A lawsuit from the New York attorney general is the latest legal headache for former President Trump and arguably the most personal, as it targets both his business and his image as a skilled dealmaker.
The lawsuit has triggered a furious response from Trump, but many Republicans think it could ultimately solidify Republican support as he mulls whether to run for president in 2024.
“They’ve demeaned me for years with this stuff. And now they find out that I have very little debt — very, very little — a lot of cash,” Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News this week. “We have a great company, and we have among the best assets anywhere in the world. But I went through, they were demeaning me, you know, constantly these people. There’s something wrong with them. I really believe they hate our country.”
Trump has spent days posting criticisms of New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) on his Truth Social platform, demeaning her as a “racist” and sharing old videos of James pledging to go after him if elected.
The lawsuit is personal for Trump, who built his political brand largely on the image that he is a successful businessman capable of making savvy deals to build a financial empire. Trump has been protective of the details of his finances in recent years, breaking with decades-long tradition by refusing to release his tax records while campaigning for office.
In a civil suit, James alleges Trump, with the help of his adult children and Trump Organization executives, falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to secure loans on more favorable terms and to gain tax benefits. The suit alleges Trump and his company “knowingly and intentionally created more than 200 false and misleading valuations of assets” from 2011 to 2021.
As punishment, James is seeking a five-year ban on Trump buying commercial real estate in New York or applying for loans and a lifetime ban on Trump and his three oldest children — Don Jr., Ivanka and Eric — from serving on the board of any New York business.
But the allegations did not appear to bother many Republicans the way recent investigations into Trump’s conduct around the 2020 election or his handling of classified documents have.
Many in the GOP view the suit as a political move, pointing to James’s comments during her 2018 campaign in which she made Trump a focal point and vowed to hold him accountable.
One Republican operative with ties to Trump’s orbit dismissed any potential political fallout.
The operative reasoned that Trump’s base and the GOP as a whole are already inclined to believe Democrats, and James in particular, are out to get the former president. The lawsuit only reinforces that belief.
“The @January6thCmte investigation has stalled. The Mar-a-Lago raid is being exposed as a DOJ/FBI political operation. So now NY AG Letitia James has made a last-ditch effort to salvage attempts to ‘get’ President Trump. It never works,” tweeted Steven Cheung, a former Trump campaign adviser.
Rep. Jim Banks (R-Ind.), head of the influential House Republican Study Committee, dismissed James’s lawsuit as “illegitimate” while sharing a video compilation of James calling Trump an “illegitimate president.”
Former Attorney General William Barr, a onetime staunch Trump ally who has been more willing to criticize his old boss in recent months, said he viewed James’s lawsuit as “overreach” that “will make people more sympathetic to Trump.”
“It’s hard for me not to conclude that this is a political hit job,” Barr said on Fox News after the lawsuit was publicized. “I’m not even sure that she has a good case against Trump himself, but what ultimately persuades me that this is a political hit job is that she grossly overreaches when she tries to drag the children into this.”
A New York Times poll conducted before news of James’s lawsuit was released found 44 percent of voters viewed Trump favorably, the same number as a poll conducted in July, underscoring his stable support among Republicans in particular.
Still, Trump’s legal troubles are undeniably piling up.
The House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot is resuming its public hearings next week, and the panel may submit a final report before the midterms that contains more damaging information about Trump’s inaction that day.
There’s the ongoing investigation in Georgia into an effort to put forward a slate of alternative electors who would have overturned the state’s election results in 2020, which has drawn in several Trump allies.
And perhaps most seriously, there is the investigation into Trump’s handling of classified materials after leaving office in the wake of an FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago home last month. A special master appointed to sift through seized materials in the case has pressed Trump’s legal team to back up the former president’s claims that he declassified the documents he took with him.
The various probes pose not just legal threats to Trump, but political ones as well as voters mull whether to move on to a different candidate for the 2024 election.
“Elections are business decisions at the end of the day,” one former Trump campaign aide said, acknowledging that at a certain point the investigations may become too much of a burden for voters to accept.