On a late January afternoon, two senior prosecutors stood before the new Manhattan district attorney, hoping to persuade him to criminally charge the former president of the United States.
The prosecutors, Mark F. Pomerantz and Carey R. Dunne, detailed their strategy for proving that Donald J. Trump knew his annual financial statements were works of fiction. Time was running out: The grand jury hearing evidence against Mr. Trump was set to expire in the spring. They needed the district attorney, Alvin Bragg, to decide whether to seek charges.
But Mr. Bragg and his senior aides, masked and gathered around a conference table on the eighth floor of the district attorney’s office in Lower Manhattan, had serious doubts. They hammered Mr. Pomerantz and Mr. Dunne about whether they could show that Mr. Trump had intended to break the law by inflating the value of his assets in the annual statements, a necessary element to prove the case.
The questioning was so intense that as the meeting ended, Mr. Dunne, exasperated, used a lawyerly expression that normally refers to a judge’s fiery questioning:
“Wow, this was a really hot bench,” Mr. Dunne said, according to people with knowledge of the meeting. “What I’m hearing is you have great concerns.”