New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil suit filed Wednesday alleging “persistent fraud” by the Trump Organization devastates Donald Trump’s fabricated self-image as a billionaire businessman.
It stings. Not only has Trump been accused of lying about his wealth and business successes, but the considerable wealth he has achieved, James claims, has also been achieved by rogue banks and insurance companies.
A voter doesn’t need to understand the ins and outs of top-secret document classifications or presidential voter selection to understand James’ claims that Trump’s commercial and political branding is a con game.
While the whirlwind of criminal and congressional investigations has apparently had little effect on Trump’s political standing, the massive allegations of fraud undermine the core of Trump’s brand as a businessman and potential 2024 presidential candidate.
A voter doesn’t need to understand the ins and outs of top-secret document ratings or presidential voter selection to understand James’ claims that Trump’s trademark and political branding is a game of cheating rooted in years of fraudulent appraisals.
The 214-page complaint alleges a decade of inflated real estate values used to manufacture a facade that Trump was a hugely successful businessman. James’ civil suit hits Trump in the two places he is most vulnerable: his ego and his money.
When Trump launched his presidential bid in 2015, he claimed he was worth $8.7 billion. “I’m not doing this to brag. … I’m doing this to say that this is the kind of thinking our country needs,” he said.
Trump highlighted his net worth as a qualification for his presidential candidacy, saying, “I am proud of my net worth. I did an amazing job. (…) We need a leader who wrote ‘The Art of the Deal’”.
A few weeks later, he dropped that figure and issued a statement increasing his wealth to “over TEN BILLION DOLLARS.”
Trump’s claim of business success has attracted voters.
In a May 2019 National Politico/Morning Consult poll of registered voters, when asked whether, “generally” they thought Trump was successful or unsuccessful in business, 54% said they believed Trump was “very much.” or “somewhat” successful. Thirty-six percent said he was “very” or “somewhat” unsuccessful.
But that same poll revealed that Trump supporters could change their minds if faced with financial information undermining their narrative. After they were told that Trump had reported losses of $1 billion on his federal income tax returns from 1985 to 1994, those who believed he was a successful entrepreneur dropped to 43%.
James’ detailed complaint cites dozens of bloated reviews. Specifically, the complaint alleges that the defendants engaged in “a general scheme to fraudulently and falsely inflate Trump’s assets to comply with Trump’s instructions to increase his net worth.”
To be clear, Trump has been accused of financial misconduct before. In 2019, James announced a settlement over his Trump Foundation investigation. Trump acknowledged his personal misuse of the charity’s funds. He was ordered to pay $2 million to the foundation, which disbursed its assets to other charities and was closed.
After the 2016 election, Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle a public civil lawsuit alleging that students enrolled at Trump University had been defrauded.
While none of these fraud allegations appeared to erode Trump’s political support, the newest lawsuit could do major damage to Trump’s political brand for six main reasons.
First, contrary to allegations of fraud related to peripheral activities such as Trump University or the Trump Foundation, the latest lawsuit alleges that the entire Trump Organization – the core of Trump’s alleged wealth – engaged in massive fraud by a decade. James’ lawsuit meticulously lists fraudulent valuations of Trump Tower, Mar-a-Lago, 40 Wall Street, several Trump golf courses and, most importantly, Trump’s cash assets.
Second, James sued not only Donald Trump, but also Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, Allen Weisselberg (the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization) and various Trump business entities. All are accused of being involved in a criminal conspiracy to defraud creditors and insurers by inflating Trump’s net worth.
Third, James’ lawsuit seeks damages of $250 million — 10 times the settlement in the Trump University lawsuit.
Fourth, if successful, James’ lawsuit would bar Trump and his three children from running the Trump Organization and would require the company to prepare audited financial statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles that would disclose Trump’s actual net worth.
Fifth, unlike his previous lawsuit, James shows no intention of solving this case. According to The New York Times, she rejected a proposed Trump deal before filing the lawsuit. A trial would further draw public attention to these allegations of fraud.
Sixth, while some of the allegations of fraud relate to the intricacies of proper asset valuation methods, others can be understood by a third-grade math student. See the statement about Trump’s New York apartment in Trump Tower. Allegedly, the apartment was valued at 30,000 square feet, but it was actually just under 11,000 square feet. This led to it being valued at $327 million ($29,738 per square foot) in 2015. In the lawsuit, James said the price was “absurd” and that “at 30-year-old Trump Tower, record sales in 2015 was a mere $16.5 million at a price of less than $4,500 per square foot.”
The former president’s approval ratings with voters and his dominance of the Republican Party have remained steady despite investigations related to the January 6, 2021 insurgency attempt, the scheme to discredit the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s election, and the withholding of confidential documents by Trump.
But James’ civil suit is public, detailed and goes to the heart of Trump’s brand and self-image. His reaction to James’ question was revealing. After a losing battle to avoid being deposed, Trump reportedly asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege of refusing to respond more than 440 times in August.
This is the clearest indication that James’ lawsuit is a potential watershed.
Source : www.nbcnews.com