Former prosecutor and new Manhattan Institute adjunct fellow Thomas Hogan joins Brian Anderson to discuss America’s best—and worst—district attorneys, the Chesa Boudin recall campaign, and the future of “progressive prosecution” in the United States.

Audio Transcript

Brian Anderson: Welcome back to the 10 Blocks Podcast. This is Brian Anderson, the editor of City Journal. Joining me on today's show is Tom Hogan. He's a frequent contributor to the magazine, a brand new adjunct fellow at the Manhattan Institute, and he's been on the show before. Tom is an attorney who has served as a federal prosecutor, the elected district attorney of Pennsylvania's Chester County, and a partner at major law firms.

He has prosecuted violent crime, drug trafficking organizations, political corruption, and terrorism, and he's a recent graduate of the university of Pennsylvania's criminology graduate program. Today, we're going to discuss some of his recent stories, which are looking at the best and worst prosecutors in America and examining the policies contributing to the very, very disturbing escalation and urban crime rates that we've been seeing. So, Tom, thanks again for coming on.

Thomas Hogan: Always happen to be on, Brian and certainly the areas that we're covering are interesting to everybody these days.

Brian Anderson: For sure. In a recent City Journal piece you compiled, a list of who you deemed America's five best prosecutors. You opened with a quote from Robert Jackson who served as US Attorney General under FDR. He said, "While the prosecutor at his best is one of the most beneficial forces in our society, when he acts from malice or other base motives, he's one of the worst." I wonder, if you could name two or three of these outstanding prosecutors, let's say two and discuss the benefits that their cities are seeing from their tenure.

Thomas Hogan: Well, certainly Summer Steven in San Diego. She is an experienced prosecutor. She worked her way up through the ranks. So she has seen every type of crime there is. She is dedicated to protecting victims, and she understands criminals. She knows what they think. She knows how they damage her city and her community, and she's willing to stand up to them. So Summer is a great example.

And as a result, San Diego is one of the few large cities that actually has been managed to keep crime to relatively low levels, certainly compared to the rest of the country and the rest of the big cities. The others it's so hard to pick. Kim Worthy's great in Detroit, working under very difficult circumstances. She's a Democrat in a very poor city, but she has seen these criminals, and she will not stand for them taking over with their stop snitching culture. She will not stand for not prosecuting crimes.

And she looks around at some of these progressive prosecutors and shakes her head. She has been to the mountain, and she has seen the elephant. She knows what's going on in these other cities. And I've got to mention John Durham, who's leading the Steele Dossier prosecution, a former US attorney for the district of Connecticut, now special counsel of the department of justice.

He never seeks publicity. He always demands the truth, and always demands that people stick to the rule of law. He's a great example of, "I'm just going to do my job. I'm going to state the facts and follow the law, and everybody else, you better pay attention because I'm not going to quit until I find the truth." And he really is putting a lot of pressure on folks in Washington who backed that Steele Dossier.

Brian Anderson: Right. Yeah. It's quite interesting. Just how much he's been able to stay out of the limelight. I can't think of a single interview he's done or press conference, nothing. Well you mentioned some of these good prosecutors. You've also done a piece that's gotten a lot of attention on America's worst prosecutors and some of these names may be more familiar to our listeners. I wonder if you could mention a few of them, perhaps the worst of the worst and what characteristics would you say do they have in common?

Thomas Hogan: Well, Brian, everyone in the big city seems to be reporting back to me, whether it's law enforcement, prosecutors, politicians, that they think they have the worst prosecutor in America. And so they all finally asked eventually, what is it that makes a bad prosecutor? And it's easy to pick out these prosecutors. Larry Krasner here in Philadelphia, Kim Gardner in St. Louis, Kim Fox in Chicago, but also some surprise ones.

Josh Shapiro, the AG in Philadelphia who refused to step in when Krasner ducked aside. Bill McSwain, the US attorney who covers Philadelphia, who then refused to step in when both Shapiro and Krasner stepped aside. The common elements that you see among these sorts of prosecutors is one inexperience. These are not folks who came up through the grind of being line prosecutors, and then working their way through supervision and understanding all the dynamics of what goes on in a prosecutor's office.

