New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil lawsuit filed Wednesday alleges “persistent fraud” by the Trump Organization is destroying Donald Trump’s manufactured 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 amassed, James claims, was also obtained by defrauding banks and insurance companies.
A voter doesn’t need to understand the intricacies of classifying top-secret documents or selecting presidential electors to understand James’ claims that Trump’s political and business brand is a con game.
While the whirlwind of criminal and congressional investigations has appeared to make little dent in Trump’s political standing, the massive fraud allegations are undermining the core of Trump’s brand as a businessman and potential 2024 presidential candidate.
A voter doesn’t need to understand the intricacies of classifying top-secret documents or selecting presidential electors to understand James’ claims that Trump’s political and business brand is a con game rooted in years of fraudulent evaluations.
The 214-page complaint alleges a decade of inflated real estate values used to manufacture a facade that Trump was a wildly successful businessman. James’ civil suit hits Trump in the two places where he is most vulnerable: ego and money.
When Trump launched his presidential bid in 2015, he claimed to be worth $8.7 billion. “I’m not doing this to brag. … I am doing this to say that this is the kind of thinking that our country needs,” he said.
Trump highlighted his net worth as a qualification for his presidential bid, saying, “I am proud of my net worth. I did an amazing job. … We need a leader who wrote “The Art of Understanding.”
A few weeks later, he dropped that figure and issued a statement increasing his fortune to “exceeding TEN BILLION DOLLARS”.
Trump’s claim to business success appealed to voters.
In a May 2019 Politico/Morning Consult national poll of registered voters, when asked whether, “generally speaking,” they thought Trump had been successful or unsuccessful in business, 54% said they believed Trump was “very” or “somewhat” successful. . Thirty-six percent said they were “very” or “somewhat” unsuccessful.
But the same poll found that Trump supporters might change their views if faced with financial information that undermines his narrative. After being told that Trump reported $1 billion in losses on his federal income tax returns from 1985 to 1994, those who believed he was a successful businessman dropped to 43 percent.
James’ detailed complaint cites dozens of inflated ratings. Specifically, the complaint alleges that the defendants engaged in a “general scheme to fraudulently and falsely inflate Mr. Trump’s assets in order to comply with Mr. 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 of his investigation into the Trump Foundation. Trump admitted 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 shut down.
After the 2016 election, Trump agreed to pay $25 million to settle a class-action civil lawsuit alleging that students enrolled at Trump University were defrauded.
While none of these fraud claims appeared to erode Trump’s political support, the latest lawsuit may cause major damage to Trump’s political brand for six key reasons.
First, unlike claims of fraud related to peripheral activities such as Trump University or the Trump Foundation, the newest lawsuit alleges that the entire Trump Organization — the core of Trump’s alleged wealth — engaged in massive fraud for a decade. James’ lawsuit meticulously lists fraudulent appraisals for Trump Tower, Mar-a-Lago, 40 Wall Street, numerous Trump golf courses and, more importantly, Trump’s cash assets.
Second, James sued not only Donald Trump, but also Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, Allen Weisselberg (former CFO of the Trump Organization), and several Trump business entities. All are accused of engaging in a criminal conspiracy to defraud creditors and insurers by inflating Trump’s net worth.
Third, James’ lawsuit seeks $250 million in damages — 10 times more than 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 require the company to prepare audited financial statements in accordance with generally accepted accounting principles that would disclose Trump’s real net worth.
Fifth, unlike her previous lawsuit, James shows no intention of settling this case. According to The New York Times, she rejected a settlement offer from Trump before filing the lawsuit. A lawsuit would draw even more public attention to these allegations of fraud.
Sixth, while some of the fraud claims relate to the complexity of proper asset valuation methods, others can be understood by a third grade math student. Take the claim about Trump’s New York apartment in Trump Tower. The apartment was supposedly rated at 30,000 square feet, but was really 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 “in the 30-year-old Trump Tower years, record sales in 2015 were only $16.5 million at a price of less than $4,500 per square foot.”
The former president’s voter approval rating and understanding of the Republican Party have remained steady despite investigations into the January 6, 2021 coup attempt, the scheme to discredit the legitimacy of President Joe Biden’s election, and Trump’s retention of secret documents. .
But James’ civil suit is public, detailed, and goes to the core of Trump’s brand and self-image. His reaction to James’ question was telling. After a losing battle to avoid impeachment, Trump asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege to refuse to answer more than 440 times in August.
This is the clearest indication that James’ trial is a potential game changer.
Source : www.nbcnews.com