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The Brief: NY’s Civil Fraud Trial Against Trump is Politically Punitive and an Affront to Justice

Gregg is joined by David Schoen, a veteran criminal defense attorney and civil liberties lawyer

Photo by KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images

Courts of law are not venues for vendettas.

Yet, that is precisely how Letitia James has treated the justice system in pursuing her unwarranted case against Donald Trump.  The New York Attorney General should face disbarment proceedings for falsely commandeering a consumer protection statute, contorting its plain meaning, and then misusing the courts to exact revenge against a political opponent she openly despises.

James ran for office in 2018 on the campaign promise of “getting Trump.”  She literally spoke those words in her rabid rhetoric suffused with strident anti-Trump diatribes.  Discarding her ethical duty as if it was yesterday’s trash, she pronounced the then-president guilty in the court of public opinion without real knowledge of any wrongdoing.

Being bereft of facts did not deter James from accusing Trump of “a pattern of money laundering,” obstruction of justice, conspiring with foreign governments, and “defrauding Americans.”  She denounced him as an “illegitimate president” and repeatedly declared that she’d take him down by hook or by crook.

Mind you, at the time she leveled those specious accusations James had no access to evidence or documents because as a candidate she was not privy to any investigative files.  But that did not stop her from vowing to target Trump for something —anything.

Without conscience, James prejudged the merits of a case she had yet to bring and promised an outcome that was preordained.  She then proceeded to exploit the immense powers of a high public office to achieve it.  Her bitter crusade was always an investigation in search of a crime.  That is an egregious violation of the sacred cannons of ethics governing prosecutors.

Compare James’ remarks to the American Bar Association’s standard 2.1 which reads: “When deciding whether to initiate or continue an investigation, the prosecutor should not be influenced by partisan or other improper political considerations…or hostility or personal animus toward a potential suspect.”

No reasonable person can believe that James did not breach her ethical duty under this strict professional standard.  It is the sworn obligation of an attorney general to see that justice is done, not fulfill a campaign pledge by victimizing a partisan adversary.  She is required to be fair and impartial.  Her neutrality must reside beyond question such that even the appearance of a conflict of interest is grounds for punishment.

Disbarment is the proper penalty for such disgraceful conduct.  Regrettably, that won’t happen.  In New York, the far-left bar association has evolved into an activist political organ of the Democrat party.  It is secretly cheering her on.  That gives the AG carte blanche to abuse her authority and bastardize the law, which she is doing shamelessly.

James, of course, was counting on a biased judge to aid and abet her legal machinations.  Sure enough, she got one.  Watching Judge Arthur Engoron mug and preen before the television cameras on day one is sufficient proof that this was shaping up as a Soviet style “show trial.”

A week earlier, Engoron announced that Trump was guilty of fraud before a single witness ever took the stand to testify.  He ordered the cancellation of the defendant’s business certificates in New York and directed the dissolution of Trump’s companies.

Fortunately, the appellate court last Friday stepped in to halt Engoron’s orders because there are serious concerns that his actions violated the due process rights of other non-party persons and entities involved with the Trump Organization who are being punished by the potential dissolution.

They were given no notice, no right to be heard, no trial, and no chance to defend themselves.  Without authority, Engoron’s order deprived them of cherished constitutional rights.  And he did it under a twisted interpretation of a New York consumer protection law.  That’s not protecting the consumer.  It’s punishing the consumer.

Indeed, the entire fraud trial relies on the same warped view of that statute.  Its original intent was for cases where the general public has been harmed.  But here, no one in the public was harmed at all.  The banks made more than $100 million in profits from the loans to Trump that were promptly repaid.  The insurance companies that provided coverage also made out like bandits.

Judge Engoron seems oblivious to all of this.  He has perverted the context of the statute and allowed Letitia James to pursue Trump for fraud without having to prove the basic elements of fraud normally demanded by law.  In the process, Trump is also being deprived of proper due process under the 5th, 7th, and 14th Amendments.

At its core, this case is all about valuations of property, which is highly subjective.  It is a matter of opinion, not fact.  Disparities are quite common.  But the lenders and insurers did their own independent “due diligence.”  They were counseled by top law firms armed with skilled attorneys, accountants and real estate experts who confirmed Trump’s valuations and found no fraud or false statements.

Moreover, Trump’s valuations complied with generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).  They were performed not by Trump himself, but by retained professionals who vouched for their conclusions and will testify at trial that they were valid.

In granting summary judgement in favor of James, Judge Engoron accepted a valuation by a tax appraiser in Palm Beach County that the fabled Mar-a-Lago estate is only worth a minimum of $18 million.  That is utterly laughable and based solely on generated income, not the underlying value of the property.

In that coveted and exclusive Florida enclave you can’t buy a “Porta Potty” for that price.  Community real estate experts estimate that the nearly 20 acres of land alone is worth upwards of $500 million.  That does not take into account the historic Mediterranean-style mansion that comprises 126 rooms on 62,500 square feet, as well as the other impressive structures situated on the land.

Attorney General James has obliterated any semblance of an objective and neutral prosecutor.  Her hatred of Trump is palpable and laid bare in her chronic condemnations of him and the many invectives she’s hurled.

The civil fraud case James brought against Trump is nothing more than a pernicious vendetta driven by prejudice.  Blatantly singling out an individual for personal and political reasons violates the guarantee of equal protection under the law.  It is an affront to justice.

Not surprisingly, it bears a striking resemblance to some of the other criminal indictments against the former president.  The common denominator is an unscrupulous political persecution under the guise of legitimate prosecution.

Letitia James is the one who should face legal consequences for her malicious actions, debasement of the law, and corruption of her office.  Sadly, it’ll never happen.