How you have to train, how you have to keep morale up, how you have to work with the other players in the system. Be a little bit like taking somebody who had never flown a kite before and put them in charge of flying a 747. Pretty sure they're going to crash. And these guys have crashed. Political ambition runs through many of these prosecutors. They are just stamping their ticket on their way to a higher office. And personal integrity is a problem for many of these prosecutors.

A lot of them have been investigated. A lot of them have been found to have engaged in campaign, election fraud violations, or they have been not showing up for work. At least one of them, Marilyn Mosby in Baltimore is under indictment from the feds for perjury. So these are folks who don't understand what they are being asked to do. And instead, they are thinking more about the criminals and how they can help the criminals than the victims, and how they can protect their cities.

Brian Anderson: And we're certainly seeing a significant spike in crime in many of these cities where progressive prosecutors are running the show, right?

Thomas Hogan: Absolutely. And for the longest period of time, people were willing to blame just about anything else. COVID, the George Floyd protest, but now, we're starting to see people are honing in more on, "Okay, these prosecutors are literally not prosecuting crimes." The number of crimes they are charging and convicting people with are way down, and that includes some very violent offenses.

And as we've all seen from our academic research, and from real life experience, you don't have to lock everybody up, but there is a 5% of hardcore offenders who are causing over 50% of the violent crime in the United States. And if you don't get to that 5% and lock them up, you are going to see tremendous increases in violent crime, particularly homicides and non-fatal shootings. And that's exactly what we're seeing across the United States, because these folks are not incapacitated.

Brian Anderson: Now, chief prosecutors are elected officials, so that means residents do have a say in local crime policy. The last time you were on 10 Blocks, we were looking at the question of Larry Krasner's reelection in Philadelphia, which came in what turned out to be a very low turnout election, but he did win it by a significant margin.

Brian Anderson: And the question we raised there was whether voters could be motivated to vote out prosecutors who are contributing to this rising disorder. Now, another test, a very significant one that I think will get national attention is coming with San Francisco's Chesa Boudin facing a recall election next month. So Boudin campaigned on the promise to fight mass incarceration, decriminalize quality of life offenses.

And over the last two years, since he took office, he's chosen not to prosecute many instances of shoplifting, all of these things. Open air drug use, prostitution, public living in camps or tents and other crimes that he considers victimless. But what's happened in San Francisco has just seen really deteriorating living conditions in the city and rising crime rates.

So, the most recent poll suggests that he could be in trouble and he could be recalled. So, if he is recalled, what kind of a message could that send to some of these other progressive prosecutors in their particular cities?

Thomas Hogan: So talking to people on the ground in San Francisco, they tell me that they are almost certain that he is going to be recalled just like the school board members were. So they think he is on his way out. The message is pretty clear, which is you can go too far. If you are actually going to allow this level of disorder, then people will vote. People will eventually react.

Now, San Francisco is a bit of a unicorn in that it is almost uniformly wealthy and nonviolent. San Franciscans are complaining that their homicides under Boudin went up from 44 to 48 to 51 homicides per year. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, the electorate sat there quite complacently as under Larry Krasner homicides went from a low in the mid 250 up to 562 last year.

So the electorate in San Francisco is more sensitive to the actual quality of life on the streets out there. They're not objecting so much to there being a ton more homicides, because there aren't hundreds more homicides. They're objecting to people camping outside, using drugs and making the streets a nightmare to live. In Philadelphia, and in some other places, in Chicago, in Baltimore, the electorate seems to be willing to live with that right now.

Now, the message of Boudin and the message that George Gascon may get as well, may be that there's a limit. That sooner or later folks will catch on, and the electorate will turn on that. In my historical experience, a prosecutor like that generally gets two terms and Boudin suffering a little bit because he inherited ground that was tilled by George Gascon before Gascon decamped off to Los Angeles to spread the gospel.

But Boudin is inheriting that and just accelerating it. So I would expect, based on what I'm hearing from folks out there that he will lose. Then the question becomes, who will come in? Because San Francisco has a long history of electing prosecutors who were incompetent or don't care. And we're going all the way back to Kamala Harris and then through George Gascon and now Chesa Boudin.

