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Trump could soon be in big legal trouble for inflating his net worth

New York’s attorney general wants a speedy ruling in the case over Trump’s business dealings.

Donald Trump stepping off a jet stairway and waving but not smiling.
Former US President Donald Trump arrives at Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport on August 24, 2023, in Atlanta, Georgia.
Joe Raedle/Getty Images
Nicole Narea covers politics and society for Vox. She first joined Vox in 2019, and her work has also appeared in Politico, Washington Monthly, and the New Republic.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is seeking a speedy judgment against former President Donald Trump for allegedly inflating his net worth by billions of dollars to fraudulently secure favorable loan and insurance terms for more than a decade.

In a filing Wednesday night in New York court, James argued that Trump, his sons, and his business had obtained “hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten savings and profits” and that, given the volume of evidence her office has collected, the judge should issue what’s known as a summary judgment, essentially a ruling without the trial scheduled on October 2. Trump’s camp has responded by also asking the court to rule in the case before it goes to trial — but in his favor.

The requests are the culmination of a multi-year investigation into Trump’s business dealings in New York, for which he could be on the hook for up to $250 million and be barred from doing business in the state. That investigation is a civil case and is separate from the four sets of criminal charges Trump faces that span from New York to Georgia. Together, Trump’s civil and criminal cases continue to dominate the 2024 Republican primary calendar, and his legal troubles have consumed millions of dollars of his campaign funds.

There have been no indications thus far that a judgment against Trump in the New York attorney general’s case would hurt him politically. Though a majority of Americans wanted more transparency into his business dealings while he was running for president and in office, he’s never offered much — and he hasn’t suffered for it.

For years, he refused to release his tax returns, as had become the norm for presidents and presidential candidates, apparently shielding years of tax avoidance from public scrutiny before the records were leaked. He still won the 2016 election and now enjoys a historically large lead, one that has seemed to increase with each of his criminal indictments, in the Republican primary.

[Related: Why Trump seems to grow more popular the worse his legal troubles become]

Trump is accused of grossly inflating the value of his properties for fraudulent financial gain

James says her team has many examples of instances in which Trump improperly inflated the value of his assets.

For example, she accuses Trump of lying about the square footage of his Manhattan Trump Tower apartment — where his wife Melania and son Barron spent time during the early part of his presidency — to inflate its value by about $100 million to $200 million annually from 2012 to 2016. She also argues that Trump valued his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as if he could sell it as a single-family residence, rather than as the social club that it is required to be under multiple restrictive deeds. He also allegedly valued undeveloped land at his golf course in Aberdeen, Scotland, based on the assumption that he could construct and sell many more residential homes on that land than permitted by the Scottish government.

James argues that the court has to consider only two “simple and straightforward” questions before ruling: whether Trump’s annual statements of his financial condition between 2011 and 2021 were false or misleading, and whether he and his associates invoked those statements repeatedly or persistently when conducting business transactions. She argues that the answer to both of those questions is “yes” based on the evidence her office has presented, and that is enough to support finding Trump liable for fraud and barring him from conducting business under New York state law.

“… [T]he undisputed evidence establishes that Defendants employed a variety of deceptive schemes to grossly inflate values for many of Mr. Trump’s assets,” she writes.

In another court filing Wednesday night, Trump’s lawyers accused James of leading an unjustified “crusade against President Trump and his family” despite him being a “multi-billionaire who has for decades presided over a wildly successful international real estate and licensing empire.”

They also argued that even if some of Trump’s bookkeeping wasn’t exactly accurate (and they argue that it doesn’t matter whether it was because none of the parties in the business transactions at issue have ever complained), most of the allegations brought by the attorney general concern business activity that happened so long ago that they are moot.

“Under the guise of protecting the ‘public,’ the NY AG has sought to reach the elite and insular marketplace of complex and profitable transactions between billionaire developers and major international banks and insurers without any evidence that the purported fraud had any negative impact on anyone, public or private,” they write.

On Wednesday, his lawyers also released Trump’s April deposition in the case, which went on for seven hours. In it, Trump argues that James didn’t have a case and that she should drop it. He talks about his contributions to New York City’s real estate development and says “It’s a shame” that “now I have to come and justify myself to you.”

It’s not clear which side will prevail. But for now, it’s another legal headache for the embattled former president.

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