Yesterday was a harbinger of things to come. In a legal defeat for the former president, Donald Trump was found liable for fraud relating to misstating the value of his businesses in New York. The ruling in a civil case is not a criminal conviction but marks one of the first times that Trump has been held legally accountable for his actions.
Yesterday’s ruling involves a civil lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James. The suit alleged that Trump misrepresented the value of his real estate holdings in order to deceive banks, insurers, and other entities and exaggerated his net worth by as much as $3.6 billion between 2011 and 2021 for the purpose of securing loans and making other deals. New York Supreme Court Justice Judge Arthur Engoron agreed with the state.
“This is a fantasy world, not the real world,” Engoron wrote in his decision, saying that Trump’s accounting relied on “bogus arguments” that ignored basic accounting rules.
Among the fraudulent claims cited were documents that stated that The Former Guy’s Trump Tower apartment residence was three times its actual size and valuations that overstated Mar-a-Lago’s worth by 2,000 percent, notes CNBC.
This case was decided quickly. The case was set to go to trial on October 2, but James filed a motion in August asking for an immediate verdict per PBS Newshour. A hearing on the motion was held on September 22 and the judge ruled in her favor four days later. The bottom line here is that the evidence against Trump was so strong that a full trial on the question was not needed.
Per the Wall Street Journal, the full extent of the ruling is not yet known, but it also affects his sons, Eric and Don Jr. The verdict has already included the cancellation of the Trump Organization’s right to do business in New York, but James is also seeking $250 million in punitive judgments. The ruling also sanctioned several Trump lawyers $7,500 each for engaging in frivolous legal tactics.
The judge said that the Trump Organization’s business certificates were being canceled because the Trumps and the company “have continued to disseminate false and misleading information while conducting business” in the state.
The October trial will continue on other issues, including allegations of insurance fraud, but the date may change due to a pending lawsuit that Trump has filed against the judge.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Trump has lost in court and been held legally accountable for his actions. It was only last spring that a jury found that Trump sexually abused and defamed E. Jean Carroll. Carroll is now suing again after Trump made more libelous statements about her after his first loss.
It won’t the be last time either. As is well known by now, Trump has been the target of four criminal indictments, two of which are federal.
The New York case contains many of the elements that we’ve come to know and loathe about Donald Trump. There is blatant dishonesty, a tendency to assume that he is above the law, legal shenanigans, and an arrogance that is unparalleled.
Trump and his lawyers should learn from the New York case and avoid its mistakes in the criminal cases where the stakes are much higher than a $250 million fine. If Trump loses those cases, the 77-year-old may well spend the rest of his life in prison.
The first lesson is that judges don’t appreciate delay tactics and frivolous antics. Steve Berman wrote yesterday in the Racket News that Russia’s Ukraine strategy seems to be attempting to forestall a near-term defeat in the hope that Republicans can aid Vladimir Putin by cutting off military aid. I think Steve is right.
I also think that something similar is happening in Trump’s legal strategy. The Former Guy is pinning his hopes on a Hail Mary in which he not only wins the Republican nomination but returns to the White House. As president, Trump would be positioned to scuttle the federal cases and possibly even pardon himself.
The state cases in New York and Georgia would be a different matter. Presidents can’t issue pardons for state crimes (and neither can Brian Kemp in Georgia by the way). But Trump might be able to delay those cases until he leaves office and Alvin Bragg’s Manhattan case is pretty weak anyway.
Trump and his team must also realize that the facts are against them in at least several of the other pending cases. Drawing out the process might delay his ultimate accountability, but it’s unlikely he will be able to run the table and avoid a guilty verdict on all counts.
The smart play would be to heed the warning from New York and look to settle some of the most serious criminal cases with a plea deal. At this point, prosecutors would probably still accept such an arrangement, especially considering the effect that a trial would have on the country, but the window for such a deal is closing, and as the E. Jean Carroll cases illustrate, Trump seems incapable of learning from his mistakes.
There seems to be no sign that Trump is considering a deal. The former president’s response to yesterday’s ruling was to attack the system and Letitia James on Truth Social. The screed, with better spelling and punctuation than most of Trump’s posts, is an unhinged rant that concludes with the statement, “If they can do this to me, they can do this to YOU [emphasis in the original]!”
Well, yes, Mr. Trump. But you have the point backward.
In the United States, we are supposed to be guaranteed equal protection under the law. If Joe Schmuckatelli, Average American (to use my high school civics teacher, Coach Blackburn’s, classic example; Coach Blackburn was an exception to the rule about coaches not being good teachers in academic courses), would be prosecuted for fraud, corruption, and/or seditious activity, then it is right and proper for politicians, even former presidents, to be prosecuted for the same crimes. Trump’s indictments are an indication that the system is working (albeit slowly), not that it is corrupt.
Mr. Trump does not understand this. In his mind, and in the minds of many of his supporters, politicians are untouchable. Especially if they are Republican.
I’m sorry but that notion sounds swampy to me.
And as for Trump’s idea that “some Appellate Court, whether Federal or State, must reverse this horrible, un-American decision” and come to his rescue because he’s the victim of “Democrat Political Lawfare and a Witch Hunt at a level never seen before,” I think that Judge Engoron put it best:
“This is a fantasy world, not the real world.”
I’m also reminded of WWII German General Erwin Rommel’s critique of Hitler’s (although I hate to invoke the name) defensive strategies as wolkenkuckucksheim or “Cloud Cuckoo Land.” Cloud Cuckoo Land is not a good place to be when your life and freedom depend on sane, rational, measured responses.
For Donald Trump, the cuckoos are coming home to roost.