• Leticia James’ Desperate Hail Mary Lawsuit Against Trump

    November 12, 2022

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    Posted in: Biden, Democracy, Trump

    No one is above the law, but some actions are beneath it. Just ask Leticia James, the New York Attorney General who filed a $250 million civil suit against Donald Trump, what may turn out to be the last gasp of a multi-year effort to criminalize the electoral process in America. As she prepares for trial in early 2023, let’s see what she has to go on.

    During her 2018 campaign for attorney general, James declared: “Trump should be charged with obstructing justice (in connection with Russiagate.) I believe that the president of these United States can be indicted for criminal offenses and we would join with law enforcement and other attorneys general across the nation in removing this president from office.”

    James tweeted the campaign endorsement from Rep. Maxine Waters when that still mattered that James would be an attorney general who “who will investigate Trump” and promised that “the president of the United States has to worry about three things; Mueller, Cohen, and Tish James.” For the record, Robert Mueller has retired to the dark side of the moon after his investigation proved nothing (though there are still those who believe, as there are people who enjoy circus geeks, and the Venn diagram of the two groups is a circle), Michael Cohen is a convicted felon lucky to be called as a guest once a month on the Howard Stern Show, and of course Tish. In her 2018 election night victory speech, James boasted: “I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings….” and before taking office repeated her threat to target Trump world: “We will use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his business transactions and that of his family as well.”

    She even pulled Trump into her victory speech, saying her win “was about that man in the White House who can’t go a day without threatening our fundamental rights.” All of that sounds like she had it in for Trump; had an attorney general ever said such things about a private citizen not named Trump it would be likely grounds all by itself for dismissal for bias. That said, Trump sued James last year seeking to halt her investigation, alleging it was “baseless” and motivated solely by her desire to harass a political opponent. A judge dismissed the suit in May.

    Tish does deserve a few points for being the last one standing. In an unprecedented sweep over the last five years, Congress tried to impeach Trump twice. The FBI tried to indict for espionage itself. The Southern District of New York (the Feds, DOJ) could not find anything to indict Trump on after he left office. Same for the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. Only Tish was able to drop paper on Trump’s desk out of all those smart lawyers and cops.

    Remember things started with Trump as a literal Russian intelligence officer, the actual Manchurian candidate, what would have been the most noteworthy political story of American history, had it been true. Tish as the last in line cannot be that choosey. Her law suit, a civil case which means there is no threat of jail time, alleges, inter alia, Trump overvalued some of his real estate to obtain loans and then undervalued the same real estate to pay lower property taxes on it. This is so common in the New York real estate world that these disputes are not even typically handled by a court, instead adjudicated through a tax commission grievance process. The result is typically a levy or a fine if the owner is found to have manipulated prices egregiously.

    To prove the same as a civil case and then demand significant penalties ($250 million and Trump can no longer do business in New York state) is a big ask. Even The New York Times had to admit James will have a hard time proving the case: “Property valuations are often subjective, and… all his loans are either current or were paid off, some before they were due.” Factors that can legitimately affect properties’ stated value include potential for future income, the view from their upper floors, zoning laws and proposed changes, and the like. If Deutsche thinks they got the deal right and is not suing, who is the attorney general protecting here?

    The presumed victims in James’ suit aren’t Mom and Pop customers Trump defrauded, big league contractors he stiffed, or shareholders he lied to. The victims are banks (primarily Deutsche Bank, one of the world’s largest) and insurance companies that supposedly undercharged Trump for loans and insurance policies, all because Trump told them his properties were more valuable than they actually were. Boo hoo.

    See the government doesn’t usually sue on behalf of big businesses that have their own well-staffed legal departments; it is a huge tell against James that Deutsche is not suing anyone. Financial firms rely to some extent on customers self-reported data. But they also do their own due diligence on what real estate collateral is worth for the explicit purpose of assuring they don’t commit money based on a deal they’ll lose out on. It works the same way with less zeros when you apply for a home mortgage. The bank does not write a check with no questions asked. Instead, it does a credit check, sends out an appraiser to value the property, gets insurance on everything, and prices the loan according to the risk it believes it is taking. Trump could make whatever claims he wanted to about his properties at Mar-a-Lago and 40 Wall, but no one was really listening. You know, trust but verify.

    Oh right, some of the deals were already verified, such as Trump’s sale of rights to the Old Post Office in Washington, DC., whose sale at its Trump-stated value was approved by Joe Biden’s General Services Administration, though Tish includes that sale in her lawsuit. None of Trump’s creditors lost money on any of his loans. Every one is paid off or current in being paid off. There were no allegations of an actual crime by anyone in law enforcement or the private sector. Instead, James started an investigation hoping to find a crime. By making this a civil suit she avoids the higher standards of proof and grand jury proceedings if this was a criminal case.

    It is no small surprise that Tish is up for reelection as Attorney General in November, and so that after waiting almost her entire term in office now files this lawsuit against Donald Trump, following through on her earlier campaign promises to “get him.” James is also fund raising off the lawsuit, writing to campaign supporters: “These men think they can rattle me and scare me off my path, but the truth is, they have only reaffirmed why I went into this work in the first place.”

    It is extremely likely if James loses in November (polls show she is currently in a dead solid tie with her Republican opponent) that her successor will drop the suit entirely, the way the Manhattan DA’s office gave up on Trump when the top job changed hands. Should she win again, Tish will spend the next few years of taxpayer money fending off motions from Trump to dismiss, to change venue, and most of all over seating an impartial jury. Trump could easily move the case out of liberal Manhattan to bright red upstate New York, where he beat Joe Biden in 2020, stalling until the 2024 election is over and one way or another none of this will ever matter again.

    And small world, Tish may even then have one more stop on her legal adventure tour — concerns over past prosecutorial abuse of power led to the creation in 2021 of the New York Commission on Prosecutorial Conduct, designed to hold prosecutors “to the highest ethical standards in the exercise of their duties.”

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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      Yes, we should all be concerned NONE IS ABOVE THE LAW. Of course everyone but PETER knows this is total fantasy.

      11/13/22 9:42 AM | Comment Link

    • John Poole said...

      2

      Bauer- the whole point of American style plutocratic status via capitalistic means is to make punishing consequences inapplicable. Acquiring enough money means you can mess up (be wrong) and not suffer a catastrophic income fallout or social status reduction.

      11/13/22 5:49 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      3

      JP,

      Yeah, right. In Putin Land this would never happen. There are consequences in Putin Land like getting thrown out of windows, getting poison in your tea…

      11/14/22 8:40 AM | Comment Link

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