Trump’s retribution plan: Becoming America’s first dictator


Trump’s retribution plan: Becoming America’s first dictator

Chauncey DeVega – September 29, 2023

Donald Trump Sean Rayford/Getty Images
Donald Trump Sean Rayford/Getty Images

Donald Trump is a very honest liar.

When Trump says he is going to hurt you he means it. This is one of the primary reasons his political cultists are so loyal to him.

On this, journalist Masha Gessen warns and advises: “Rule #1: Believe the autocrat. He means what he says. Whenever you find yourself thinking, or hear others claiming, that he is exaggerating, that is our innate tendency to reach for a rationalization. This will happen often: Humans seem to have evolved to practice denial when confronted publicly with the unacceptable.”

In her new book, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson shares how during the Jan. 6 terrorist attack on the Capitol by his followers, Trump was heard chanting “hang” as Mike Pence was fleeing for his life. Cassidy’s account is but one more example of many showing how the disgraced and mentally unwell ex-president likely has what psychiatrist Dr. Justin Frank suggests is an erotic relationship to violence.

In an interview with CNN on Tuesday, Cassidy issued the following warning about her former boss: “I think that Donald Trump is the most grave threat we will face to our democracy in our lifetime, and potentially in American history.”

Confirming Hutchinson’s warnings, in a Sunday post on his Truth Social disinformation platform, Trump again threatened to end freedom of the press and the First Amendment if he returns to power.

They are almost all dishonest and corrupt, but Comcast, with its one-side and vicious coverage by NBC NEWS, and in particular MSNBC, often and correctly referred to as MSDNC (Democrat National Committee!), should be investigated for its “Country Threatening Treason.” Their endless coverage of the now fully debunked SCAM known as Russia, Russia, Russia, and much else, is one big Campaign Contribution to the Radical Left Democrat Party. I say up front, openly, and proudly, that when I WIN the Presidency of the United States, they and others of the LameStream Media will be thoroughly scrutinized for their knowingly dishonest and corrupt coverage of people, things, and events. Why should NBC, or any other of the corrupt & dishonest media companies, be entitled to use the very valuable Airwaves of the USA, FREE? They are a true threat to Democracy and are, in fact, THE ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE! The Fake News Media should pay a big price for what they have done to our once great Country!

Trump is not exaggerating, or posturing, or just being hyperbolic as too many in the American news media, the country’s political class, and among the general public would like to believe – which at this point is delusional. When Trump calls the news media “the enemy of the people” and invokes the Nazis and their attacks on the “lugenpresse“, he is threatening members of the news media (and public more broadly) with prison – and worse if they dare to oppose him.

At a rally in Iowa last Wednesday, Trump told his followers that he is going to invoke the Alien Enemies Act, which is a little-used law that gives the president unilateral power to deport and detain non-citizens who are older than 14 years old. The Alien Enemies Act was last used by President Roosevelt during World War 2 to put Japanese Americans in concentration camps. Trump has also promised to reinstate a ban on travel to America from Muslim countries as well as his regime’s evil “family separation” policy – and presumably the concentration camp system that accompanied it.

Trump is threatening to use the Alien Enemies Act against “drug dealers” and “suspected gang members”. Trump should not be believed: given his past behavior and announced plans to become a dictator he will likely use that law to target his personal and political enemies. As seen in his recent attacks on Gen. Mark Milley, Trump is escalating his fascist threats of violence as part of his plan to become America’s first dictator.

In an interview earlier this month with Hugh Hewitt, Trump summoned the white supremacist conspiracy theory lie that the “Democrats” and “the left” are “importing” black and brown people from “Third World countries” in an attempt to replace “real Americans”, i.e. White “Christians”:

These are corrupt people. These are fascists. These are Marxists. These are communists. These are sick people that are destroying our country. We have millions of people coming in. I’m in New York right now, and I just rode through the streets. I’ve never seen anything like it. New York, I’ve never seen it looking like this. And you have thousands and thousands of people in plain sight that come from foreign countries that most people never even heard of. It’s not just countries adjoining us. It’s foreign countries that many people have never even heard of. They’re coming from all over Africa. They’re coming from areas of the world that nobody can believe, and how far it is away for them to get there. These cartels are making a fortune, and they’re destroying our country, and we’re doing nothing about it. And we have a president that’s incompetent and corrupt.