And today was actually the day that the Kamala Harris' predecessor died, and people are checking in from around the country and saying that he's actually the one who started them on this path. He was a criminal defense lawyer who had never served as a prosecutor, who was in favor of legalizing drugs all the way back before Kamala Harris. So it takes a lot to take down a city as wonderful as San Francisco, but through decades of work, the progressive prosecutors have done it.

Brian Anderson: Amazing. Well, those progressive prosecutors have held power, not just in San Francisco, but in other major cities for several years now, San Francisco's case, going back a while. But recently, and this is something else you've you've written about for City Journal, the movement, this progressive prosecutor movement has begun to make inroads in smaller cities. Activists, prosecutors, as you know, are running for offices here in a whole bunch of smaller localities.

I wonder these, progressive candidates seem to fit the same profile you've just suggested, which is that they have little, if any prosecutorial experience. Is there support, do you think in these jurisdictions for a radical reform agenda or is this movement something that's more of a top-down phenomena? With candidates being supported by national money, deep pocketed donors like George Soros. With the campaigns organized to win, what are, as you already noted, often low turnout elections.

Thomas Hogan: Brian, you've absolutely identified the one of the major issues, which is it's a top-down phenomenon. Out of the progressive prosecutors that I'd seen elected in major urban areas, the only one who was not originally a George Soros' back prosecutor was Marilyn Mosby. She did it from the ground level up, but the rest of them very much, it has been a top-down, outside money supplying the support, and then the mainstream media in those locations backing them.

Let's not forget the Philadelphia Inquirer has twice endorsed Larry Krasner to be the district attorney of Philadelphia, and supplied him with a lot of free advertising. So that makes it very difficult for people to fight this stuff off. Now, interestingly, and I've only been really noticing this this year, probably the biggest mistake the progressive prosecutor movement made was in supporting Alvin Bragg in Manhattan and George Gascon in LA.

Because while the progressive prosecutors were wreaking their havoc in places like Philadelphia and Baltimore, the major media outlets could ignore it. But once it hit New York and Los Angeles, the two major media markets in the United States, and the folks in the actual media producing areas, the TV and the press got to see what was happening, and rigorously look at some of these programs and policies, everything began to fall apart. So I think they're going to rue the day that they put Alvin Bragg into office in Manhattan and George Gascon into office in LA, because these policies cannot survive the bright lights and real media scrutiny that will come to them when they're in these major media markets.

Brian Anderson: Bu what would arise in the presence of progressive prosecutors in smaller cities, for the country, I assume have a similar effect in those locales driving up crime as well, right?

Thomas Hogan: It very much depends on the city. It certainly is going to drive up crime. It's going to, and we're seeing two of the major effects are it is driving prosecutors, line prosecutors out of the office across the country. I just saw stats today saying that is becoming a national problem tied to progressive prosecutors. And it's driving police officers out of the profession because nobody is being prosecuted in these cities.

So yes, you are mechanically going to see rises in crime where progressive prosecutors come into place. The difference will be if a progressive prosecutor is elected in a city that is historically poor and violent, then you are going to see an effect like pouring gasoline on a fire.

If they are elected in a city that is not violent and that is extremely wealthy, then the effect will be muted. If you do it in a place like Austin, it turns out violent crime doesn't change much. Lower level crime does and disorder. But if you do it in a place like Baltimore or Philly or Chicago, then you are inviting a massive amount of killings into your city.

Brian Anderson: Well, thank you very much, Tom. It's all very, very concerning. Please, don't forget to check out Tom Hogan's work, we have it on the City Journal website, We'll link to his author page on the description. And he really has been chronicling this as closely as anyone in the country.

You can also find City Journal on Twitter @cityjournal and on Instagram @cityjournal_mi. And if you like what you've heard on today's 10 Blocks, please give us our ratings on iTunes. Tom Hogan, thanks very much for coming on again.

Thomas Hogan: Thanks, Brian. Have a good day.

Photo: sofiana indriani/iStock

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