WASHINGTON — Former President Donald Trump is no stranger to legal scrutiny, but there’s something different about the $250 million civil lawsuit filed against him by New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday: This time it’s just as personal for him as politics.
James’ suit falls directly on Trump’s children and is at the heart of his personality as a billionaire businessman who left an indelible mark on the New York skyline.
The real estate empire he flaunted was propped up by a network of fraudulent business transactions that went on for years, the lawsuit alleges. If James wins in court, the former president and three of his children will be banned from serving as corporate officers in New York — the state that gave rise to his global brand.
“It means a lot to him that this is happening in his home state,” said Jack O’Donnell, a former Trump hotel-casino executive. “He may live in Florida and spend most of his time in New Jersey, but this is a thoroughly New Yorker in his own mind. It’s a personal blow to him that this even happened.”
James raised the stakes, naming Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump as co-defendants in accusing the former president’s companies of manipulating company data to obtain favorable loans, fool insurers and gain tax breaks.
“As executive vice presidents, the three children were deeply involved in the running of the Trump Organization,” said James’ lawsuit. “They were aware of the company’s actual financial performance.”
While the lawsuit does not formally seek a death sentence to dissolve Trump’s empire, a defeat in court could cripple the organization at the heart of its art-of-the-deal brand in business, television and politics.
“Art of stealing,” James chided at a press conference on Wednesday in which she portrayed Trump’s legendary business savvy as an illusion based on deception.
Trump has turned his corporate career into a political movement that is extraordinarily loyal and now shows no signs of rupture. He’s pretty much announced that he’s going to be president in 2024, and the trial in New York, like the FBI’s search for his Mar-a-Lago home before it, isn’t much of a deterrent.
“It Makes It Likely” Lake It is likely that he will run for president, as I believe, if he wins, the trial would be suspended while in office,” Mick Mulvaney, a former Trump White House chief of staff, told NBC News.
Trump is already facing a slew of state and federal investigations into his business practices, his efforts to reverse the 2020 election and the removal of sensitive documents from the White House.
His legal team is calling for “firefighters to storm into 40 different buildings,” said a person close to Trump.
In all cases, Trump has denied any allegation. Allies say James’ lawsuit will rally Republicans around him.
“It just strengthens its base and I think it makes it very difficult for the [GOP] establishment for not supporting him,” said Steve Bannon, a former Trump White House top executive and campaigner who hosts the “War Room” podcast popular with the former president’s voters. “In an ironic way, like the Mar-a-Lago raid, it makes the establishment have to defend him… the establishment that now wants to untie him.”
Newt Gingrich, a Trump ally and former House Speaker, said: “The way the game is played in New York, it doesn’t strike me that most Americans would be shocked that Trump was a broker in perhaps the most difficult and most unforgiving market in the country and he had sharp elbows. So? Most Americans would love it if he used his sharp elbows on China.”
After James announced the lawsuit, Trump resumed a familiar line of defense: He is being persecuted by Democratic enemies.
“She’s a con man who campaigned on a ‘get Trump’ platform, despite the city being one of the world’s crime and murder disasters under her control!” Trump wrote on his social media site Truth Social.
Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump took to Twitter, accusing James of using their family to further her own political interests and those of the Democratic Party.
“Letitia James doesn’t care about the law,” Trump Jr. tweeted. “She’s a Dem activist, who only cares about politics.”
Polls suggest Trump is not gaining traction with his argument that he is the victim of a ‘witch hunt’. He has lashed out at law enforcement agencies investigating him, but most Americans seem unconvinced that he was unjustly attacked. A new NBC News poll found that only 34% rate him positively, compared to 54% who have a negative opinion. In contrast, the FBI and the US Department of Justice, both of which played a role in the search warrant executed in Mar-a-Lago last month, were each rated more favorably than negatively.
“What our incredible Attorney General [James] has done to hold Donald and his children accountable,” said Michael Cohen, the former Trump attorney who was serving a prison sentence after pleading guilty to tax and campaign finance crimes.
“It contradicts every statement Donald has made about himself regarding his business acumen, his successes and his wealth.”