In his interviews and speeches and other communications, Trump is also continuing to announce his plans to deploy the military to occupy America’s cities (meaning major cities with large populations of nonwhites in “blue” parts of the country), put homeless people in camps, use the Department of Justice to punish and imprison his political rivals (including President Biden), and to criminalize transgendered people.

In all, Trump’s plans are an extension of a decades-long revolutionary project by the “conservative” movement and white right to end multiracial pluralistic democracy and replace it with a Christofascist plutocracy. These plans to end American democracy are detailed in Trump’s Agenda 47 and the Heritage Foundation’s Project 2025.

In a 2022 essay at Current, historian John Fea reflected upon the lessons for how to turn the United States into a fascist nation as instructed in the 1938 satirical novel “The School for Dictators”:

1. Encourage anti-intellectualism.

2. Undermine moral standards, especially among lawmakers.

3. Pursue power for power’s sake. 

4. Develop a spiritual connection with loyal followers.

5. Rewrite national history.

6. Create political chaos.

Some eight decades later, “The School for Dictators” is a prophetic guidebook for the Trumpocene.

For more than seven years, the American news media has, largely, continued to fail in its responsibilities to defend American democracy against Trumpism and neofascism. In a time of democracy crisis, the news media should be speaking truth to the powerful, shining a light on the threats to democracy and civil society, and helping the public to understand the nature of the challenge and what they should do about it. Instead, the American news media has decided to play referee or alternatively to behave like a traffic cop who does not intervene to stop the crimes he or she is witnessing.

Donald Trump is an objective threat to American democracy and civil society. That is a fact. Instead of stating that fact consistently and plainly, the American news media has decided to be neutral and to create false standards of “fairness” and “balance” and “bothsideism” that reduce these existential dangers to being mere “partisanship” and “polarization” where the Democrats and Republicans, Biden and Trump, those Americans who believe in a real democracy vs the supporters of the MAGA movement and neofascism, are all more or less equivalent.

In all, profits and entertaining and distracting the public matter to the mainstream news media more than telling uncomfortable truths.

In a recent post on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, author Stephen Beschloss described such irresponsible behavior by the country’s news media in the following way:

Trump is getting worse, more dangerous, more bent on inciting violence. This is not a presidential candidate; this is a criminal defendant seeking to save his own skin no matter how much damage it causes. The media must stop pretending this is a normal presidential horse race.

At New York magazine, Eric Levitz engages in this bold truth-telling:

In this context, a news outlet can cover Trump’s affronts to democracy. But it can’t quite internalize them. For such a publication to fully behave as though it has a working memory — and a capacity to rationally weigh the significance of disparate pieces of information — would be for it to resemble a partisan rag.

The most salient truth about the 2024 election is that the Republican Party is poised to nominate an authoritarian thug who publishes rationalizations for political violence and promises to abuse presidential authority on a near-daily basis. There is no way for a paper or news channel to appropriately emphasize this reality without sounding like a shrill, dull, Democratic propaganda outlet. So, like the nation writ large, the press comports itself as an amnesiac, or an abusive household committed to keeping up appearances, losing itself in the old routines, in an effortful approximation of normality until it almost forgets what it doesn’t want to know.

Once again, as Masha Gessen warns, “Believe the autocrat. He means what he says.”

The autocrat – and in the case of Donald Trump, he who wants to be a dictator – is not kidding. Denial, wishcasting, hope peddling, and hiding behind “centrism”, “norms”, “consensus”, “institutions”, “the guardrails”, “tradition”, “American Exceptionalism”, “our leaders”, “the adults in the room”, and other myths and fantasies and failed psychological coping mechanisms will not save you or American democracy from Trump and the Republican fascists’ cruelty and destruction and pain.

Donald Trump’s thrill ride is nearly over — but the media refuses to let go


Donald Trump’s thrill ride is nearly over — but the media refuses to let go

Brian Karem – September 28, 2023

Donald Trump Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images
Donald Trump Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Longtime White House correspondent Brian Karem writes a weekly column for Salon.

This is the end, beautiful friend
This is the end, my only friend
The end of our elaborate plans
The end of everything that stands — Jim Morrison

I take no joy in saying this, but we in the press are moral cowards.

Last Friday, former President Donald Trump called for the execution of U.S. Army Gen. Mark Milley, the outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, branding him a traitor. This was because Milley told his Chinese counterparts, toward the end of the Trump administration, that the U.S. was not planning to invade China and start World War III. In other words, Milley reiterated official U.S. policy since the end of World War II, which Trump is apparently unaware that we won. But forgive him: He also seems to think Jeb Bush was president.

