New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a civil suit Wednesday accusing former president Donald Trump, several Trump businesses and three of Trump’s children of sweeping financial fraud.
- Can a Judge Silence Donald Trump? It’s Complicated.
- Contextualizing Trump talking points: Immigration, crime, Mar-a-Lago and the 2020 election
- Donald Trump Liable in E. Jean Carroll Lawsuit, Cleared of Rape
- Durham Report Didn’t Vindicate Trump, and It Missed the True ‘Crime of the Century’
- Why are Donald Trump and Tucker Carlson all over Russian state media?
“A criminal referral from a state official on these questions helps reduce the concern that this is just the Biden administration targeting a past official,” Shugerman said. “I’m not naive enough to think that a New York attorney general filing that referral is enough to placate Trump’s MAGA base — but for a certain set of legal elites, it says, ‘OK, we’re getting to that point.’ These are institutional steps that reduce concerns about legitimacy.”
Since Trump was elected, Shugerman has closely tracked investigations into the former president and co-authored an amicus brief on one of the early lawsuits against Trump, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington v. Trump. He spoke to Grid about what the new complaint might mean, both legally and politically.
The following transcript has been edited for length and clarity.
Jed Shugerman: The biggest deal here is [if] they’re building a case not just of civil fraud, but criminal fraud. The added pressure and added institutional evidence of crimes is a bigger deal than the civil issues [listed in James’ complaint].
It’s less clear how [the civil lawsuit] will impact the rest of Trumpworld in the 21st century. Do they have to sell off all of their assets — like [Trump International Hotel and Tower] in New York City?
It’s a move to identify crimes and also to put the AG’s office formally behind the idea that there should be a federal investigation of these allegations. And it creates institutional and political pressure on the Southern District of New York and the IRS to take further action. It legitimates that further action.
There’s always concerns about an administration investigating the future presidential nominee. Those are legitimate concerns about [Attorney General Merrick Garland] and the IRS to be cautious about moving forward. But a criminal referral from a state official on these questions helps reduce the concern that this is just the Biden administration targeting a past official. I’m not naive enough to think that a New York attorney general filing that referral is enough to placate the MAGA base. But for a certain set of legal elites, it says, “OK, we’re getting to that point.” These are institutional steps that reduce concerns about legitimacy.
There’s also this point about the accumulation of a lot of different cases. There’s an institutional reluctance to bring a first case. But at a certain point, the [Justice Department] has to look at some of these sets of crimes and say, “We’ve crossed a threshold.”
And the number of, as they say, over 200 instances of tax fraud. How many are attributable to Trump himself? How many are attributable to [the former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization] Allen Weisselberg? I think one has to be cautious about the number 200, or “over 200 instances” being thrown around, because there are so many defendants in this suit. How many are pertinent to Trump himself? This is why we have a civil process. A New York attorney general gets up and makes a case and has to show evidence, and everyone deserves their day in court.
But if you’ve observed 200 instances of fraud, the Manhattan district attorney now has to answer why he doesn’t see evidence beyond a reasonable doubt.
It’s possible that’s what’s happening now. It may just be like Al Capone: that a tax fraud case is the easiest thing to prove on paper without a reasonable doubt. It’s what prosecutors call a paper case. If the evidence is so clear of fraud, it may be a less significant crime than incitement or handling classified documents — but the kind of case where prosecutors said, “This is so clear we will let it break the dam of reluctance to bring cases.”
Also, there has been a history of allegations or concerns about Trump and tax fraud. This didn’t just pop up.
Today’s lesson isn’t that officials are moving against Trump. It’s that they’ve only gotten this far in 10 years. That’s a crisis in the justice system. What’s going on with the Manhattan district attorney and the New York attorney general, where this is the most we’ve moved in 10 years in New York state?
You are now signed up for our newsletter.
- What Ramadan really means to me — and nearly 2 billion MuslimsGrid
- France protests, explained in five words: ‘Life begins when work ends’Grid
- Medical residents nationwide are unionizing. What does that mean for the future of healthcare?Grid
- Ramadan fashion hits the runways. Muslim women say it’s been a long time coming.Grid
- Who is Shou Zi Chew – the TikTok CEO doing all he can to keep his app going in the U.S.?Grid
- The SVB collapse has made deposits more valuable than ever — and banks will have to compete for themGrid
- Ukraine War in Data: 74,500 war crimes cases — and countingGrid
- Can China really play a role in ending the war in Ukraine?Grid
- ‘No Dumb Questions’: What is Section 230?Grid
- Trump steers allies and opponents on the right to a new enemy: Manhattan District Attorney Alvin BraggGrid
- World in Photos: In France, no-confidence vote and fresh protestsGrid
- Bad Takes, Episode 32: The lesson elites should have learned from IraqGrid