Rewind: AG Letitia James campaigned on going after Trump, despite denials of "witch hunt" and bias

New York Attorney General Letitia James continues to deny claims that she is engaged in politically motivated actions against former President Trump, despite documentary evidence that she campaigned on being an opponent to the 45th President.

Published: November 7, 2023 11:01pm

Updated: November 8, 2023 10:51am

Former President Donald Trump took the stand in court yesterday in what was described by many as a contentious and confrontational session in one of his many ongoing trials.

At the center of the civil fraud trial brought by the State of New York against President Trump and his real estate empire is the war of words between New York Attorney General Letitia James and Trump. The case is a civil, not criminal matter, brought under a New York statute that gives the attorney general wide scope to investigate and litigate alleged corporate fraud. The worst outcome for Trump in this matter is claims for money damages, but no jail time.

“Tomorrow, Donald Trump takes the stand in our trial against his fraudulent business,” James posted to X the day before Trump’s appearance in court. “Trump can try to hide his wrongdoings behind taunts and threats, but we will not be bullied out of uncovering the truth.”

“This morning, Mr. Trump will take the stand in our trial against him, the Trump organization and other defendants. Mr. Trump has repeatedly and consistently misrepresented and inflated the value of his assets,” James declared outside the courthouse on the morning of the trial.

“And before he takes the stand, I am certain that he will engage in name-calling and taunts and race-baiting and call this a 'witch hunt.' But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters are the facts and the numbers. And numbers, my friends, don’t lie,” James told the assembled reporters, downplaying President Trump’s contention that the trial is unfair because of her bias.

"What’s going on here, how can a thing like this be going on? It’s disgraceful,” Trump said on the stand. "This is a political witch hunt and I think she should be ashamed of herself," Trump said of the New York attorney general.

In fact, President Trump and his campaign have long accused the attorney general of bias in the case and pursuing him and his organization for political reasons, a contention that James denied after her election, and continued to deny outside the courthouse Monday.

“The President of the United States has claimed that I am engaged in some kind of political witch hunt, I have a personal vendetta against him, I campaigned against him. That is not true. I have not politicized the office,” James told Rachel Maddow in a one-on-one interview in August of 2019, before Trump left office. In that same interview, James said "I can not sit idly by and allow someone to basically subvert the Constitution."

Yet, James did indeed campaign on holding him accountable, and even removing him from office, when she ran for attorney general in 2018.

“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 we stand for,” James said in a campaign season video posted by "Now This" in September of 2018.

Before becoming the attorney general, she said “He [Trump] should be charged with obstructing justice. I believe that the president of these United States can be indicted for criminal offenses and we would join with law enforcement and other attorneys general across the nation in removing this president from office,” James promised on the campaign trail.

Her promises came long before any investigation had been conducted into Trump or his company that found any wrongdoing, and even before James was elected or took office, indicating that the soon-to-be attorney general had already determined to pursue probes into Trump and his businesses.

Some of James’ other campaign statements show that her planned legal actions against Trump appear to have stemmed from political considerations, not considerations of the law.

In a speech on election night in 2018 after returns indicated that she would win the race for attorney general, James reminded her supporters of one of her key goals: holding then-President Donald Trump accountable and serving as a legal check on him and his administration. She told her supporters that Trump is “someone we must keep in check by the long arm of the law.”

James followed through on her promise. Immediately before taking office, James told NBC News that she was already preparing investigations of Trump in a wide range of areas. She promised probes into Trump’s real estate empire, subsidies that Trump received, possible violations of the emoluments clause of the Constitution through his New York businesses, and into the Trump Foundation.

She also campaigned on advocating for a bill that would change New York’s double jeopardy laws which would allow Trump to be charged for crimes in the state even if he was pardoned from the White House.

After she took office, she launched the promised investigations. In August 2020, James ramped up her inquiry in Trump and the Trump Organization, calling Eric Trump to testify under oath.

This year, Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that Donald Trump committed fraud by inflating his assets and stripped him of some New York assets, including some of his most famous properties. The trial is ongoing to determine the punishments that Trump and his organization will face for the alleged fraud.

Attorney General James is seeking $250 million in recovery for the state, wants to ban Trump and the Trump Organization from carrying out real estate deals for 5 years, and prohibit them from getting loans from New York banks during the same period, according to the New York Times.

On Monday morning, the day Trump testified in the fraud trial, his campaign posted a press release asserting that the “motivating force” behind James’ campaign for attorney general was “getting Trump.” His campaign then posted a litany of examples of James explicitly promising to go after Trump. For example, in a July 2018 campaign event with the Bronx Democratic Party, James exclaimed “I look forward to going into the office of Attorney General every day, suing [President Trump], defending your rights and then going home!”

The New York Attorney General’s Office did not respond to a request for comment from Just the News on former President Trump’s allegations that the trial is tainted by James’ campaign rhetoric and on her public statements made outside the courthouse.

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