How much legal trouble is former President Donald Trump in? That is often a difficult question to answer. Even for a dedicated news consumer, it can be hard to keep straight exactly who is suing Trump (or one of his accomplices) and on what charges. There are just so many suits and/or investigations involving Trump.
Case and point, the New York Times dropped this headline yesterday: “Where 6 Investigations into Donald Trump Stand.”
A Growing Docket of Investigations
Many political observers, myself included, at some point began tuning out legal news regarding Trump or his family or his cronies. The endless flood of hyperbole involving Paul Manafort or Eric Trump or Jared Kushner or Trump’s business or Trump’s presidency – it all just started to bleed together, somewhere early in Trump’s first term. But now a new suit against Trump has cut through the din, standing apart, appearing significant.
‘He’s done’: how Donald Trump’s legal woes have just gotten a lot worse, a Guardian headline read today.
“Donald Trump’s legal perils have become insurmountable and could snuff out the former U.S. president’s hopes of an election-winning comeback, according to political analysts and legal experts,” David Smith reported for The Guardian. The reason? “On Wednesday, Trump and three of his adult children were accused of lying to tax collectors, lenders and insurers in a “staggering” fraud scheme that routinely misstated the value of his properties to enrich themselves.”
New York’s Attorney General Letitia James filed the suit that seeks at least $250 million in damages. In addition to money damages, James’s suit is seeking to ban Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, or Ivanka Trump from ever serving as an officer of a business in the state of New York. And, the suit is seeking to ban any Trump company from ever doing business in New York state ever again.
“James said Trump massively overstated the values of his assets in statements to banks, insurance companies and the IRS to obtain more favorable loan and insurance terms for his company, as well as lower its tax obligations,” CNBC reported.
“Trump falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars,” James said at a press conference. “For too long, powerful, wealthy people in this country have operated as if the rules do not apply to them. Donald Trump stands out as among the most egregious examples of this misconduct. With the help of his children and senior executives at the Trump Organization, Donald Trump falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself and cheat the system.”
James filed a 220-page civil lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court. The suit alleges that “the number of grossly inflated asset values is staggering, affecting most of not all of the real estate holdings in any given year. All told, Mr. Trump, the Trump Organization , and the other Defendants, as part of a repeated pattern and common scheme, derived more than 200 false and misleading valuations of assets included in the 11 Statements covering 2011 through 2021.”
Examples of Trump’s fraudulent behavior abound; for instance, Trump placed the value of his Mar-a-Lago property at $739 million, claiming that the resort sat on unrestricted property that could be developed. In reality, the property was subject to myriad restrictions and generated under $25 million per year; Mar-a-Lago should have been valued at roughly $75 million – about one-tenth of what Trump actually listed.
Another example is Trump’s Wall Street property. Outside banks appraised the property at $200 million and $220 million in 2010 and 2012 respectively. But in Trump’s 2011 and 2012 Statement of Financial Condition, he listed the property at $524 million and $527 million respectively.
Trump responded harshly to the suit. “Another Witch Hunt by a racist Attorney General, Letitia James,” the former president wrote on his Truth Social account. “I never thought this case would be brought – until I saw her really bad poll numbers. She is a fraud who campaign on a ‘get Trump’ platform, despite the fact that the city is one of the crime and murder disaters of the world under her watch!”
Trump has certainly been subject to overzealous prosecution, both legal and political. And he’s correct that there is political incentive to take him down; Trump is the Democrats’ White Whale. But something about tax fraud feels more plausible and harmful – less petulant – than a classified documents raid, or an in-depth examination of the tweets Trump sent on January 6th. These new charges speak to the inconsistencies between Trump’s marketed self and actual self, threatening the working-class-hero image Trump has constructed, threatening to expose him for what he is: an enemy of the working class.
But let’s wait and see if these charges are more legitimate than the Russiagate or Liz Cheney stuff.
Harrison Kass is the Senior Editor at 19FortyFive. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, he joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. He lives in Oregon and listens to Dokken. Follow him on Twitter @harrison_kass.