By Jack Phillips
A member of former President Donald Trump’s legal team said that New York Attorney General Letitia James doesn’t have a case as she pursues a civil lawsuit that alleges former commander-in-chief committed fraud.
During a hearing at a New York state court last week, President Trump’s attorneys said that Ms. James, a Democrat, has “no valid authority” to sue the former president. They contended that the lawsuit filed by the attorney general was outside the statute of limitations and also “failed to demonstrate any even theoretical harm to anyone, public or private,” according to reporters.
Ms. James’s case is “out of context,” Trump attorney Christopher Kise also said in the hearing. Mr. Kise said that the former president and other defendants involved in the Trump Organization didn’t commit fraud and said the attorney general’s arguments, according to him, essentially are “Believe me, this is fraud.”
State Justice Arthur Engoron is considering arguments by President Trump, his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, and the Trump Organization that the case should be thrown out because there was no fraud, no one was harmed, and the claims are too old. But Ms. James has argued that a ruling should be handed down before the trial starts that the defendants are liable for fraud.
The judge plans to rule on Sept. 26 on both sides’ motions, and suggested that bigger principles are at stake. “We’re talking about fairness and honesty in the marketplace,” he said at the hearing, which lasted nearly five hours. “The fact that nobody was hurt doesn’t mean the case gets dismissed.”
Ms. James wants at least $250 million in penalties, and to bar the the Trumps from running businesses in New York. The former president and his sons have denied any wrongdoing, accusing the attorney general of engaging in a politically motivated attack against them.
The attorney general has previously accused President Trump of lying in financial statements between 2011 and 2021 to obtain better terms on loans and insurance, defrauding banks and insurers. She said the alleged lies included overvaluing properties including his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida and Trump Tower penthouse in Manhattan, and inflating his fortune by as much as $3.6 billion.
However, according to Mr. Kise in last week’s court hearing, there is no evidence of that, the attorney general’s contrary statements did not make it so, and that valuation disputes were immaterial, he said.
“The foundation of the case is to ignore everything,” Mr. Kise said, reported Reuters. “The case comes down to prosecuting the defendants for engaging in successful business transactions.”
In response, Ms. James’s team accused President Trump of knowing his valuations were false, including the valuing of Mar-a-Lago at $739 million by allegedly pretending it was unrestricted property though the former president had given up rights to develop it other than as a club, and reporting that the penthouse was nearly triple its actual size.
“In the defendants’ world, there’s no objective truth,” said Andrew Amer, a lawyer from her office. “Defendants have clearly stepped through the looking glass.”
Also in the hearing, Mr. Kise said that “valuations are highly subjective” and said that “I may think my house is worth 5 million and you may think it’s worth 5 cents.” The attorney general’s office is “prosecuting the defendants for engaging in successful business transactions,” he said, NBC News reported.
But Mr. Amer said that Mr. Kise’s argument is immaterial because valuations are based on market conditions.
Last week, President Trump sued Justice Engoron, accusing him of taking too long to narrow the case. The lawsuit sought to delay the trial, to allow the defendants to prepare properly after the judge decides which claims the attorney general can pursue.
Defense lawyers have also accused Ms. James of ignoring the June appeals court decision. The appeals court is expected to decide next week whether the trial should proceed as scheduled.
The attorney general’s lawsuit is one of several legal headaches for President Trump as he continues his 2024 campaign for the White House. Recent polls have shown that he is by far the leading Republican in a crowded field of candidates, with a recent RealClearPolitics average showing the former president with 57 .5 percent support, while the No. 2 in the polls, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, has only 13.3 percent support.
This year, he has been indicted four times. He faces state charges in Georgia and in Manhattan as well as federal charges in Washington, D.C., and Florida. He’s pleaded not guilty.
Reuters contributed to this report.