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Daily Memo

New York sues Trump: Of course it's politically motivated

NEW YORK SUES TRUMP: OF COURSE IT'S POLITICALLY MOTIVATED. New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a $250 million lawsuit against former President Donald Trump on Wednesday. James alleges that Trump engaged in fraud by overvaluing properties in order to get loans and undervaluing properties in order to pay lower taxes. James also sued three of Trump's children, Donald Jr., Ivanka, and Eric, alleging they were part of the scheme.

It is a civil lawsuit, and thus does not accuse the Trumps of committing crimes. James said she will refer the case to the Justice Department and the IRS, apparently in hopes they will charge the Trumps with crimes that James did not.

It's hard to assess the merits of the suit. Yes, Trump, who is in the habit of bragging in his financial statements as he does in everyday life, did value his properties all over the place. On the other hand, if Trump defrauded lenders, it was for loans that were paid back and on which the lenders made money. And as far as the IRS is concerned, it's fair to say Trump has been under a lot of scrutiny over the years and remains uncharged. It's difficult to say whether James's findings justify the effort her office put into it.

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But here is the one thing that can be definitively said about the suit: It is politically motivated. It could not be otherwise. James ran for office vowing to get Trump, who she said was an "illegitimate" president. Indeed, the Democratic primary for the office of New York state attorney general was a bidding war in which each candidate pledged to be more aggressive in targeting Trump. James won.

On Sept. 13, 2018, the night she prevailed in the Democratic primary, James made clear that she had one priority above all others. "This campaign was really never about me or any of the candidates who ran," James said in her victory speech. "It was about the people, but most importantly, it was about that man in the White House who can't go a day without threatening our fundamental rights, can't go a day without threatening the rights of immigrants, can't go a day without dividing us."

Shortly before the election, James made a video pledging to prosecute Trump. "He should be charged with obstructing justice," James said. "I believe that the president of these United States can be indicted for criminal offenses. And we would join with law enforcement and other attorneys general across this nation in removing this president from office." In addition, James said Trump was guilty of money laundering, "colluding with foreign powers," and more. "It's important that everyone understand that the days of Donald Trump are coming to an end," James said, less than halfway through the president's term. James repeatedly claimed she had the "courage" to stand up to Trump and urged New Yorkers to vote "in defiance."

The whole campaign was like that. On Aug. 6, 2018, more than a month before primary day, the Atlantic published an article headlined, "The Battle to Be Trump's Javert in New York." The piece noted that the Democratic contest had become a bidding war in which each candidate pledged to go to greater lengths to get Trump. The name "Javert," of course, referred to the police inspector who relentlessly pursued the hero in Les Miserables. Back in the Bill Clinton years, Democrats referred to the late Kenneth Starr, the Whitewater independent counsel, as Javert. Back then, they meant it as a bad thing. By 2018, though, being Trump's Javert was a good thing in Democratic circles. The resistance was so widespread that the Atlantic had to add "in New York" to the headline because many others in other places around the country, in Washington and elsewhere, were also battling to be Trump's Javert.

So James got the role. And she immediately set about working to make good on her campaign promise to go after Trump. After all, what else does the attorney general of a state with nearly 20 million people have to do? Prosecute crimes? Provide legal opinions on cases involving state agencies? Defend the state in litigation? It all pales in comparison to pursuing a former president who once lived in New York City.

With the suit, James is trying to do more than simply prove Trump overvalued or undervalued his properties. She wants to bring down the entire Trump business and family. "Ms. James is looking to extract a steep price from the former president and his company," reported the New York Times. "Her lawsuit asks a judge to appoint an independent monitor to oversee the company's financial practices and to oust the Trumps from leading their family business. Ms. James is also seeking to prevent the family from acquiring real estate in New York for five years. If a judge agrees, Mr. Trump and his children will also be permanently barred from serving as officers or directors in any New York company."

In other words, James is trying to ruin Trump — and his family, too. Isn't that what she promised during the campaign? It is hard to imagine a more politically motivated act.

Former Attorney General William Barr, who has been highly critical of his former boss recently, immediately declared James's lawsuit a "political hit job." Barr particularly noted that James, who of course has the authority to charge Trump with crimes, instead filed a civil suit. "To me, that says she does not have the evidence to make a criminal case," Barr told Fox News. "So she's setting a lower bar and bringing this civil case. I don't think it's going to go any further."

"The loans were paid back," Barr added. "Those were successful investments, and the banks were paid back. So to have spent three years on this seems to me her trying to make good on a campaign promise that she was going to bring Trump down."

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