New York’s attorney general announced a lawsuit against former President Donald Trump, his business and three of his adult children on Wednesday, accusing them of engaging in “years of illegal conduct” that overstated their wealth on hundreds of occasions and could lead to broader criminal charges.
“I am announcing that today we are filing a lawsuit against Donald Trump for violating the law as part of his efforts to generate profits for himself, his family and his company,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said during a press conference on Wednesday. “The complaint demonstrates that Donald Trump falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself and to cheat the system, thereby cheating all of us.”
The “major announcement” was the fruit of a years-long investigation by James’ office into the Trump Organization, spurred by testimony to Congress on what Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen described as misleading asset valuations.
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James’ office revealed in March that the investigation had uncovered “significant evidence” suggesting that the Trump Organization for more than a decade relied on misleading asset valuations in its financial statements to “secure economic benefits,” the office said in court filings.
On Wednesday, after her office reportedly rejected a settlement offer from Trump’s team earlier this month, James announced the lawsuit, saying that Trump and his children violated multiple state laws, including falsifying business records, issuing false financial statements and insurance fraud. Additionally, James said that her office believes Trump’s conduct violates federal criminal law and will make a federal referral accordingly.
“This investigation revealed that Mr. Trump engaged in years of illegal conduct to inflate his net worth, to deceive banks and the people of the great state of New York,” James said Wednesday. “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. And there cannot be different rules for different people in this country or in this state – and former presidents are no different … because no one, no one is above the law.”
The attorney general emphasized the intentional and deliberate nature of Trump’s conduct, pointing to multiple examples of how the former president inflated his net worth, like by inflating the square footage of his apartment from less than 11,000 square feet to 30,000 square feet on official documents, setting its value at $327 million.
“To this date, no apartment in New York City has ever sold for close to that amount,” she said.
James said that the lawsuit seeks to ban Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump from serving as an officer or director of any corporation or similar entity in New York, from acquiring any New York commercial real estate and from applying for any loan in a New York financial institution for five years.
Trump for months sidestepped a subpoena from James’ office requiring him to answer questions under oath, arguing that the civil investigation was being conducted to aid a criminal investigation, which James’ office is also involved in. When Trump finally did appear before James last month, he “declined to answer” questions under oath, invoking the Fifth Amendment – which guarantees a right to refuse to answer questions to avoid incriminating oneself.
Trump has repeatedly disparaged James, whom he described as a “renegade and out-of-control prosecutor” for making a career out of attacking the former president.
James said on Wednesday that “the pattern of fraud and deception that was used by Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization for their own financial benefit is astounding,” saying that it was all “in stark violation of the law.”
The development comes as Trump and his company have faced a number of other investigations, some of which have come to a head in recent weeks. The Trump Organization also faces an upcoming trial on criminal tax charges, although Trump himself is not implicated. Last month, the business’ longtime chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg pleaded guilty to related charges, agreeing to testify at next month’s trial if called.