Who is Letitia James? What to know about the NY AG who just sued Trump for fraud

New York Attorney General Letitia James turned heads nationally in recent years by refusing to budge when taking on big political players – namely former president Donald Trump and former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

In 2018, she made history as the first female attorney general to be elected in New York, and the first Black woman to be elected to major statewide office. But she comes from a background of representing the everyday New Yorker.

During her time as a New York City Council member in Brooklyn and later as New York City Public Advocate, she pushed for better living conditions and an improved recycling process in the city, and served as a community watchdog over city agencies.

As New York’s attorney general, James advocated for similar priorities, cracking down on telecommunications companies for jamming phone lines with illegal robocalls and suing drug manufacturers over their alleged deceptive marketing practices and efforts to shield profits reaped from selling prescription painkillers, which helped ignite a national opioid crisis.

“Throughout my career, I’ve taken on big forces and New Yorkers know I will never back down when it comes to fighting for them,” James, 63, said last fall, when she announced what turned out to be a brief foray into New York’s 2022 gubernatorial race.

She dropped out of that race after less than two months, saying she’d run for reelection as attorney general instead.

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New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks during a press conference on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2022, where she announced she has filed a civil suit against former President Donald Trump and his family for overstating asset valuations and deflating his net worth by billions for tax and insurance benefits.

How was James first elected as NY attorney general?

James was elected to her current office in 2018 following Eric Schneiderman’s resignation amid sexual harassment allegations.

She ran in a crowded Democratic primary that included New York Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney and law professor Zephyr Teachout, who ran against Cuomo in a Democratic primary for governor in 2014.

During the campaign, James and other Democratic candidates vowed to take on then-president Trump over his policies and business interests in New York.

She handily won the general election against her Republican rival, lawyer Keith Wofford, capturing more than 60% of the vote.

How did the Trump investigation start?

Just months into her new role, James opened a civil investigation into Trump and the Trump Organization in 2019, after former Trump attorney Michael Cohen told federal lawmakers that the former president regularly inflated the value of his properties and net worth to get better insurance and loan rates.

Over the last three years, James’ office has at times been embroiled in a grinding back-and-forth with the Trump team over the acquisition of personal records and documents connected to the investigation.

New York Attorney General Letitia James says investigators "collected significant additional evidence" against the Trump Organization.

In May, James signaled the inquiry was nearing an end and that investigators had amassed substantial evidence that could support legal action, such as a lawsuit, against Trump, his company or both.

Finally, on Wednesday, it all came to a head.

James sued Trump, his organization and three of his children, alleging the former president "falsely inflated his wealth by billions of dollars" to enrich himself and his family.

The lawsuit seeks $250 million in penalties and a permanent ban on Trump running businesses in New York.

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What else defined James’ tenure as attorney general?

James’ name drew the spotlight over the last year for a separate scuffle with another heavy hitting political figure − this time, a former ally.

In August 2021, she released a bombshell report involving then-New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, corroborating the accounts of 11 women who said the former governor sexually harassed them in various ways. Some of the women were current or former state employees at the time.

The report − one of several official inquiries into Cuomo’s alleged conduct in 2021 − detailed claims that Cuomo repeatedly touched or grabbed the women, or made inappropriate comments toward them, according to the findings.

“This investigation has revealed conduct that corrodes the very fabric that makes our state government,” James said at the time.

New York Attorney General Letitia James addresses a news conference at her office, in New York, Friday, May 21, 2021.

Cuomo resigned days later, under the pressure of potential impeachment, as a mounting roster of lawmakers called for his ouster.

He and his legal team have repeatedly denied the worst of the claims against him, and cast the attorney general’s investigation and report as flawed, inaccurate and aimed at political gain.

The eventual report was fueled by “(James’) own politically motivated and self-interest driven agenda,” Cuomo said in an ethics complaint filed against James’ office last week.

Includes reporting from Kevin Johnson, David Jackson, Bart Jansen, Jon Campbell and the Associated Press.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Who is Letitia James? More on the NY AG who sued Trump for fraud