Fact Check: Donald Trump repeats false claims about his legal troubles after closing arguments in civil trial

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Former President Donald Trump went on a conspiracy theory-laden rant at a news conference Thursday after his attorneys wrapped up their closing arguments at his civil fraud trial in New York.

As he often does, Trump bashed the state prosecutors who are seeking more than $370 million from him and his co-defendants, a request that came after a New York judge ruled they were liable for repeated business fraud.

He also peddled the baseless conspiracy theory that President Joe Biden is pulling the strings and personally initiated the civil and criminal cases that he’s facing as a way to undermine Trump’s presidential campaign.

Here’s a fact-check of some of Trump’s comments on Thursday.

Trump on Biden’s role in his legal cases

Trump blamed Biden for his legal troubles, and accused the president of weaponizing law enforcement to block him from returning to the White House.

“My legal issues, every one of them, civil and the criminal ones, are all set up by Joe Biden … they’re doing it for election interference,” Trump said.

Facts First: This is false. Biden doesn’t have any role in Trump’s legal cases, especially the New York case, which was initiated by state investigators.

There is no validity to the claim that Biden is responsible for the New York civil trial. New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, opened the investigation in 2019 before Biden was even president.

Biden’s most direct connection to a Trump case is that he appointed Attorney General Merrick Garland, who appointed the special counsel who indicted Trump in two federal criminal cases, related to the 2020 election and classified documents at Mar-a-Lago. But this doesn’t mean there was any substantive involvement by Biden.

Other cases creating headaches for Trump have nothing to do with Biden or any Democratic prosecutors. For instance, the columnist E. Jean Carroll is a private citizen, with no ties to the Biden White House, and she is suing Trump again for defamation. A jury found last year that Trump sexually abused Carroll and defamed her when he denied her sexual assault allegations.

Trump on James’ visits to the White House

Trump lauded a new report from a notorious right-wing conspiracy site, Gateway Pundit, to claim that James improperly met with Biden at the White House while she was pursuing Trump in state court.

“Letitia James visited Joe Biden in the White House numerous times during the Trump witch hunt,” Trump said. “This just came out. … it’s all a conspiracy to try and get Biden, who can’t put two sentences together, to try to get him into office.”

Facts First: This is highly misleading. Yes, James visited the White House three times after filing the fraud suit against Trump. But she attended events in her official capacity and there’s zero public indication that she personally met with Biden or discussed the Trump investigations with anyone.

The first visit was on April 8, 2022. White House visitor logs show that James was at the South Lawn. That’s the same date and location as a major public event where Biden hailed the Senate’s confirmation of his Supreme Court nominee, Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson. Hundreds of people were in attendance, including James, her office told CNN.

The second visit was on July 18, 2023. James attended a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris and other state attorneys general about addressing the fentanyl crisis. James was on the official attendee list.

The third visit was on August 31, 2023. The logs indicate that James was at the vice president’s residence. That’s the same day Harris hosted an event honoring elected officials who are Black women. James’ office and a White House official told CNN that James was in attendance.

There are no indications of any other visits by James to the White House, according to official logs.

Trump on the fraud law he’s accused of violating

Trump accused James’s office of misusing a New York fraud law to go after him and his companies.

“This is a statute, a consumer fraud statute, that has never been used for anything like this before, and it’s a shame,” Trump claimed.

Facts First: This is false. The law has been used before, even in a case against Trump University years ago.

CNN’s Daniel Dale previously fact checked this claim in December.

He wrote: “New York Executive Law 63(12), the 1956 statute that New York Attorney General Letitia James invoked in filing the lawsuit that led to the civil trial, has been used for decades by New York attorneys general against a wide range of entities, ranging from an e-cigarette company to school bus companies to oil and gas giant ExxonMobil… In fact, it had also been used against Trump University and the Trump Foundation.”

Trump on his right to a jury trial

The former president also claimed that some of his legal rights were violated – like being deprived the right to a jury.

“We didn’t have a jury. We had no rights to a jury,” Trump said.

Facts First: This needs context. New York prosecutors used a civil fraud law that doesn’t guarantee a right to a jury trial, but Trump’s lawyers didn’t press the issue at the beginning of the case, so he got a bench trial.

Every American’s right to a trial by jury is well-known from the Sixth Amendment to the US Constitution – but that only applies to “criminal prosecutions.” This is a civil case with different rules.

New York Judge Arthur Engoron noted at the beginning of the trial that “neither side asked for” a jury, and “in any event, the remedies sought are all equitable in nature, mandating that the trial be a bench trial, one that a judge alone decides.”

But CNN previously reported that Trump’s lawyers could have filed motions in court and tried to get a jury to hear the case – and filed appeals if they lost – even though it would’ve been an uphill climb.

Trump on the NY AG’s partisanship

Later in his comments, Trump said James brought the lawsuit because she promised to investigate him while she was campaigning in 2018 to become New York’s attorney general.

“She campaigned on, ‘I will get Trump,’” the former president said.

Facts First: He’s right. James campaigned on a pledge to use her office to go after Trump.

During her 2018 campaign, James singled out Trump and said she’d investigate him if she won.

In one video, she said, “I will never be afraid to challenge this illegitimate president,” referring to Trump, and promised to “fight back” against him, if elected. She also said he should be indicted for obstruction of justice, likely referring to the Russia investigation, and vowed to scrutinize his real estate dealings.

And on the night she was elected in November 2018, she said, “I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings, and every dealing, demanding truthfulness at every turn.”

However, back in 2022, when Trump’s lawyers similarly accused Jones of pursuing the case for political reasons, Engoron ruled that there was “sufficient legal basis for continuing its investigation, which undercuts the notion that this ongoing investigation is based on personal animus.”

It should also be noted that James hasn’t exclusively targeted Trump or his fellow Republicans. For example, she investigated former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, and issued a blistering report concluding that he sexually harassed multiple women, including state employees. This spurred Cuomo’s resignation in August 2021.

Trump on ExxonMobil’s move to Texas

Trump blamed James’ litigiousness for the oil giant ExxonMobil relocating from New York to Texas.

“She went after Exxon and they decided to move to Texas,” Trump said.

Facts First: James’ office did sue ExxonMobil, but that didn’t spur its move to Texas, which happened in 1989.

The Exxon Corporation announced that it was leaving Manhattan and moving to the Dallas area in October 1989, according to a contemporaneous report in The New York Times. At the time, James was a recent law school graduate and had just been admitted to the state bar, according to New York attorney records. Further, she began her career as a public defender, not as a prosecutor.

It’s clear that James had nothing to do with Exxon’s relocation more than 30 years ago.

But in more recent years, the New York attorney general’s office filed a climate change-related lawsuit against the oil giant. The lawsuit was filed in 2018 by James’ predecessor, and James took over the case after she became attorney general. A judge later ruled in Exxon’s favor, concluding that James’ investigators fell short of proving that Exxon mislead shareholders about the risks of climate change.

The company formally moved its headquarters from the Dallas area to a Houston suburb last year.

This story has been updated with additional details.

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