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Trump’s ‘Attempted Collateral Attack’ Sets Stage for Blockbuster Lawsuit Between Trump Organization and N.Y. Attorney General


Donald Trump and the Trump Organization filed a 30-page federal lawsuit against New York State Attorney General Letitia James (D) on Monday morning, requesting a court order to stop James from investigating or prosecuting Trump. The former president argues that James’s promises to hold him accountable for wrongdoing amount to illegal bias, and that he is constitutionally entitled to protection from the judiciary. That lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York, takes the case out of Trump’s onetime home in Manhattan and into Albany, the state capital.

Trump’s complaint attempts to use the attorney general’s own words against her by quoting James’ statement “no one is above the law,” and admonishing that, “law enforcement officials have a sacred duty to wield the state’s police power in a fair and impartial manner, without the slightest hint of favor, animus, or personal bias.” By contrast, Trump argues, “she has flagrantly abused her investigatory powers to target her political adversaries and advance her career,” has waged “relentless attacks,” and has “tirelessly bombarded him, his family and his business, Trump Organization LLC, with unwarranted subpoenas in a bitter crusade to ‘take on’ the President.”

The complaint continues, listing various statements James has made regarding Trump as evidence of James’s bias against the former president (the NRA, which James is attempting to dissolve, lodged similar complaints about alleged bias). James, Trump says, “embrac[ed] the ‘resistance’ mentality” against him, making promises to prosecute Trump for corruption while having no firsthand knowledge of his business dealings.

Trump asserts that James’ intent to “weaponize her office” to target him “was readily apparent to even the most casual observer of her campaign,” and that James’ “open threats” were “so appalling that even members of her party condemned them as unlawful.”

Specifically, Trump points to comments made by former Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Goldman (D), the Democratic Party’s counsel for Trump’s impeachment proceedings. Goldman recently announced a run for New York Attorney General when it appeared that AG James had her eyes on becoming the next governor of the Empire State. James has since withdrawn from the realm of gubernatorial candidacy.

Trump alleges that Goldman scolded James, saying that her statements “give the appearance of an individualized political vendetta,” and warned that, “It’s essential that prosecutors maintain their neutrality and an objective view of the facts and the evidence, no matter the politics involved.”

In actuality, Goldman’s comments  — made to the New York Times in December 2018 — downplayed the likely impact of James’s statements. According to the article, “Goldman… said that it was unlikely that Ms. James’s remarks could directly lead to a dismissal of charges against Mr. Trump.” Goldman allowed that any statements that might be construed to show bias, “could have an impact on the way a judge rules,” in a “close call along the way,” but that Trump “would have to show a stronger factual basis” to prove legally actionable bias.

Trump’s complaint alleges four counts: 1) deprivation of due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment; 2) violation of free speech rights under the First Amendment; 3) violation of the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment; and 4) abuse of process. Trump asks for the court to issue an injunction against Letitia James to stop all investigations or proceedings against him, and for generalized compensation for any damages.

In August 2020, James filed a motion to compel the Trump Organization to turn over documents and testimony regarding multiple properties and transactions. Trump responded by publicly declaring New York to be an “anarchist jurisdiction.” James parried, calling Trump’s statements a “pathetic” attempt to distract the American public from his failures managing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Attorney General James responded to the lawsuit in a statement Monday, calling the Trump lawsuit an “attempted collateral attack” and telling the former president that no one is above the law, “not even someone” with the Trump name:

The Trump Organization has continually sought to delay our investigation into its business dealings and now Donald Trump and his namesake company have filed a lawsuit as an attempted collateral attack on that investigation. To be clear, neither Mr. Trump nor the Trump Organization get to dictate if and where they will answer for their actions. Our investigation will continue undeterred because no one is above the law, not even someone with the name Trump.

Trump and James have sparred both in the press and the courts since the two were elected, with mixed results.

Counsel for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

[Images via Drew Angerer/Getty Images, Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images]

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Elura is a columnist and trial analyst for Law & Crime. Elura is also a former civil prosecutor for NYC's Administration for Children's Services, the CEO of Lawyer Up, and the author of How To Talk To Your Lawyer and the Legalese-to-English series. Follow Elura on Twitter @elurananos