Monday, April 15, 2024

Letitia James Triumphs Over Trump in Historic New York Fraud Trial

HomePoliticsLetitia James Triumphs Over Trump in Historic New York Fraud Trial

NEW YORK – As closing arguments concluded in the high-profile fraud trial against Donald Trump’s business empire, a small crowd of protesters temporarily blocked traffic outside the courthouse. “No dictators in the USA,” they chanted defiantly.

When a black SUV rolled up, the protesters shifted gears. “Thank you, Tish! Thank you, Tish!” they cheered, as New York Attorney General Letitia James emerged and climbed the courthouse steps.

For James, this marked the end of her office’s most high-profile legal battle to date – a years-long fraud case against the former president and his Trump Organization. While a team of lawyers from her office led the prosecution, James has been the unmistakable public face of the trial since its start in early 2023.

Sitting prominently behind Trump in the courtroom, at times casting incredulous looks his way, she has inevitably become a target of his infamous rage and vitriol, both inside and outside the courtroom walls.

I DID NOTHING WRONG,” Trump ranted in all caps on Truth Social in January, his fledgling social media platform. “MY FINANCIAL STATEMENTS ARE GREAT, & VERY CONSERVATIVE, THE EXACT OPPOSITE OF WHAT THE HIGHLY POLITICAL & TOTALLY CORRUPT NEW YORK STATE ATTORNEY GENERAL SAYS. THE CORRUPT AG WANTS $370M AS BUSINESSES FLEE NEW YORK. THEY SHOULD PAY ME.”

James kept a relatively low profile during the trial itself, posting weekly summaries on social media and occasionally offering brief comments to reporters outside the courthouse. But on the final day, long after Trump had delivered a bizarre and rambling closing statement before storming out, James told the media: “The personal attacks don’t really bother me.

In the end, the judge handed James an extraordinary victory. Arthur Engoron, the judge overseeing the case, gave her team almost everything they had asked for – fining Trump over $350 million and banning him and his eldest sons from conducting business in New York for several years.

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In a statement, James celebrated the “tremendous victory for this state, this nation, and for everyone who believes that we all must play by the same rules – even former presidents.”

For years, Donald Trump engaged in massive fraud to falsely inflate his net worth and unjustly enrich himself, his family, and his organization,” she said. Now, Donald Trump is finally facing accountability for his lying, cheating, and staggering fraud. Because no matter how big, rich, or powerful you think you are, no one is above the law.”

Holding the powerful accountable has been a driving force for James throughout her legal career and time in public service. She campaigned on this very principle when running for New York Attorney General in 2018 amid scandal, as the previous AG Eric Schneiderman faced abuse accusations.

Raised by working-class parents in Brooklyn alongside 7 siblings, James attended New York public schools before earning her law degree from Howard University. She started out as a public defender, then transitioned to New York City politics, serving on the City Council and as the first Black woman Public Advocate – a watchdog role where she filed a record number of lawsuits on behalf of people with disabilities, seniors, and tenants.

When James won the Attorney General’s office in 2018, becoming the first Black woman in that role, she vowed to “take that power back” from corrupt corporations and politicians, shining “a light into the murkiest of swamps and act as a steward of justice.”

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Even with the Trump Organization trial concluded, James is still pursuing several other high-profile cases. This includes a civil suit against top officials at the National Rifle Association, accusing them of violating non-profit law by misusing NRA funds for personal benefit. The case could ultimately lead to dissolving the once-mighty gun lobby group.

James has also taken on the Catholic church over its mishandling of child sexual abuse, and the NYPD for its treatment of Black Lives Matter protesters in 2020. Last November, she filed suit against Pepsi over plastic pollution in the Buffalo River, teeing up a major environmental case against the beverage giant headquartered in New York.

Critics, usually her political or legal adversaries like Trump, have tried to portray James as an opportunist using her office to chase national headlines. Former Governor Andrew Cuomo, once an ally before James investigated him for sexual assault, accused her of pursuing that probe for political gain.

“There are many agendas and there are many motivations at play,” Cuomo said in his 2021 farewell address after James’ investigation substantiated sexual assault claims from 11 women against him.

Trump himself has made similar claims about James’ motivations, alleging both in and out of court that she is conducting a “political witch-hunt” to advance her own partisan agenda.

“She’s a political hack, and this is a disgrace that a case like this is going on,” Trump ranted on the witness stand in November. “This is a political witch-hunt, and I think she should be ashamed of herself.”

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Serving as a state’s Attorney General is often seen as a springboard to running for Governor. James briefly launched a gubernatorial campaign in 2021, but dropped out after just 6 weeks when it became clear the state Democratic party was coalescing behind Kathy Hochul, Cuomo’s Lieutenant Governor who took over after his resignation.

When withdrawing, James said she would remain Attorney General, stating “there are a number of important investigations and cases that are underway and I intend to finish the job.” At the time, her office was deep into its probe of the Trump Organization’s finances.

While James has positioned herself as an ally to the more moderate Hochul, she has distanced herself from the Governor on some issues. In August 2022, in an unusual move, James declined to legally represent Hochul over her handling of migrants arriving in New York. James said existing requirements to house migrants applied statewide, not just in New York City as Hochul had stipulated.

James’s specific future political ambitions remain unclear, especially given there are no term limits for New York’s Governor or Attorney General positions. For now, she continues emphasizing her focus remains on the high-profile legal cases in her office.

When James ran for re-election as AG in 2022, winning by 9 points, her Republican opponent told the New York Times she had lost sight of New York taxpayers while chasing her own political agenda.

In response, James countered that ignoring Trump or the NRA would be “a dereliction of my duty.”

“We’ve been very active,” she told the paper. “And I make no apologies, because this is who I am, and this is what I do.”

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Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee
Mezhar Alee is a prolific author who provides commentary and analysis on business, finance, politics, sports, and current events on his website Opportuneist. With over a decade of experience in journalism and blogging, Mezhar aims to deliver well-researched insights and thought-provoking perspectives on important local and global issues in society.

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