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(WABNEWS) — New York State Attorney General Letitia James filed a civil fraud lawsuit Wednesday against former President Donald Trump, three of his children and a pair of business associates, capping more than three years of investigation into the Trump Organization.
The investigation came to a head recently when Trump, who had failed with his own lawsuit seeking to stop the investigation, refused to answer questions under oath during a deposition, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights hundreds of times.RELATED
“No one in this country gets to choose how the law applies to them, and Donald Trump is no exception,” James said in May. “As we have said all along, we will continue this investigation without flinching.”
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James, 63, is no stranger to tense clashes with powerful political figures. It was the result of her investigation into sexual harassment allegations against former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a fellow Democrat for whom she ran when she was first elected attorney general in 2018, which ultimately led to her resignation in August. 2021. Cuomo, like Trump, has since lashed out at her with accusations of political bias. Last week, he filed an ethics complaint against James over his handling of the investigation, which was conducted by outside counsel and corroborated the claims of several former employees.
Although James has been mostly silent in public when it comes to Cuomo, except to defend the integrity of his work, she has been a constant thorn in his side. Early last year, his office released a damning report that revealed his administration underestimated the number of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes during the early stages of the pandemic, a major blow to Cuomo’s image in the age of the pandemic.
James has been more direct in her criticism of Trump before, most notably during his 2018 campaign for attorney general.
“We are more angry and deeply divided than ever at any point in our history since the Civil War. And in the eye of the storm is Donald Trump, tearing families apart, threatening the most basic rights of women,” James said in a video produced by NowThisNews. “I am running for attorney general because I will never be afraid to challenge this illegitimate president when our fundamental rights are at stake.”
Trump has sought to use that and other statements, including a promise during a 2018 debate to “focus on Donald Trump” and “follow his money,” as evidence that his investigation was politically motivated. Trump, highlighting those comments, ignored his assertion, during the same event, that anyone in his position should be “following the facts and following the evidence.”
After his statement in the current case, Trump called James, who was present, a “rogue prosecutor” and called the investigation “vindictive.”
Trump’s attorney went beyond that message in response to the lawsuit announced by James on Wednesday.
“Today’s filing is not focused on the facts or the law, but is focused solely on furthering the Attorney General’s political agenda,” Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba, said in a statement denying any wrongdoing. by the former president.
Experienced political figure
Before James rose to become the state’s top prosecutor, she established herself as a leading progressive political figure in New York City. A graduate of Howard University School of Law, she worked as an attorney for Legal Aid and an assistant state attorney general in Brooklyn. He won his first election, to the New York City Council, in 2003, running on the ticket of the Working Families Party, a progressive organization created to operate as a check on the Democratic Party in New York, but which has since become in a national group that endorses liberal candidates across the country.
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New York City Comptroller Brad Lander was an early activist in the Working Families Party and spent time on the council with James. He remains a supporter and, in an interview last year, he described James as a progressive champion who foreshadowed many of the national leaders of the Democratic Party’s far left wing.
“This was long before AOC (Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez), Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, long before Bill de Blasio; he was someone who really spoke with a forceful progressive energy and just fierce integrity,” Lander told WABNEWS, recalling defending him against the developers’ push to gentrify Brooklyn.
James was also described as a trailblazer by Lupe Todd-Medina, who has worked as a campaign communications adviser for a wide swath of top New York officials, including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Cuomo in 2018 and Gov. Kathy Hochul. Although she and James have not always been ideologically aligned, Todd-Medina praised James’s personal political courage and loyalty.
“As she’s risen in her career, she’s always kept the door open. Which is also a testament to her and her values, her ethics,” Todd-Medina said. “She says a lot, because, again, she goes back to that we are all these black women in this space together and we have to take care of each other.”
But, Todd-Medina added, that desire shouldn’t be confused with hesitation or weakness when it comes to his job.
“I wouldn’t mess with her,” Todd-Medina said. “I think she’s lovely, and I wouldn’t mess with her.”
James was elected New York City Ombudsman in 2013, succeeding de Blasio, who won his first term as mayor that year. Both were overwhelmingly re-elected in 2017 and James appeared on track to follow de Blasio again when term limits ended her mayoralty last year.
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But early in her second stint as a public defender, in May 2018, New York’s political order was upended when then-State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was hit with multiple sexual and domestic accusations. He promptly resigned, and James soon announced his candidacy to replace him.
Months later, during the 2018 midterm elections, James became the first Black person and woman ever elected to win statewide office. That she did so after exchanging endorsements with Cuomo rankled some on the left, who had clashed repeatedly with the former governor during his years in office. Still, her relationship with New York’s progressive movement remained strong and, following Cuomo’s resignation, she was the left’s pick to run for governor this year.
Last fall, he entered the race, challenging Hochul, the former lieutenant governor who took over when Cuomo left, in the Democratic primary. But he dropped out of the campaign before the end of the year and withdrew his candidacy in December to run for re-election to his current job.
This February, James spoke at the party’s state convention, where he accepted his unofficial nomination.
“When I was elected attorney general,” she said, “I made a commitment to act without fear or favor to hold accountable those in power, whether Republican or Democrat, in the public or private sector.”
The field of primary candidates vying for the job cleared after his decision to run for re-election and James secured the nomination for a second term unopposed in June.