NEW YORK – After investigating former President Donald Trump for several years, New York Attorney General Letitia James used a court filing Tuesday to outline much of the evidence her investigators have gathered so far. The legal memo claimed the Republican's company used “fraudulent or misleading” valuations of its assets while seeking loans and tax breaks.
Here's what this development could mean for Trump and his namesake company:
IS DONALD TRUMP ACCUSED OF A CRIME?
At this point, he hasn't been charged with any wrongdoing. New York's attorney general has yet to decide whether she even wants to file a civil lawsuit.
WHO IS LETITIA JAMES?
New York's attorney general, a Democrat elected in 2018, sued Trump multiple times on behalf of the state over his policies as president. She has also sued the National Rifle Association and was instrumental in Gov. Andrew Cuomo's fall from power. She released a report over the summer saying the Democrat sexually harassed 11 women. James briefly ran for governor this past fall before deciding to run for reelection as attorney general.
WHAT IS SHE INVESTIGATING?
James’ office has been examining whether the Trump Organization got loans or tax breaks by lying about the value of Trump's assets. Long before he became president, Trump was scrutinized over claims about the size of his personal fortune and the value of his properties. It isn’t illegal to fib to the public about how much your penthouse is worth, but it could be a crime to lie about the value of assets to banks, business partners or tax authorities.
WHAT HAS SHE FOUND SO FAR?
Her office said investigators had found a pattern in which the Trump Organization had used dubious or unsupported methods to exaggerate the worth of things it owned.
In one example out of many, the legal filing said the company boosted the estimated value of Trump's Manhattan penthouse by $200 million by saying it was nearly three times its actual size.
Trump’s financial statements containing the pumped-up values were then submitted to banks to obtain credit and to comply with terms of existing loans, James’ office said. The attorney general's office said inflated financial statements once helped Trump secure $300 million in loans from Deutsche Bank.
The legal filing said the company also overvalued land donations made in New York and California to justify millions of dollars in tax deductions.
WHAT’S THE POINT OF MAKING THESE ACCUSATIONS NOW?
Tuesday’s filing was meant to persuade a judge that Donald Trump and two of his children, Don Jr. and Ivanka, should be forced to answer questions under oath.
New York University law professor Stephen Gillers says James also likely feels “she has a duty to tell the public what she is doing and why," given how intensely Trump has criticized the investigation and claimed it is motivated by political hatred.
It might also be meant to intimidate Trump.
“It’s like when a country displays its guns and tanks in a military parade, meant to warn opponents, ‘Don’t mess with us,’" Gillers said.
WHAT IS THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION?
It’s a company through which Trump manages his many entrepreneurial affairs, including his investments in office towers, hotels and golf courses and his many marketing deals.
WASN’T THE TRUMP ORGANIZATION ALREADY IN LEGAL TROUBLE?
Yes. The company and its chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, were indicted on tax fraud charges in July. They are accused of conspiring to pay senior executives lucrative fringe benefits off the books. That criminal investigation, overseen by the Manhattan district attorney, is separate from James' civil probe.
WHAT DO THE TRUMPS HAVE TO SAY ABOUT ALL THIS?
The Trump Organization issued a statement calling the investigation “baseless” and politically motivated. It said James had “defrauded New Yorkers by basing her entire candidacy on a promise to get Trump at all costs without having seen a shred of evidence and in violation of every conceivable ethical rule.” Donald Trump Jr. tweeted that James should be disbarred.
In the immediate future, a judge will decide whether to require Donald Trump, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. to submit to questioning.
Once her investigation is complete, James could file a lawsuit in which the state would seek financial penalties against Trump or his company, or even a ban from being involved in certain types of businesses. Separately, the Manhattan district attorney has also convened a grand jury to examine many of the same issues and see whether there is enough evidence for criminal charges.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR DONALD TRUMP'S POLITICAL FUTURE?
This doesn't move the needle much. Trump's supporters and critics are equally wedded to their positions. If Trump does run for president in 2024, any criminal case that arises could be disruptive — but an indictment or even conviction on criminal charges doesn't bar anyone from seeking the presidency. Trump has even used the probe to galvanize supporters, airing an anti-James video at an Arizona rally last weekend.