The Guardian

‘He’s done’

Allegation­s of ‘staggering’ fraud deepen ex-president’s legal woes

- David Smith Washington

Donald Trump’s legal perils have become insurmount­able and could snuff out the former US president’s hopes of an election comeback, according to political analysts and legal experts. On Wednesday, Trump and three of his adult children were accused of lying to tax collectors, lenders and insurers in a “staggering” fraud scheme that routinely misstated the value of his properties to enrich themselves.

The civil lawsuit, filed by New York’s attorney general, comes as the FBI investigat­es Trump’s holding of sensitive government documents at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and a special grand jury in Georgia considers whether he and others attempted to influence state election officials after his defeat there by Joe Biden.

The former US president has repeatedly hinted he intends to run for the White House again in 2024. But the cascade of criminal, civil and congressio­nal investigat­ions could yet derail that bid.

“He’s done,” said Allan Lichtman, a history professor at the American University in Washington, who has accurately predicted every presidenti­al election since 1984. “He’s got too many burdens, too much baggage to be able to run again even presuming he escapes jail, he escapes bankruptcy. I’m not sure he’s going to escape jail.”

After a three-year investigat­ion, Letitia James, the New York attorney general, alleged that Trump provided fraudulent statements of his net worth and false asset valuations to obtain and satisfy loans, get insurance benefits and pay lower taxes. Three of his children, Don Jr, Ivanka and Eric, were also named as defendants.

James’s office requested that the former president pay at least $250m (£221m) in penalties and that his family be banned from running businesses in the state.

James cannot bring criminal charges against Trump in this civil investigat­ion but she said she was referring allegation­s of criminal fraud to federal prosecutor­s in Manhattan as well as the Internal Revenue Service.

Trump repeated his go-to defence that the suit is “another witch-hunt” against him.

But critics said the suit strikes at the heart of his self-portrayal as a successful property developer who made billions, hosted the reality TV show The Apprentice and promised to apply that business acumen to the presidency.

Laurence Tribe, a constituti­onal law professor at Harvard University, noted that the civil component “involves things of particular significan­ce to Trump and his family and his organisati­on, namely their ability to defraud the public, to defraud banks, to defraud insurance companies, and to continue to subsist through corruption. Without all of that corruption, the entire Trump empire is involved in something like meltdown.”

Tribe added: “Trump is probably more concerned with things of this kind than he is with having to wear an orange jumpsuit and maybe answer a criminal indictment … As a practical matter, this is probably going to cause more sleepless nights for Mr Trump than almost anything else.”

No previous ex-president has faced investigat­ions so numerous and so serious. Last month FBI agents searched Mar-a-Lago and seized official documents marked top secret, secret and confidenti­al. Trump faces possible indictment for violating the Espionage

Act, obstructio­n of a federal investigat­ion or mishandlin­g sensitive government records.

In a further setback on Wednesday, a federal appeals court permitted the justice department to resume its review of classified records seized from Mar-a-Lago as part of its criminal investigat­ion.

Trump, meanwhile, has insisted that he did nothing wrong in retaining the documents.

“There doesn’t have to be a process, as I understand it,” he told the Fox News host Sean Hannity. “If you’re the president of the United States, you can declassify just by saying: ‘It’s declassifi­ed.’”

‘He has got too much baggage to run again, even presuming that he escapes jail’

Prof Allan Lichtman American University

 ?? PHOTOGRAPH: JULIA NIKHINSON/AP ?? ▲ Donald Trump outside Trump Tower in New York last month before heading to the state attorney general’s office for a deposition. He has been accused of lying to tax collectors, lenders and insurers
PHOTOGRAPH: JULIA NIKHINSON/AP ▲ Donald Trump outside Trump Tower in New York last month before heading to the state attorney general’s office for a deposition. He has been accused of lying to tax collectors, lenders and insurers

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