New York Attorney General Letitia James has filed a strong lawsuit against Donald Trump, his three oldest children and the Trump organization in its $250 million civil lawsuit — but the former president could delay legal action for several years , former prosecutors told NBC News.
“This is going to be a very difficult case for the defendants to win,” said Duncan Levin, a former assistant district attorney and head of asset forfeiture in the Manhattan District Attorney’s office. “One of the best defenses against this case is delay, delay, delay.”
State Attorney General Letitia James last week filed charges against the Trumps and top executives of their company over her years of investigation into the business practices. The lawsuit alleged more than 200 cases of fraud over 10 years and efforts by Trump that “greatly exaggerated his wealth by billions of dollars.”
James wants to permanently ban members of the Trump family from serving as officers of New York-based companies, as well as monetary damages and other penalties, including a five-year ban on the former president and his company from engaging in commercial estate acquisitions in the state.
Here are some possible defenses Trump’s lawyers can try:
‘Let’s stop this’
John Moscow, former deputy chief of the Manhattan District Attorney’s Investigative Department, said he could “see a planned defense strategy by saying, ‘Let’s stop this.'”
“Procrastination always favors the accused” and would allow Trump to enjoy the “fruits” of his alleged plan for as long as possible unless the courts try to keep his feet on the fire, Moscow, now a government official, said. white-collar defense attorney, adding that cases like this “can go on forever.”
Judges should understand at this point that he is “not looking for his day in court,” Moscow said, pointing to Trump’s history of filing lawsuits with numerous motions and appeals.
Defendants in New York can easily use a variety of delaying tactics, Levin said, and “good lawyers can carry these things out for many years.”
It’s a ‘witch hunt’
Trump has denied any allegation. He and his attorney, Alina Habba, have called the lawsuit against James a politically motivated “witch hunt.” They used that argument in a lawsuit filed in federal court late last year to shut down the investigation, claiming it was “driven solely by political zeal and a desire to harass, intimidate and harass a private individual.” retaliate against a citizen whom it considers to be a political opponent.”
To back up the claim, they pointed to derogatory statements James had made about Trump — including telling NBC News after her 2018 election that she intended to “use every piece of the law to” transactions of the to investigate the Trump family and their company.
A judge dismissed that lawsuit in May, saying the AG’s investigation had a “legitimate factual” basis, but Trump and his lawyers and allies have continued their efforts to undermine the credibility of James’s investigation in comments to the public.
If Trump is re-elected in 2024, Moscow said, he could even try to delay the trial for the duration of his next potential term in office by again relying on previous arguments he has advanced in other lawsuits involving presidential power.
Their “number one defense is in the court of public opinion,” Levin added.
‘Never had any complaints’
In social media posts and an interview with Fox News after the lawsuit was filed, Trump began crafting his own defense against the AG’s claims. He argued that there is no allegation that any of the allegedly duped banks and insurers suffered damage and that the financial statements contained information stating that they had not been audited.
James, Trump wrote on Truth Social, “gives all her time fighting for very powerful and well-represented banks and insurance companies, who were paid in full, made a lot of money and never had a complaint about me.”
But the former prosecutors say those arguments are unlikely to succeed in court, because James doesn’t need to prove the victims suffered harm to make Trump lose the case.
The lack of damages could be a mitigating factor for Trump when it comes time for a judge to rule on financial penalties, but it wouldn’t knock him off the hook, Levin said. Just because the banks got their money back “doesn’t mean a crime hasn’t been committed.”
Moscow noted that the lawsuit — alleging that Trump and his company have a New York law targeting those who repeatedly commit fraud or illegal acts in business transactions — does not really demand monetary compensation on behalf of the banks and insurance companies.
However, it is seeking a solution that would require Trump to give up the profits he earned from his alleged illegal or abusive behaviors, including blowing up his financial statements in order to obtain more favorable loans and lower premiums.
Blame the banks
One route Trump could take with some success, Levin said, is to blame the banks for failing to notice valuations were too rosy.
“The gist of that argument is that the financial statements these banks relied on were marked as unaudited financial data,” Levin said. “While the AG is making the statement that the valuations are well beyond what they should be, the people who have been on the receiving end of these financial statements are sophisticated Wall Street banks. They know how to read these financial statements.”
But it’s unlikely Trump will win, Levin continued, as James’ “incredibly thorough” complaint alleges that the company had falsely claimed that their statements were prepared in accordance with “generally accepted accounting principles,” and many of the valuations were so outrageous — including saying a $200 million property on Wall Street was worth more than $500 million — that they couldn’t reasonably be considered honest mistakes or typical accounting tricks.
“It’s going to be very difficult to overcome any of that,” Levin said of the bloated financial statements.
Moscow also believes Trump and his company will struggle to explain away many of their alleged misrepresentations, such as his claim that his Trump Tower apartment was 30,000 square feet when in reality it was 10,000 square feet.
Trump would have been well aware of the size of the apartment because “he built it. He lived there,” said the former prosecutor.
The civil suit is the culmination of a years-long investigation by James’ office into the Trump Organization’s business practices, in which the former president and his son, Eric Trump, used their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination hundreds of times to evade impeachment. by detectives. (Sources have told NBC News that neither Ivanka Trump nor Donald Trump Jr. claimed the privilege during their statements.)
While taking the fifth cannot be used against a defendant in a criminal court, asserting the privilege in New York civil cases can be used to draw an “adverse inference” against the person testifying.
Trump has previously been in the sights of the attorney general’s office, including actions involving Trump University and the Trump Foundation, which were settled for $25 million and $2 million, respectively.
Asked if she hoped to settle the corporate fraud case, James told reporters this week that while she has already turned down settlement offers from Trump, her “door is always open” to reach an agreement out of court.
Trump indicated that this is unlikely, telling Fox News host Sean Hannity in an interview on Wednesday, “I didn’t want to settle because even if I paid a very small amount, how can you plead some kind of debt.”
Editor’s note: Duncan Levin represented the ex-daughter-in-law of the former Trump organization, Allen Weisselberg, who provided evidence about the family’s finances to the AG and the prosecution office last year.