New York Attorney General Letitia James laid out a strong legal case against Donald Trump, his three eldest children and the Trump Organization in her $250 million civil lawsuit — but the former president may be able to drag the legal action out for several years, former prosecutors said.
“This is going to be a very difficult case for the defendants to win,” said Duncan Levin, a former assistant district attorney and asset forfeiture chief in the Manhattan district attorney’s office. “One of the best defenses to this matter is to delay, delay, delay.”
James sued the Trumps and top executives at their company last week in connection with her yearslong probe into its business practices. The suit alleges more than 200 instances of fraud over 10 years and moves by Trump that “wildly exaggerated his net worth by billions of dollars.”
James is seeking to permanently bar members of the Trump family from serving as officers of New York-based companies, as well as monetary damages and other penalties, including a five-year ban on the former president and his company from entering into any commercial real estate acquisitions in the state.
Here are some possible defenses Trump’s lawyers may try:
‘Let’s stall this’
John Moscow, a former deputy chief of the Manhattan district attorney’s investigations division, said he could “see a projected defense strategy of saying, ‘Let’s stall this.'”
“Delay is always in the defendant’s favor,” and it would allow Trump to enjoy the “fruits” of his alleged scheme for as long as possible, unless the courts try to hold his feet to the fire, said Moscow, now a white-collar defense lawyer, adding that such cases “can go on forever.”
Judges at this point should understand that Trump is “not seeking his day in court,” Moscow said, pointing to his history of drawing out litigation with numerous motions and appeals.
Defendants in New York can easily use various stalling tactics, Levin said, and “good lawyering can draw these things out for many years.”
It’s a ‘witch hunt’
Trump has denied any wrongdoing. He and his lawyer Alina Habba have called James’ lawsuit a politically motivated “witch hunt.” They used that argument in a federal lawsuit filed late last year to stop the probe, contending that it was “guided solely by political animus and a desire to harass, intimidate, and retaliate against a private citizen who she views as a political opponent.”
To bolster the claim, they pointed to disparaging statements James had made about Trump — including one to NBC News after her 2018 election that she planned to “use every area of the law to investigate” transactions made by the Trump family and their business.
A judge dismissed the suit in May, finding that James’ probe had a “legitimate factual” basis, but Trump and his lawyers and allies have continued to try to undermine the credibility of the investigation in public remarks.
If Trump is re-elected in 2024, Moscow said, he could even seek to delay the lawsuit for the duration of his next potential term by re-invoking past arguments he has made in other lawsuits surrounding presidential power.
Their “number one defense is in the court of public opinion,” Levin said.