Could Letitia James’ ‘art of the steal’ trial damage Trump?

“We always knew he was a conman. Now, it is officially said by a judge," said Rev. Al Sharpton of the fraud case in New York.

Former President Donald Trump appeared in yet another courtroom, this time in the civil case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who accused the real estate mogul of committing fraud.

On Monday, Trump voluntarily appeared for the first day of trial at the New York Supreme Court. The leading 2024 Republican presidential candidate called the lawsuit a “scam” and accused Attorney General James of continuing “the single greatest witch hunt of all time” to thwart his return to the White House.

New York Attorney General Letitia James and former President Donald Trump. (Photos: AP Photos)

Judge Arthur Engoron already ruled that Trump committed fraud in his business dealings; however, the trial will determine what penalties he will face. The “Art of the Deal” author – who James accused of committing an “art of the steal” – could potentially have to give up his famed New York properties and pay as much as $250 million. 

“This is probably the one that will hit him more in the gut than anything because it takes away the Trump brand name in business,” Rev. Al Sharpton, president of National Action Network, told theGrio. 

The civil rights leader added, “We always knew he was a conman. Now, it is officially said by a judge.”

While it remains unclear whether this case or the four criminal indictments against Trump will harm him politically in the long haul, Sharpton told theGrio he thinks the case brought by James “hurts him even more than the election.”

“That’s something that he lived by, breathed by, and it is very possible that we’ll be riding down Fifth Avenue one day, and there’ll be no Trump Towers and no Trump name anywhere,” he said.

Political science professor Christina M. Greer of Fordham University told theGrio that while the civil lawsuit will undoubtedly hurt Trump’s pockets, it will not harm him politically.

“As long as he continues to paint Letitia James as the aggressive boogeyman with no basis for these claims, his base is pretty much immovable,” said Greer.

Calling out James as an “aggressive, angry Black woman” will likely serve as a successful political strategy, noted the political scientist.

“The thing with his base is that they’re not going anywhere, and he knows they’re not going anywhere. He can be as incendiary as he wants,” she said. 

Former President Donald Trump, center, appears in court Monday, Oct 2, 2023, in New York. (Photo by Brendan McDermid/Pool Photo via AP)

In court filings, James accused Trump of inflating his net worth by as much as $3.6 billion. Her office alleges that the scheme helped the Trump Organization land better loan rates that saved the company $100 million in interest.  

“No matter how powerful you are, and no matter how much money you think you have, no one is above the law,” the New York attorney general reportedly said on her way into the courthouse.

U.S. Del. Stacey Plaskett, D-V.I., a former Trump impeachment manager, told theGrio that James is simply doing her job.

“In most instances, attorney generals act on fraud matters…she’s sitting within the framework of what her office is called for,” said the congresswoman.

While the civil fraud case, which is expected to go on trial through December, will likely not cause political damage to Trump, the facts of the case paint a very different image of Trump than what he projected for years. 

Voters in support of Trump often cited his wealth and success as a businessman as a reason why they believed, as president, he would be good for the U.S. economy. 

“What has been persuasive to so many people is his success of what he’s done as a businessman, and that success has been measured in large part by his finances,” said Plaskett, who noted, “That’s crumbling away.”

Professor Greer argued, “We saw that he wasn’t great for the economy. We’re dealing with inflation due to practices that he put in place when he was president.” She added, “Per usual, Republicans [gave] all their friends tax breaks, and millions upon millions of Americans are cleaning up their mess after they leave office.”

Even if Trump pays big time, including forfeiting ownership of his precious New York real estate, Greer suspects the 2024 White House hopeful will just “find another grift.”

“That’s sort of what makes him sort of so quintessential New York – the negative side of New York. He’s such a quintessential hustler,” she told theGrio.

“It’s like the snake oil salesmen. He picks up and goes to a new town. I mean, if you can’t operate in New York, we’ll see he’s operating in Iowa just fine.”

Similarly, Congresswoman Plaskett said Attorney General James is prosecuting a case that is building a “larger narrative” about the former president and those like him trying to enrich themselves through “illegal and fraudulent means.”

“He is, in many instances, the worst part of what the country is about,” she said.

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is a White House Correspondent and the Managing Editor of Politics at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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