Which Hunt?

[ Posted Wednesday, September 21st, 2022 – 15:44 UTC ]

Today Letitia James, the attorney general of New York, announced a civil case against Donald Trump, three of his children, and the Trump Organization. This stems from a long investigation into fraud committed by the company, mainly tax fraud and bank fraud. It is the first actual legal case against Trump that has been announced, and his reaction was entirely predictable -- calling the whole thing a "witch hunt." But this isn't the only legal problem Trump faces, even if it was the first out of the gate. Trump could soon be looking at criminal charges in more than one jurisdiction and for more than one crime. So the real question is which hunt has the best chance of succeeding?


New York -- civil fraud case

Donald Trump, his children, and his real estate company have been allegedly lying about their assets, in two ways. When they want to get a loan from a bank, they overinflate the value of the properties they own. By no small margin either -- sometimes just multiplying the actual value by two, four, and even six times. This gets them favorable interest rates, and it defrauds the bank by overstating what collateral the organization actually could put up.

Then they allegedly turn right around and report the value of the same properties to be far less than they are actually worth, when it comes time to pay taxes. This defrauds the people of New York, who get less taxes than the state is entitled to.

That's the heart of the case announced today. It is a civil case, because James does not have the power to bring a criminal case. She has referred the matter to the state prosecutors, federal prosecutors, and the I.R.S., in case any of them think criminal charges are justified. So this case could get bigger, over time.

As it stands, the civil case seeks to recover over $250 million, bar the Trump Organization for five years from acquiring any commercial real estate in New York or getting loans from New York banks, and bar Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump, and Eric Trump from serving as executives in any New York company. Those are all serious and could effectively chase the Trumps out of New York for good. But it stops short of dismantling the Trump Organization altogether, which was the most severe option available to the attorney general. The case is extensive, running to 222 pages in the initial filing.

Your guess is as good as mine for what chances any of these charges will have of sticking, in a court of law. In the court of public opinion, Team Trump is already trying to downplay the whole thing as politics and nothing more than what all real estate companies do -- fudge the figures a bit, in essence. Because the banking and tax laws are complex, it might be hard for the public to fully understand the case being made against the Trumps. So how it all plays out will be complicated.


Georgia -- criminal election interference

A criminal grand jury is investigating the efforts made to subvert the 2020 presidential election results in Georgia. This includes the effort to name "fake electors" who would somehow take the place of the official electors and cast their ballots for Trump, even though Biden won the state by more than 11,000 votes. It also includes Trump and his henchmen trying to strongarm Georgia officials into just flipping the votes necessary to declare that Trump actually won, when he did not. This sort of election interference is a crime.

The pace of this investigation seems to have picked up, and they have widened their nets to target all the fake electors who participated in the scheme, those who orchestrated it all, and those who made overt efforts to subvert the election results. This included calls made to the governor, the secretary of state, and other Georgia officials.

Donald Trump made the most infamous of these calls, of course, and it was recorded. In it, he alternately threatens and begs Georgia officials to "find 11,780 votes" for him, which would give him one more than he needed to win.

This case may lead to numerous charges against multiple people, perhaps in waves of indictments. They may indict all the fake electors first, and then lean on them to give evidence against those who orchestrated the whole thing. This would lead to another round of indictments, consisting of people within Trump's inner circle. They would also be pressured to turn state's evidence and testify against the real mastermind behind the scheme.

But whether the charges are brought in waves or all at once, eventually they are going to lead to Donald Trump himself. And this is one of the easiest cases to make, both legally and in the court of public opinion -- all they have to do, really, is to play that audio tape. Trump's intent is clear. His threats are clear. His cajoling is clear. He lays out exactly what he wants to have happen. There is no wiggle room at all. So this could be one of the toughest cases for Trump to weasel his way out of.


Federal -- criminal mishandling of national security documents

This case is currently being stalled a bit, but Trump isn't faring all that well now that the case has moved beyond his pet judge's courtroom. Trump asked for and was granted a special master to review the documents seized by the F.B.I. But in the first hearing this special master held (he is a sitting federal judge), he eviscerated Trump's current legal position.

Trump seems to think the entire case hinges on whether he magically declassified the documents that he had been illegally hoarding. He thinks this is some sort of "Get out of jail free" card. It is not.

The government's case is pretty simple. Trump absconded with over ten thousand documents he had no right to take with him. These documents are the property of the federal government. Trump stole them, plain and simple.

When Trump was politely asked to return them, he stalled. After almost a year, he finally turned over a fraction of what he had taken. When he was subpoenaed for the rest of them, he turned over a tiny fraction of what he still had -- and then he had his lawyers swear that that was all the documents marked classified that he had taken. This was a lie.

Due to Trump's lies and stalling, the Justice Department got a search warrant and legally executed it at Trump's Florida golf club. They found over 100 classified documents, as well as thousands of other documents that belong to the government.

