of George Soros' relationship to Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg

: [POST-BROADCAST CLARIFICATION: In this story, guest Emily Tamkin says that George Soros gave money to a group called “Color of Change” which in turn gave campaign funds to Alvin Bragg. In fact, Soros gave money to both “Color of Change” and its affiliated political action committee, “Color of Change PAC” and it was the latter which gave funds to Bragg’s campaign.]

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg is ultimately the man responsible for bringing historic criminal charges against former President Trump this week. In return, a lot of Trump's defenders are attacking Alvin Bragg, and many make a point of linking him to the wealthy investor and liberal philanthropist George Soros.

(SOUNDBITE OF MONTAGE)

DONALD TRUMP: Beginning with the radical left George Soros-backed prosecutor Alvin Bragg of New York.

RON DESANTIS: These Soros-backed DAs - they are a menace to society. They are a menace to the law.

MARJORIE TAYLOR GREENE: By the George Soros-funded Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg.

KELLY: That was Trump, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene there. So why is George Soros a favorite target of conservative politicians? We wanted to understand that better. So we reached out to a journalist who wrote the book on him. Emily Tamkin is the author of "The Influence Of Soros: Politics, Power, And The Struggle For An Open Society." I want to open by noting that NPR has in past accepted money from Soros' foundation to finance independent reporting on state governments. And I want to welcome you, Emily Tamkin.

EMILY TAMKIN: Thank you. Thank you for having me.

KELLY: Let's start with a basic fact check. What exactly is the connection between George Soros or his foundations and Manhattan DA Alvin Bragg?

TAMKIN: So in this case, Soros gave money to a group called Color of Change, which is a social justice civil rights group that in turn gave some money to the campaign of District Attorney Alvin Bragg.

KELLY: OK.

TAMKIN: So that is the connection between...

KELLY: So Soros gave money to this group, this progressive group, and then they gave...

TAMKIN: Right.

KELLY: ...Money to Bragg's campaign. OK. Go on.

TAMKIN: Yes. So since the late 1990s, George Soros has been involved philanthropically in trying to have society rethink criminal justice. And this is involved not philanthropically but politically giving two campaigns of progressive district attorneys. So when you hear people on the right say, well, he - you know, these - Soros and these DAs, it comes from a grain of truth, which is that this is somebody who for decades now has been committed to rethinking how we do criminal justice in this country and has given money to certain candidates or, in this case, a group that then gave to a candidate. But I think we need to differentiate between that and saying, and he is controlling these people.

KELLY: Yeah. I mean, is there any evidence that Soros got something for this money in the case of Alvin Bragg, that his money bought influence in some way?

TAMKIN: No, there's no evidence of that. And just more broadly, there are critiques to be made - right? - about a billionaire philanthropist who gives money to prosecutors' campaigns, right? We could have a conversation about money in politics, the power of billionaires in American society. All of that is fair game, right? But that's not really what this is. This is over-assigning the influence of Soros over Bragg and also dramatically overstating the agency that Soros has over this case.

KELLY: But - so what is it about George Soros that makes - you know, for conservative politicians, that makes linking somebody to him so attractive? Like, what's the implication of calling somebody Soros-affiliated?

TAMKIN: Right. I think it's three things. The first is that I once had somebody in Europe, where these conspiracy theories are also popular, tell me you couldn't dream up a more perfect cartoon villain because he is - in the U.S. context, he was born abroad. He was born in Hungary. He works in finance. He lives in New York. He's Jewish, which brings with it all sorts of connotations if one wants to play on anti-Semitism. He also has been very influential in politics, finance and philanthropy. So often when you hear a conspiracy theory or a smear, it comes from somewhere that is, like, next to the truth, which brings us to conversations like this one, where you're separating fact from fiction, and fiction's already doing laps.

And then finally, the idea of Soros' Open Society philanthropic work - you know, an open society is one in which we all have an equal chance to participate and that chance is based not on ethnicity or race or religion. And I think that vision is counter to the vision that many of those, particularly on the political right who attack Soros, would like to see.

KELLY: You mentioned George Soros is Jewish, which is prompting questions as to whether the attacks on him are anti-Semitic. How do you understand this?

TAMKIN: The idea of a Jewish person being all-controlling and all-powerful and using that control and power to denigrate and degrade and corrupt society is a very, very old one. It does not matter if the word Jewish was not actually said. This is trying to use anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic tropes in order to stir something up within the hearts and minds of those hearing it.

KELLY: Has Soros himself weighed in?

TAMKIN: He put out a statement that said that he has never met Bragg and also has pointed to an op-ed that he wrote for The Wall Street Journal explaining why he backs progressive prosecutors. But I almost think that what he says and doesn't say - obviously, it matters. But it's going to get lost in all of this because the allegations against him are not based on what he's actually said and done. It's based on overstating what he has said and done.

KELLY: Journalist Emily Tamkin. Thank you.

TAMKIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF THINK TWICE AND DAVID RYSHPAN'S "DEAD PRESIDENTS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Alejandra Marquez Janse
Alejandra Marquez Janse is a producer for NPR's evening news program All Things Considered. She was part of a team that traveled to Uvalde, Texas, months after the mass shooting at Robb Elementary to cover its impact on the community. She also helped script and produce NPR's first bilingual special coverage of the State of the Union – broadcast in Spanish and English.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.