It’s not a good time to be a Trump.
New York Attorney General Letitia James just filed a civil fraud lawsuit against Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump, Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, Trump Organization executive Jeffrey McConney, the Trump Organization as a whole, and other businesses associated with the former president.
In a press conference announcing the 220-page lawsuit, James accused Donald Trump and his family of a decade of fraud in no uncertain terms: “With the help of Donald Jr, Eric, Ivanka, and other defendants, Trump variously unlawfully inflated and deflated his net worth by billions to obtain and satisfy loans, get insurance benefits, and pay lower taxes. In short, he lied to gain massive financial benefits for himself.”
James proceeded to walk through specific examples of Trump Organization frauds in great detail. She said her office had found fraud related to 23 assets that were inflated every year between 2011 and 2021, totaling over “200 false and misleading valuations.” These deceptive asset valuations were allegedly used to deceive lenders in order to obtain loans, and to deceive tax authorities in order to avoid taxes. This shows just how expansive Trump’s fraudulent schemes were.
James made sure to point out that these decisions weren’t being made by some low-level employees of the Trump Organization. She alleged that all these financial statements were certified as accurate by Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Weisselberg, or other Trump executives.
As a penalty for this alleged fraud, James is requesting the cancelation of Trump’s business certificates in New York, a permanent ban on Trump and his children named in the lawsuit from serving as directors of corporations in New York, a five-year ban on Trump from buying commercial real estate in New York, and $250 million in restitution.
Aside from the civil lawsuit, James said that she has found evidence of illegal conduct. Her office has made criminal referrals to the IRS and to federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. It’s also important to note that just last month, Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty to felony charges amounting to 15 counts including conspiracy, grand larceny, criminal tax fraud, and falsifying business records. One has to wonder what his level of cooperation will be with these new criminal referrals if those charges are prosecuted.
Trumpworld is responding as expected. Donald Trump posted on right-wing social media network Truth Social, claiming that it’s all a “witch hunt.” Trump attorney Alina Habbamp responded to the lawsuit by claiming this is really about advancing Letitia James’ political career. Donad Trump Jr. responded on Twitter, saying “the bulls**t Dem witch-hunt continues!” Eric Trump echoed his older brother and father, also referring to the investigation as a “witch hunt”.
Donald Trump and his family had their chance to rebuff these charges and tell their side of the story. Most did not take it. Donald Trump decided to not answer any questions from the New York AG, opting instead to plead the Fifth Amendment in an effort to avoid self-incrimination. Eric Trump pleaded the Fifth on over 500 questions. Weisselberg invoked the Fifth. Indeed, only Donald Jr. and Ivanka did answer questions posed to them. It’s worth noting that, in 2016, Donald Trump infamously said: “You see, the mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”
Trump and his family can cry “witch hunt” all they want, but anyone who watches a video of today’s Letitia James press conference or reads this massive lawsuit with an objective eye will see that the evidence is overwhelming.
The Trump family’s decades of fraudulent business activities have been well-known for a while, from the Trump Foundation to Trump University. But even people who have reported on Trump’s business practices for years are surprised by this new evidence. In a testament to the New York AG Office’s investigation, New York Times reporter David Fahrenthold — who specializes in Trump corruption coverage — said that even he is surprised by some of what is alleged in this lawsuit. The evidence amounts to deliberate, decades-long fraudulent practices that were used to fatten the pockets of Trump, his family, and his executives.
Donald Trump has built his entire brand on the lie that he is a brilliant, self-made businessman. We already knew that Trump was not “self-made” after The New York Times reported that he received, at least, the equivalent of $413 million from his father’s real estate empire using shady methods, sometimes constituting fraud.
Now, we have the highest law enforcement officer in Trump’s home state legally outlining that the former president is not worth what he claims and that he committed fraud in his effort to inflate that worth. “Claiming you have money that you do not have does not amount to ‘The Art of the Deal’ — it’s the art of the steal,” James said. A step towards accountability was delivered today, but this was also a giant blow to Trump’s ego.
In the months ahead, we can only expect Trump’s legal troubles to worsen with January 6 probes widening, the Mar-a-Lago classified document probe advancing, and the Georgia election probe progressing.
When you build a house of cards on a foundation of fraud, it’s destined to fall. We might well be witnessing the beginning of the end of Trump’s lifelong deception.