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This week, The New Yorker released an audio recording of movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. He's heard trying to lure a model into his hotel room. She doesn't want to go. The tape was recorded by the New York police as part of a sting operation, but the investigation ended after the Manhattan district attorney decided not to prosecute. Now the DA is under scrutiny himself. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports.
JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: If only because of the venue, the Manhattan district attorney is among the nation's most high-profile prosecutors. The job has attracted legal legends such as Thomas Dewey, Frank Hogan and Robert Morgenthau, who have tended to stay in the job for years, says New York political consultant Jerry Skurnik.
JERRY SKURNIK: When you get elected district attorney in Manhattan, it's sort of like a job until you decide to retire.
ZARROLI: Until recently, it seemed that 63-year-old Cyrus Vance Jr. might enjoy the same long tenure. The son of Jimmy Carter's secretary of state, Vance went to law school and then became an assistant district attorney in Manhattan. He worked in private practice in Seattle, then came back to New York. In 2009, he was elected to succeed Morgenthau. Skurnik says he hasn't cut a high profile.
SKURNIK: He hasn't been as prominent partially because the city's crime rate has gone down.
ZARROLI: But he has presided over some major prosecutions such as the sexual assault case against former IMF chairman Dominique Strauss-Kahn. Jim Cohen is a professor at Fordham Law School.
JIM COHEN: He is in general viewed with great respect. He's considered to be a straight shooter. But recent news events may ultimately end up changing that.
ZARROLI: This week's New Yorker story said that after Weinstein was taped sexually harassing the Italian model, some prosecutors wanted to pursue a case against him. But Vance overruled them, arguing there wasn't enough evidence. He spoke to reporters this week.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
CYRUS VANCE JR.: I understand that folks are outraged by his behavior. I understand that there are many other allegations that have surfaced. But in our case, we really did what I think the law obligates us to do.
ZARROLI: The Weinstein case followed a report by ProPublica, WNYC and The New Yorker involving the Trump family. The DA's office had investigated Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. for fraud over the sale of units at the Trump SoHo. But as in the Weinstein case, Vance decided not to prosecute. The report said a Trump attorney had made a $25,000 contribution to Vance's campaign and then after the case was dropped gave an even bigger one, $32,000. Cohen says the donations raise serious questions about Vance's judgment.
COHEN: It was improper for him to accept it in the first place. He responded by returning those donations and then apparently accepted them again after the fact.
ZARROLI: Vance later returned the second contribution he received as well. Unluckily for Vance, the controversies have arisen at a time when he is running for a third term. Luckily for him, he has no Republican opponent and is almost certain to win. But Skurnik says the controversies have hurt his reputation.
SKURNIK: His name recognition's probably gone up, but mostly this new name recognition is not positive.
ZARROLI: Manhattan district attorneys have typically faced token opposition when they ran for re-election, and that's been true of Vance. But the Weinstein and Trump SoHo cases mean the political landscape could look a lot different if Vance runs for office next time. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, New York.
(SOUNDBITE OF THE BAD PLUS' "SEVEN MINUTE MIND")
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