A few days later, our actual president, Joe Biden, made history by standing on a picket line with striking UAW members in Michigan.

We in the press didn’t tell you much about that, but we wasted airtime, pixels and ink reporting that Trump calls himself “pro-worker” — though there is no evidence of that to be found anywhere. We also told you that Biden wears tennis shoes. We pretty much ignored Trump’s threat against the chairman of the Joint Chiefs — who Trump himself appointed, by the way. We have also done minimal reporting on the New York judge who imposed the “corporate death penalty” on Trump’s business enterprises this week and may end up confiscating Trump’s property, after issuing a summary judgment that Trump’s companies actively engaged in fraud over many years.

There’s a potential government shutdown coming this weekend, but that took a back seat to an outlier political poll that shows Trump leading Biden by 10 points.

Those still capable of cogent thought may well wonder: When did this country jump the shark?

Dahlia Lithwick, a member of Mary Trump’s “Nerd Avengers,” said on the podcast Wednesday,  “We have achieved a point where lawlessness is the goal itself.” So while she may not pinpoint when we jumped, she certainly knows where we landed. This is the end, beautiful friend.

Take a look around. Who would want their children to grow up and become members of Congress? Bob Menendez, George Santos, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jim Jordan, Lauren Boebert, Kevin McCarthy . . . the list goes on and on with people we’d abhor if we met them in everyday life. There isn’t one of them I’d invite to a neighborhood barbecue. They are lawless without exception and without care. It’s not just Donald Trump.

They deflect from real issues by bombarding the public with facts taken out of context and outright lies. When that doesn’t work, they resort to bullying. “I’m at the point where, fine, investigate Joe Biden. Investigate Hunter Biden. But also hold Jared Kushner and Donald Trump accountable,” former GOP strategist Kurt Bardella said on the same podcast.

Bardella also said that after this week’s ruling by New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, if the press doesn’t “mention fraud every time we mention Trump’s name,” then we’re not doing our job. Mind you, Trump was also labeled as a rapist in civil court, and we rarely mention that either. We routinely ignore his 91 felony charges in four jurisdictions when we talk about his so-called politics, and we seem to have forgotten he’s already been impeached twice. We pretend that his many lies are changes in policy. Anyone who expects the press to responsibly report the reality of Donald Trump at this point may, in fact, be as delusional as Trump.

And Trump is truly delusional. “Brick by brick, Donald Trump is a fantasy. He’s the biggest fraud there is,” political commentator Danielle Moodie told Mary Trump.

Every bit of reporting we do on him should stress that. It’s not like his delusion is a secret. “We in the family knew it,” Mary Trump said, explaining the fraud perpetrated by her uncle — before describing him as the greatest fraud ever perpetrated on America.

Agreed. But don’t count on the press to inform you about any of that. We’re too busy pretending, and entertaining you by treating Trump as if he were a charmer, or a savior.

It isn’t just the press that is filled with cowards. The Republicans in Congress are repugnant criminal cowards. The Democrats are eunuchs and moral cowards. While the Republicans pursue Hunter Biden — and if he’s guilty of something, so be it — the Democrats have not said one word about Jared Kushner, Eric Trump or Donald Trump Jr. There is more than enough evidence to investigate those three for trading White House access for billions in foreign investment. Yet so far, nothing.

The Democrats don’t want to look like they’re gutter-fighting quite as dirty as the GOP, and seem to lack any desire to pursue obvious corruption. Thus it appears to millions of American voters, including many potential voters still on the fence, that the Bidens have the most to hide.

I cannot say it enough. We have two political parties in this country: One has no heart. One has no head.

And the press? We have neither.

So busy are we trying to pretend we’re even-handed that we present propaganda as fact just to look fair. That’s not our job. The moronic desire to be “objective” blinds us from our true mission: providing vetted facts.

Exactly three years ago, I asked a simple question of Trump in the White House briefing room: Would he accept a peaceful transfer of power? Three years and 91 felony charges in four jurisdictions later, we know the answer. He continues to deny that he lost the 2020 election. He continues to obfuscate, confuse, lie and cheat. We continue to let him get away with it.

