The complaint filed today by New York Attorney General Letitia James is remarkable not for the shrewdness of the misconduct it alleges, but for its audacity.
Trump will claim that James is a partisan Democrat who is out to get him, and he is not entirely wrong: She is a partisan Democrat; she has pursued him aggressively, and her decision to target him certainly has political merits—she is responding to constituents who want to see Trump targeted, and could benefit politically herself.
[Read: The battle to be Trump’s Javert in New York]
But the complaint is damning because what James alleges is not especially complex and does not require much imagination or financial numeracy. The figures are all right there in filings and documents, rather than lost in the miasma of vagueness and mob-boss talk Trump often uses in other venues. Either the documents say what James says they do and Trump was juking the stats, or they don’t and he’s been unfairly maligned.
At the very least the claims accord with lots of existing evidence, uncovered by WNYC, ProPublica, and other news organizations. They match up with rumors that have swirled around Trump for years, and with the disdain with which many actual New York real-estate titans treat the Trump Organization. And they also fit in with what we know about Trump’s dealings in other ventures, like the fraudulent “Trump University” or the Trump Foundation, the self-dealing so-called charity that James forced to shut down in a 2019 settlement.
The schemes alleged are so remarkable because they don’t involve tricks like filing false documents. Trump wasn’t doctoring the numbers on forms; he was just brazenly telling different things to different people and assuming that he wouldn’t get caught, and that if he did, he could settle (as he tried to do with James this month) or bluff his way through or it make it go away with a countersuit. For a long time, he was right. Any prosecutor with the will and the manpower could have connected the dots on parts of this alleged fraud long ago.