A day of double legal blows undermined ex-President Donald Trump’s battle to avoid criminal action for hoarding classified documents and left him exposed to potential civil penalties targeting the business wealth on which his political mystique is built.
Trump’s lifelong capacity to thwart accountability is now facing its sternest test as investigations and evidence mount against him. Trump has not been charged with any crimes, but the legal and court processes he is a master at delaying and twisting in procedural knots are now making serious headway.
Two huge developments on Wednesday crashed into Trump’s legal teams, which were already fighting off serious investigations on multiple fronts.
- New York Attorney General Letitia James unveiled an astonishing 200-page civil lawsuit that alleged that the Trump family empire was essentially built on years of grift and self-enrichment by deceiving lenders, insurers and tax authorities and dodging the laws that apply to every American. James is seeking the redress of $250 million in allegedly ill-gotten funds and sanctions that would severely crimp the Trump Organization’s capacity to do business and would effectively drive the former President and his family out of the city that made his name. Still, the case is a civil one and while James referred evidence to the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department, she could not make a criminal charge. Trump responded with fierce denials of wrongdoing and claims he was the victim of a “witch hunt.”
- In a crucial ruling in the case of highly sensitive material that Trump took to his Mar-a-Lago resort, an appeals court handed the Justice Department a victory by allowing it to look at documents marked as classified that were seized in a search by FBI agents last month. Three judges, including two appointed by Trump, ruled that the public has a strong interest in ensuring his retention of the material did not cause “exceptionally grave damage to the national security.” Given Trump’s record of seeking to delay investigations against him as long as possible, he could try another legal maneuver but his options are running out, with one of his only remaining possibilities being an emergency request to the US Supreme Court.
Both developments appear to have widened Trump’s potential legal exposure, which now appears stark in at least three separate dramas that include a probe in Georgia into his alleged attempt to steal the 2020 election in the critical swing state. The ex-President has denied wrongdoing on all accounts.
But the deepening crisis for Trump also came on a day when the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, insurrection formally announced its first fall hearing for next week. The panel has yet to decide whether to make a recommendation for criminal action against the former President. The Justice Department already has its own separate grand jury probe into events surrounding his false election fraud claims and those leading up to the attack on the US Capital by his mob of supporters.
The darkening legal storm for Trump also bolsters the extraordinary possibility of a former President facing potential criminal action and serious civil penalties that could significantly threaten his fortune. Much of Trump’s initial political appeal is based on the idea that he is a wildly successful tycoon who built a hugely profitable business and amassed personal wealth. If it is proven that it is all a scam and that his career is a house of cards built on illegal acts, his narrative will absorb a serious hit – although it’s unlikely that would ever be enough to shake his appeal to his core voters.
The latest legal rebukes of Trump come as he considers a likely 2024 presidential campaign, which he has already signaled would be constructed on his claim that he is being politically persecuted by Democrats, and has already implicitly warned of violence if he is formally indicted.
The civil suit filed by New York state against Trump represents the broadest catalogue yet of the former President’s business practices and also targets three of his adult children – Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric, who are deeply involved in the Trump Organization.
It alleges a staggering pattern of overvaluing of properties and assets across Trump’s real estate portfolio, his hotel and golf club empires. The purported aim of the multiple schemes was to deceive lenders, insurance brokers and tax authorities to give him better loan conditions and to lower his tax liability. James alleged that each certification was personally signed off by Trump and that he played a direct role in falsifying valuations. In one case in her claim, James said that Trump inflated the size of…
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