- Twice in two days, Donald Trump has publicly called New York AG Letitia James a failure and “racist.”
- James and Trump are in the thick of battle over her subpoenas for his testimony and documents.
- The AG’s three-year probe could result in high fines and possible criminal charges for Trump.
Leaving aside the dog-whistle affront of calling a Black AG racist, as he first did during a rally in January, James is clearly getting under the former president’s skin.
Here are five good reasons why.
1) This 3-year battle is at its absolute hottest.
Trump and James have been locked in battle for three years, as the AG probes whether the former president habitually fudged his numbers when applying for loans and tax breaks on behalf of The Trump Organization.
And although a criminal probe by the Manhattan DA’s Office appears to have stalled, the AG’s own pursuit of Trump has never been more intense.
Lawyers for both sides are prepping oral arguments — now scheduled for May 11 — for an upcoming appearance in an appellate courtroom in Manhattan, where they’ll spar over her demand that he, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. sit for depositions.
Meanwhile, Trump’s side has until Tuesday to file papers opposing what’s arguably James’ most hardball demand to date.
James wants a Manhattan judge to find Trump in contempt of court, and to order he pay her office $10,000 a day until he turns over the personal business documents she says he still owes her. The parties are next in court on that issue on April 25.
2) After 900,000 documents, she still wants more.
In multiple court filings and hearings, one of the rare points of agreement between Trump and James has been the number of subpoenaed documents the Trump Organization has so far turned over to the AG’s probe.
“Your honor, we’ve produced 900,000 documents; 6 million pages,” since James issued her first subpoenas, Trump Organization lawyer Lawrence Rosen said during a hearing in Manhattan last month, citing numbers that are not in dispute.
For James to ask for more is “harassment,” Trump’s lawyers say.
“Ms. James has repeatedly and unrelentingly harassed Plaintiffs with her baseless fishing expeditions,” Trump attorney Alina Habba complained in court papers Monday, the latest filing in Trump’s federal lawsuit seeking to stop the AG’s probe.
But James indeed wants more — specifically, Trump’s personal business documents.
And so far, Trump has turned over only 10 such documents from his personal business files, the AG complains.
Trump’s side says that there simply is no additional paperwork that would be responsive to the AG’s subpoena. This, despite the notoriously computer-averse Trump’s longstanding reliance on hard-copy documents.
“It just defies logic,” that there’s no other responsive paperwork, said Jeremy Saland, a white-collar crime defense lawyer who prosecuted complex financial cases as a Manhattan prosecutor.
“This is a man who claims to be the head of what purports to be a multi-billion-dollar real estate company.”
3) No detail is too small for James’ microscope
The battle over Trump’s personal business documents — believed at least in past years to have been stored in file cabinets in Trump Tower in Manhattan — provides a window into just how granular James gets in pursuit of evidence.
In asking for the $10,000-a-day fine, it wasn’t enough to accuse Trump of hiding his personal business documents. She also accused his lawyers of hiding the fact that Trump’s hiding his personal business documents.
Trump did so, James is alleging, by omitting a key word, “control,” showing that even a word that does not exist won’t get past James and her staff.
James has been asking Trump, via subpoena, for all documents “in his possession, custody or control.” Trump’s side has replied that the former president “has no documents or communications in his possession or custody that are responsive.”
That response “omits any reference to documents in the control of Mr. Trump,” the AG complained in a memo filed April 7.
“There is a big difference between ‘possession and custody’ and control,” said criminal defense lawyer Adam Kaufmann, a former Chief of Investigations in the Manhattan DA’s office, noting that Trump could have simply transferred actual possession of his documents to someone else.
“Leaving out documents under Mr. Trump’s ‘control’ — which appears to be intentional — is a glaring omission,” said Kaufmann, of Lewis Baach Kaufmann Middlemiss, adding, “The lawyers at the AGs office are paying attention to details.”
4) Trump has met his media match
On TV, on Twitter and in AG press releases, James has been #ResistingTrump for five years now.
Even before her 2018 campaign to be New York’s top law enforcement official, James was not shy about Trump and The Trump Organization.
“Leading a die-in because we are all being killed by this administration,” James tweeted back in August of 2017, just eight months into the Trump presidency, according to a defense spreadsheet submitted as evidence of the AG’s alleged political bias.
Even since her election, she has been deft in using television and social media to publically stake her claim as Trump’s most aggressive legal adversary.
James gave a “giggle” when appearing on The View in December, after host Joy Behar joked, “I believe in Trump in jail,” according to the spreadsheet, which lists more than two-dozen of the AG’s tweets and statements. A separate defense timeline also records James’ many statements on Trump going back to 2017.
“She’s put her words out there so much, and taken every opportunity to voice her vendetta against Donald Trump and his family, to take him down,” Habba complained during a hearing in Manhattan in February.
5) James could fine and charge Trump and try to close his business
James’ civil probe extends into at least 10 of Trump’s properties, and is expected to result in some action by her office, likely sometime after the Trump family deposition matter and Trump’s federal lawsuit against the AG are resolved.
The civil probe could result in a hefty lawsuit seeking to fine, or even shut down The Trump Organization entirely, remedies she has sought successfully against the Trump Foundation and unsuccessfully against the NRA.
James has also made clear that she has found potential criminal wrongdoing during her years of digging. The AG can bring charges if she finds Trump and others have violated state business and tax laws.
“In some ways he’s been successful — in a whack-a-mole kind of way — in dodging so many civil and criminal enforcement actions and allegations,” Saland said of Trump.
“And Tish James may be the one law enforcement officer to wield the last swing of the mallet,” he said. “The last person standing in all this may well be Tish James.”
Trump has repeatedly insisted there has been no wrongdoing; two attorneys for Trump could not immediately be reached for comment.
On Monday afternoon, James’ Director of Communications, Delaney Kempner issued this comment:
“Like all Americans, Donald J. Trump is entitled to defend himself in court. However, this attorney general will not be bullied or intimidated by the former president.
“The courts have ruled time and time again that the office’s investigation into Mr. Trump and his financial dealings is legitimate and lawful, and Attorney General James will continue to follow the facts and the law wherever they may lead. Nothing will dissuade her from pursuing justice.”