A former prosecutor said the findings of the New York attorney general’s probe into Donald Trump’s business dealings are “insane,” and he predicts there “really isn’t a lot of room for him to wiggle his way out of this.”
“It really looks like the Trump family was running a fraud business with a sideline in real estate, as opposed to the other way around,” commentator Tristan Snell, a former New York assistant attorney general who worked on the Trump University case, said on MSNBC.
New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday that she filed a civil lawsuit against Trump and his three eldest children, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump, over an assortment of alleged financial crimes, following a years-long investigation.
She’s seeking to bar them from conducting business in the state, make them pay about $250 million in restitution and limit their access to lending.
Trump allegedly inflated the value of his assets to convince banks to lend to the Trump Organization on more favorable terms while also deflating the value of assets in other instances so he could pay less in taxes.
“This is insane. The disparities that we’re talking about here are not just 10%. It’s not rounding up,” Snell noted. “It’s not saying, ‘Oh, you know, this is worth 147 million, we’re gonna say it’s worth 150 million.’ No, no, no, no, no, no. This was 1,000% bigger. 3300% bigger.”
“If any of us did this, we wouldn’t just be liable for fraud, we’d be headed for jail,” he continued. “This would be the equivalent of an American saying that the appraisal says your house is worth $300,000. And then you turn around and say, ‘Oh, it’s actually worth 30 million. It’s actually worth 100 million.’ And thinking you’re gonna get away with that.”
During her news conference Wednesday, James offered several examples of false or misleading asset valuations used in Trump’s statements out of what she said was a total of more than 200.
In one instance, James said, an asset in New York City was listed as being worth over 60 times what an appraiser had valued it at. And Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s Florida resort, was estimated to be worth $75 million, but its value was inflated to as high as $739 million, James said.
According to Snell, Trump doesn’t have much to go on as a defense, especially after he invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination in response to almost every question he was asked when he was interviewed by James’ office.
“The fact that he pled the Fifth to 440 different questions means that he doesn’t really have any legs to stand on here because anything that he might say in defense, the AG’s office is going to be able to say, ‘Well, you already basically admitted to it.’”
When someone invokes their Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination in a criminal trial, a jury cannot infer guilt based on the defendant’s silence. However, in a civil case, the judge or jury can draw a negative conclusion about the intent behind the plea.
“It really cuts off the escape hatch there,” Snell said. “There really isn’t a whole lot of room for him to wiggle his way out of this.”