When he said to me in the White House briefing room that if we stopped counting ballots at the moment of his choosing “there would be no change” in power, that should have been enough. Hell, when he made fun of a reporter with a disability, that should have been enough. When he made fun of veterans or called dead Marines “suckers,” that should have been enough. It wasn’t. It’s never enough, and we never doggedly pursue the facts.

Lithwick said that Trump has never been caught. I respectfully disagree: He is always getting caught in his own lies. We just allow him to go free without forcing him to take responsibility for his actions.

Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain
And all the children are insane
All the children are insane — Jim Morrison

The rest of the insane clown posse of children in the GOP got together Wednesday night for their latest attempt to stop Trump — who won’t attend a debate because he’s scared s**tless. How deeply disturbing it must be to be running against Trump as a member of the Republican party.

Not only do you have to run against a seditious criminal fool, but you have to do so in an environment where he has risen far above the other candidates who, while guilty of a great deal of stupidity, are not facing 91 felony charges. That alone should give them a leg up.

Nope. And they continued to support their near-certain standard-bearer on Wednesday night, even as they tried to run against him. Sure, there was slightly more negative treatment of him from some, like former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. But in the end, the also-rans lived up to their name.

If you want to defend Trump, go ahead. Defend a man who is a fraud, a rapist and an insurrectionist. He has been impeached twice and indicted in four different jurisdictions on 91 felony charges. Don’t forget he also kept classified information in his bathroom and refused to return it when asked. Defend all of that. Defend his criminality by using false equivalency and “whataboutism.” Defend it all with aplomb and own it.

I won’t. I was in Trump’s White House every day of that administration. If you weren’t, then you can stick your opinions someplace where ignorance and information are equal, like the nether regions of Trump’s mind.

Donald Trump is a menace. That’s not “politics.” That’s just a fact.

He is facing charges because he’s a dangerous would-be despot. There is no evidence any part of the electoral process was hijacked — except for the ballot boxes he tried to steal and the witnesses he desperately tried to intimidate.

Donald Trump is a traitor, a moron and a goon. If you believe he’s the second coming, mind your Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves.”

The Biden White House and the Democrats have no heart for the fight they face, and no head for it either. In an attempt to avoid getting their hands dirty, they’re allowing the country to bathe in Trump’s filth without responding to it. We heard a rare exception from Biden this week in San Francisco when he said, “Donald Trump and the MAGA Republicans are determined to destroy this democracy.”

White House spokesman Andrew Base backed that up by saying that “to abuse presidential power and violate the constitutional rights of reporters would be an outrageous attack on our democracy and the rule of law.”

We need more of that and a lot less of people in my profession giving false equivalency between Trump and his GOP competitors, much less the current president. If this is the end, then let it be Trump’s end — not our country’s.

At the end of the day, will some of my fellow journalists grow a pair? We make decisions every day based on money and audience share, not journalism. Trump went on “Meet the Press” because he’s good for ratings. We cover him as if he were equal to Biden for the same reason.

I encourage my professional comrades to consider this: There are millions of people who will tune into the facts if we consistently deliver them. Facts are the true coin of our realm. Ratings could be had if we did our job the way we’re supposed to. There is a market for solid reporting.

Here are some facts:  Donald Trump is despotic and deranged. His politics are nothing but grift. His life is about fleecing others. We should preface every mention of him by stating that he’s been indicted in four jurisdictions for 91 felonies. He’s been labeled a rapist and a business cheat in civil court and he was impeached twice.

Report that every single day. Don’t tell me he’s “pro-worker.” He’s only pro-Trump.

Late on Wednesday evening, U.S. District Judge Tanya Chutkan told Trump that she won’t recuse herself in his federal election interference case. That news, along with the New York summary judgment that could force Trump to forfeit all his real estate holdings in and around his hometown, offer the latest signs that Donald Trump’s prominence on the world stage is ending. He’s had a good run to ruin, and has never had to clean up any of his many expensive messes.

If he’d looked at the ticket he swindled to get on this ride, he might have seen that the bill comes due when the ride ends. It’s a bitch being held accountable. Just ask your average crossroads demon.

For Trump, the accountability ride has begun, and it promises to get much darker for him than the thrill ride that preceded it.

On that ride, anything goes and he always got what he wanted, no matter what.

But guess what? This is the end of that ride.