As I said, the case is a simple one: Trump had no right to have these documents, period. To date, he has not offered the slightest explanation for why he had any of them, or why he failed to return them when asked or even subpoenaed. He has offered no real legal defense at all.

The laws cited in the search warrant that appear to have been broken do not specify whether documents were classified or not. The subpoena merely demanded all documents "marked as classified," whether they had been declassified or not. But Trump seems to think that if all the documents were declassified, it'd be some sort of magic wand that would make all the rest of the charges disappear. This is false.

It is almost immaterial whether Trump did ever declassify any of the documents. Because even if they were declassified, Trump still had no right to have them. They are still government property, not his personal possessions, period.

Trump is also trying to claim "executive privilege" which is just bizarre. In the first place, executive privilege has always been understood as the executive branch being able to keep things secret from the other two branches of government. That's not what's in play here, as the Department of Justice is part of the executive branch. So this is a non-argument too.

Trump's lawyers are trying to dance around whether the documents are still classified or not. Trump has stated in public that he's declassified everything, but his lawyers have not actually asserted this in court. Their attitude is that it is up to the Justice Department to prove that the documents are still classified, and not up to Trump to make a legal claim that they have been declassified. The special master was not impressed with this argument, telling Team Trump, "you can't have your cake and eat it, too." He also told them if they don't actually make the claim that the documents are declassified, "as far as I'm concerned, that's the end of it," meaning the documents are indeed still classified.

The special master also indicated that he will be moving swiftly, which takes the wind out of Trump's sails since the entire special master gambit was nothing more than a stalling tactic in the first place.

We're a long way from actual charges being filed in this case, but it does have the benefit of being fairly cut and dried: Trump took the documents. He refused to give them back. He lied when they were subpoenaed. And he has given no excuse whatsoever for any of this illegal behavior.


Federal -- criminal January 6th insurrection

A federal grand jury is looking into all the explosive charges that were made public in the House Select Committee's presentations on the January 6th insurrection attempt. And the grand jury's subpoenas can't be brushed aside as easily as the committee's.

This investigation has sped up noticeably since the public hearings began, but it will likely lag all of the other investigations. It is incredibly complicated, it involves a whole passel of people, and so far nobody's managed to produce the smoking gun that ties Trump directly to a group such as the Proud Boys who were actively plotting the attack on the Capitol. So while the subject will again be in the public eye later this month (reportedly, the next public hearing the committee will hold will be September 28th), the legal side of the investigation is likely to stretch into next year, at the very least.


New York -- civil defamation and infliction of emotional distress (rape)

New York recently passed a law allowing sexual assault survivors to sue, even decades after the attack. E. Jean Carroll, who has accused Trump of raping her in a department store dressing room, is now ready to do so. This is in addition to a lawsuit Carroll brought against Trump for defamation, in which Trump may have to be deposed by mid-October. That suit is currently on track to be tried next February.

These are both civil suits, it bears mentioning. Trump faces no criminal penalties in either one.



The timing of any or all of these will be interesting. Trump is definitely a master of abusing the legal system to create endless delays. He'll file a motion. It'll be denied. He'll appeal the ruling. No matter what the appeals court says, he'll appeal it again right up to the Supreme Court. Even if he loses there, he has successfully wasted months on a single legal motion. Rinse and repeat.

This means that although there are still more than two whole years before the next presidential election, none of these cases may have reached their conclusion by that time. Perhaps this is being too pessimistic, but it stems from the legal strategy Trump has employed his entire life, so it should be expected that he will fight tooth and nail over every tiny little legal detail, always pushing out the actual trial by more and more months of wrangling in the appellate courts. Remember how long he fought having the House of Representatives get copies of his taxes? He ultimately lost that legal fight, but he did manage to stretch it out so far that he wasn't even president anymore by the time they got them.

The New York civil case announced today is really the first serious case against Trump -- all the other investigations have not even reached this point yet. They could, in the coming months, or they could spill over into next year. Delaying the start of any such legal proceedings makes it all that much easier to delay the trials themselves through legal maneuvering.

"The wheels of justice grind exceedingly slow, but exceedingly fine" is a concept that has been around for quite some time. They have been grinding away for almost two years since the 2020 election that Trump lost. Only now has the first major lawsuit been filed. So you'll forgive me if I'm not exactly predicting that Trump will be frogmarched off to jail in an orange jumpsuit anytime soon.

Still, Trump does face a daunting amount of legal jeopardy. Any one of these cases could ultimately succeed, but even if they do -- even if Trump is eventually forced to wear orange -- it still might not derail his political ambitions. There is no prohibition against running for president from a jail cell, after all. Which Trump would do, without a shadow of a doubt.

Trump, through it all, will claim it is unprecedented for a former president to face so many legal challenges. This is true, but it is also true that we've never had a president who engaged in this much potentially-criminal behavior before. While Trump screams "Witch hunt!" to his devoted followers, the rest of us are left wondering which of these legal hunts may actually succeed and force him to finally pay a price for his actions.

