New York State Attorney General Letitia James this week finally filed her long-expected lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, stemming from his long-controversial business practices and those of his associates, grown children, and the legal entities branded with the family name.
The top Trump business crew now stands accused, on its native commercial turf, of crudely and chronically inflating on paper the value of his assets — by billions of dollars, thus yielding fat benefits from lenders and insurance companies.
Do not expect the case to move through the courts for some time. The demand from James on behalf of the public sounds as serious as she says the fraud was, including $250 million in penalties and a bar on the defendants doing real estate transactions for five years.
By now, the case's political risk for James appears negligible. She’s up for reelection in November against a relatively unknown GOP attorney, Michael Henry, who is now touted by Trump, who predictably denounces James. Last month, Trump took the Fifth more than 440 times when questioned under oath in this probe.
Let's face it: If the facts as stated resonate, it's because they sound uniquely Trump-like.
Trump’s golf properties from Florida to New Jersey to Scotland were listed among the most egregiously inflated assets. That fits if only because witness after witness has reported that the ex-president fakes his scores on the golf course.
“Trump doesn’t just cheat at golf,” said an expert in the sport, Rick Reilly, in a 2019 book titled “Commander in Cheat.” Writes Reilly: “He cheats like a three-card Monte dealer. He throws it, boots it, and moves it. He lies about his lies. He fudges and foozles and fluffs.”
Why would that change when he's away from the links?
Then, of course, there's the 2020 election. Still of interest these days to criminal investigators in Georgia: His pressuring of officials there to alter ballot results after the fact. In a recorded phone conversation, he famously told GOP Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, “I just want to find 11,780 votes, which is one more than we have.”
In other words, Brad, let’s fix those figures.
Trump showed his predilection for making up numbers from the start of his term. The most credible crowd estimates for his January 2017 inauguration came in at perhaps a few hundred thousand — about average for the occasion.
So with less-than-honest photo displays, he tried to convince everyone that a record 1.5 million Americans attended. It was a laughingstock.
Just as absurdly, Trump claimed he would not have lost the popular vote in 2016 to Hillary Clinton if millions of illegal votes hadn’t been counted — a prelude to the “stop-the-steal” lunacy of 2020. No examples were ever identified.
It should therefore surprise nobody that James easily dissected Trump's insistence, year after year, that his Fifth Avenue “triplex” residence be valued based on comprising 30,000 square feet when it's only 10,996 square feet.
In 2010, an insurance appraiser for Chubb was admitted to the residence. Trump rushed the appraiser through in 15 minutes, allowing no time to take measurements, and barred him from the master bedroom. Told it added up to 25,000 to 30,000 square feet, the appraiser very much doubted it — and said so in a memo quoted in James’ lawsuit.
Wrote the Chubb representative: “This was a unique appraisal appointment.”
Columnist Dan Janison's opinions are his own.