NEW YORK — Tish James vowed in her 2018 campaign for attorney general to pursue a man she said was an “illegitimate president” and an “embarrassment.” To Donald Trump, James, the first Black woman to hold statewide office in New York, is a “racist” prosecutor engaged in a “witch hunt” against him.
After four years of verbal jousting, James’ far-reaching lawsuit against the former president, his company and his children Wednesday almost seems overdue as it opens a new chapter in their caustic relationship.
And sure enough, Trump knocked James as she runs for reelection in November and seeks to bring down the Trump Organization, limit it from doing business for five years and repay $250 million in what she claimed was illegally obtained.
“Another Witch Hunt by a racist Attorney General, Letitia James, who failed in her run for Governor, getting almost zero support from the public, and now is doing poorly against Law & Order A.G. candidate, highly respected Michael Henry,” Trump said Wedneday in a post on his social media site, Truth Social, referring to James’ Republican opponent.
“I never thought this case would be brought – until I saw her really bad poll numbers,” Trump added. “She is a fraud who campaigned on a ‘get Trump’ platform, despite the fact that the city is one of the crime and murder disasters of the world under her watch!”
James dismissed the attacks and Trump’s argument that her case is politically motivated, noting that courts have rejected the claims before.
“With regards to the name calling, as you know, they basically attempted to delay this investigation. Two judges have dismissed those claims of a witch hunt. So I give no credence to the names that he has referred to me,” she said at a press conference at her lower Manhattan office where she announced the suit.
James, who previously served as New York City public advocate, won her office in 2018, after her predecessor, Eric Schneiderman, resigned in a domestic violence scandal. During that campaign, she made it clear that Trump would be her top target — remarks that have left the former president, a New York native, stewing ever since.
“I will never be afraid to challenge this illegitimate president,” James said in a video during the campaign. “I believe that this president is incompetent. I believe that this president is ill-equipped to serve in the highest office of this land. And I believe that he is an embarrassment to all that we stand for.” She went on to say Trump should be indicted on criminal charges and charged with obstruction of justice.
She even pulled Trump into her victory speech, saying her win “was about that man in the White House who can’t go a day without threatening our fundamental rights.”
“As the next attorney general of his home state,” James said, “I will be shining a bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings, and every dealing, demanding truthfulness at every turn.”
James toned down her rhetoric, to a degree, after taking office and launching an investigation into Trump — as well as fighting him in court on a host of policy matters while he was in the White House. Trump, on the other hand, only ramped up his own attacks.
He lashed out at James and then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a series of tweets in 2019, accusing them, among other things, of “harassing all of my New York businesses in search of anything at all they can find to make me look as bad as possible.” He complained about how his company and children were “spending a fortune on lawyers.”
James, who was only referred to in the barrage as Cuomo’s AG, responded that she would “follow the facts of any case, wherever they lead.”
“Make no mistake: No one is above the law, not even the President,” she said. “P.S. My name is Letitia James. (You can call me Tish.).”
As James’ investigation progressed, the legal and verbal sparring escalated. Trump sued James last year seeking to halt her probe, alleging it was “baseless” and motivated solely by her desire to harass a political opponent. A judge dismissed the suit in May.
At a campaign rally in Texas in January, Trump called for massive protests if James and three other Black prosecutors investigating him “do anything illegal.” He said: “These prosecutors are vicious, horrible people. They’re racists and they’re very sick — they’re mentally sick.”
But Trump’s tirades have not swayed the courts.
He was held in contempt of court in April and fined $10,000 a day for refusing to turn over financial documents James requested in her investigation. The contempt order was lifted after he agreed to turn over the documents — but James said in her suit Wednesday that documents covered by the subpoena which he never turned over were found at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
Trump lost another court skirmish when he was ordered to appear for questioning under oath in James’ investigation, losing an attempt to block the deposition. He sat for the deposition at the AG’s office last month, but took the Fifth Amendment and declined to answer every question.
“When your family, your company, and all the people in your orbit have become the targets of an unfounded, politically motivated Witch Hunt supported by lawyers, prosecutors, and the Fake News Media, you have no choice,” Trump said last month.
Later Wednesday, she sent out a fundraising email to campaign supporters: “These men think they can rattle me and scare me off my path, but the truth is, they have only reaffirmed why I went into this work in the first place.”
James hopes to have the last word in the longstanding war if she triumphs in her case, which seeks to bar him and his family from being officers of any business in New York and ban them from participating in real estate transactions or getting loans in the state.
“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,” she told reporters.
“Claiming you have money you do not have does not amount to the art of the deal. It’s the art of the steal,” she said. “No one, no one is above the law.”
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