-- Chris Weigant


Follow Chris on Twitter: @ChrisWeigant


22 Comments on “Which Hunt?”

  1. [1] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    Talking heads keep saying that Tish is suing Big Orange and his the adult children. They want to make it clear that the autistic kid isn't in on the crime wave just yet. Poor Tiffany is invisible. Why don't the orangelings let her join in any reindeer games?

  2. [2] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    Is she Marilyn Munster?

  3. [3] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    It's becoming increasing difficult for Deathsantis to "change the narrative" ahead of the narrative. He'll probably have to FedEx a duffel bag full of severed trans-kid's heads to Hillary's house to break through now.

  4. [4] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    Better call Saul!.

    . . . or maybe flee to Russia like Edward Snowden.

  5. [5] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    There is no prohibition against running for president from a jail cell, after all. Which Trump would do, without a shadow of a doubt.

    Somehow, I believe the obstacles would be significant.

  6. [6] 
    John From Censornati wrote:

    it is also true that we've never had a president who engaged in this much potentially-criminal behavior before.

    C'mon man. It's all a little too obvious to be "potentially".

  7. [7] 
    nypoet22 wrote:

    Someone should add, "that we know of"

  8. [8] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    In it, he alternately threatens and begs Georgia officials to "find 11,780 votes" for him, which would give him one more than he needed to win.

    Begging Pardon, My Lord, but wouldn't it give him exactly what he needed to surmount Joe's 11,799 vote win?

  9. [9] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    The New York Civil action preceeding Alvin Bragg's possible criminal indictment(s) is likely because criminal has a higher standard of proof.

    Perhaps not coincidentally to how J6C is preceeding possible DoJ criminal indictment(s), no?

    There are so many legal threats to Trump I really don't regard which one lands first matter. Nor that maybe not all of them ultimately land.

    Most important is that he is held to account, successfully or not.

    Does anyone outside of TrumpWorld think he'll beat all of these cases? And why do you think Trump wouldn't be held without bail?

  10. [10] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    John From Censornati wrote:

    Is she Marilyn Munster?

    If she is wouldn't that make Barron...Eddie Munster?

  11. [11] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Yeah and I can see Melania playing Morticia Munster.

    Only 21st century Morticia has a "Hot-girl-girl-action" pictorial."

  12. [12] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    Inquiring minds want to know if the Secret Service is presently in (forgive me) secret negotiations with DoJ on the particulars of Trump's upcoming pretrial confinement.

  13. [13] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:

    Attempting to foment political violence could have serious repercussions on Trump's cell phone privileges.

  14. [14] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    You're mixing your munsters with your addamses

  15. [15] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:

    At least we are approaching the proper season for such mix ups...

  16. [16] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:

    This is mostly wishful thinking run amok. Believe it or not THERE IS NO LAW AGAINST LYING ABOUT HOW MUCH YOU ARE WORTH when trying to borrow money!! Likewise, no law against overstating/understating your net worth.

    That fiction came up time and time again over the sub-prime mortgage crisis, and NOBODY was ever prosecuted, not the borrowers nor the lenders.

    Most of this is equivalent to prosecuting him for being an all-around asshole of a human being. He may be 100% guilty, but there just ain't no law against being an asshole!!

  17. [17] 
    BashiBazouk wrote:


    First off this is a civil suit so the law does not matter as much. Second, if the bank is FDIC insured there are definitely laws against lying. To the tune of up to three years in prison and $1,000,000 fine. It's rarely enforced but is on the books. Now with Trump it may very well been well past the statue of limitations since he lied to get a loan from a FDIC insured bank as I expect Russian banks are not insured in that way. On the other hand you can ask old Al Capone and his buddies what the IRS thought of being lied to...

  18. [18] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    That's only one of the five-plus strains of case being brought. hoarding classified documents, interfering in elections, refusing to stop an insurrection attempt, rape and tax evasion aren't all chump change.

  19. [19] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    In theory at least, the orange moron should be just as vunerable as Capone when it comes to lying to the IRS. That (lying to the tax collector), is not even slightly comparable to0 lying to your local banker, and it matters not in the slightest, who or what might be insuring your local banker. BTW. despite its name the FDIC is not an "insurer", it's a regulator. Or if you want to call it an insurer, you need to remember, it's NOT the bank that's being insured,it's the bank's d4epositors.

  20. [20] 
    MtnCaddy wrote:


    So if this is correct why isn't it all over Fox and Newsmax and OANN?

  21. [21] 
    C. R. Stucki wrote:


    Unfortunately, I'm guessing that every single one of the five turns out to be indeed, "chump change".

  22. [22] 
    nypoet22 wrote:


    That could well be, but if so, it doesn't say much for our justice system.

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