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Letitia James: NY Attorney General's history of clashing with Trump

todaySeptember 23, 2022 1

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By Max Matza

BBC News

James holding an anti-Trump signImage source, Getty Images

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Letitia James holding an anti-Trump Resist sign

Even before she took office as New York’s attorney general, Letitia James has had Donald Trump in her sights.

On the night she was elected in 2018, the former city councilwoman and public defender took aim at Mr Trump.

“He should know that we here in New York – and I, in particular – we are not scared of you,” she warned.

She pledged to shine “a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings, and every dealing, demanding truthfulness at every turn”.

On Wednesday, Ms James, 63, officially launched a civil suit against Mr Trump and the Trump Organization for allegedly lying “by billions” about the value of real estate in order to get favourable loans and pay less tax.

The former president, in turn, called it a “witch hunt” and branded Ms James – the first black person elected as New York attorney general – a “racist”.

The lawsuit against Mr Trump announced on Wednesday has dramatically boosted her political profile heading into her November re-election campaign. But it is not the Brooklyn native’s only high-profile legal battle.

Her investigations into the highly influential National Rifle Association, the undercounting of Covid deaths in New York nursing homes, and accusations of sexual harassment against former New York governor and Democratic ally Andrew Cuomo, have earned her a national reputation.

Her feud with Mr Trump has been bubbling since his rise to the national political stage.

Mr Trump responded to her latest lawsuit with his customary name-calling, accusing “Letitia Peekaboo James” of a politically-motivated campaign against him.

He styled her a “failed” attorney general who dropped out of the 2022 governor’s race, who was persecuting him due to bad poll numbers. He noted that the lawsuit comes only two months before voters decide whether to hand her a second term as attorney general.

Ms James shrugged off the insults, saying they had no bearing on her investigation or the potential outcome in court.

“Two judges have dismissed those claims of a witch hunt,” she said at Wednesday’s press conference in Manhattan. “So I give no credence to the names that he has referred to me.”

She also mocked Mr Trump’s 1987 best-selling self-help book as she described his alleged fraud.

“Claiming that you have money that you do not have, does not amount to the ‘Art of the deal’. It’s the art of the steal,” she said.

The lawsuit came after Mr Trump unsuccessfully sued to block her probe, and over three years after her inquiry began.

At a four-hour legal deposition in August, Mr Trump declined to answer hundreds of her questions, pleading his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

Earlier in the case, Ms James had a judge fine Mr Trump $10,000 (£8,900) for each day that he refused to turn over documents related to the civil investigation. She now seeks to ban Mr Trump and his family from working in the real estate sector or receiving loans in New York.

Mr Trump has argued that her previous comments, including when she referred to him as an “illegitimate president” during her run for attorney general, prove that has a political vendetta against him.

Comments she made at a debate in 2018 pledging to “focus on Donald Trump” and “follow his money” have also led Mr Trump’s lawyers to claim political bias.

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Watch: The allegations and Cuomo’s “I kiss people” defence

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