The West is the best
Get here and we’ll do the rest
The blue bus is calling us — Jim Morrison

The Judge Who Wants to Drag Us Back to the Victorian Era

The New Republic

The Judge Who Wants to Drag Us Back to the Victorian Era

Melissa Gira Grant – September 27, 2023

From the federal bench in Amarillo, Texas, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk laid another plank last week in the expanding Christian nationalist platform for the United States, in a ruling favoring a public university president who banned a drag show organized by a campus LGBTQ student group. In this court order, the latest twist in a case filed in March by Spectrum WT, a student organization at West Texas A&M University, Kacsmaryk denied the group’s request to restrain the school’s president and his administration from banning drag while their case is still in process. With Kacsmaryk’s order, we are witnessing the strengthening of the Christian right’s preferred legal reality, in which drag performance is not protected speech or expression under the First Amendment—thanks in part to the (literally) Victorian turn Kacsmaryk has made.

The university president’s drag ban comes as recently passed drag bans in several states face their own legal scrutiny. On Tuesday, Texas’s June 2023 drag ban was ruled unconstitutional, following a similar drag ban that was also overturned earlier this year in Tennessee. Other drag bans in Florida and Montana were also temporarily blocked by courts because of the damage the bans could do in their respective states while these cases were being argued. Kacsmaryk refused to follow suit.

In an order that points to his likely eventual ruling in the Spectrum WT case, Kacsmaryk deploys the same arguments as the Christian-right players behind the drag bans: that drag is “sexualized” expression or conduct, thus a danger to children, and thus fair game for their restrictions. Judge Kacsmaryk does not shy from the source of such spurious reasoning in the written order. He cited not only Christopher Rufo, the self-admitted architect of the moral panic that incited drag bans, but also Gays Against Groomers, the pseudo-grassroots group that claims to be “a coalition of gay people” opposed to “gender identity” (and whose rhetoric neatly follows the rest of the Christian right’s anti-trans rhetoric).

But another curious mention caught my eye in Kacsmaryk’s recent ruling: the Comstock Act. In his ruling, Kacsmaryk asserted that this 1873 law banning the dissemination of information related to sexuality (among many other things) is part of what he termed a “Free Speech ecosystem” that he claims went ignored by the students in their case. Whatever he means by “free speech ecosystem” aside, in reaching back to the Comstock Act—a law that has been chipped away at by the courts since its passage, and remains all but discarded in practice—Kacsmaryk claims to have found justification for excluding drag from constitutional protections.

Yet again, it appears that the Christian right’s latest go-to legal strategy is to summon the ghost of Anthony Comstock, the Victorian era’s arch foe of “obscenity.” It is not even the first time Kacsmaryk has referenced Comstock in a ruling siding with the Christian right. In April, in a case to restrict access to mifepristone argued by the Christian-right law group Alliance Defending Freedom, Kacsmaryk claimed that the Comstock Act may apply when it comes to the legal distribution of the drug, given its prohibitions around mailing anything that may cause an abortion (the Justice Department, it should be noted, had preemptively disagreed with this take). In a sense, by deploying Comstock now against both abortion and drag, Kacsmaryk is picking up on something quite true about the Comstock Act: Abortion, contraception, queerness, transness, sex work, sex ed, all of it is what Comstock was originally seeking to outlaw—and that Victorian sensibility is being resurrected from the dead.

But why revive Comstock now? To understand what Kacsmaryk is doing with the Comstock Act in both the drag and abortion cases, one must look to the Christian-right law projects that have both laid the groundwork for Christian nationalist legal theories and paved Kacsmaryk’s way to the federal bench.

Nearly a decade ago, Kacsmaryk joined the Texas-based First Liberty Institute, or FLI, a group that claims to be the largest legal project in the U.S. “focused exclusively on religious liberty.” From 2014 to 2019, Kacsmaryk was employed as an FLI attorney, where he represented clients fighting “the government’s effort to punish business owners and ministry leaders for following their religious beliefs and moral convictions,” as he said in 2017 after an FLI meeting with the Trump administration. As a lawyer working for the Christian right, Kacsmaryk was part of an effort aimed at rolling back contraception coverage in the Affordable Care Act—a provision that made birth control available to millions of people in the U.S. at no extra charge—on purported “religious liberty” grounds. In the movement for queer and trans rights too, according to Kacsmaryk, “religious liberty” is fundamentally at odds with “sexual liberty.” Since leaving FLI in 2019 to assume his place on the federal bench in Amarillo, coming down on the side of religious liberty is an effort Kacsmaryk can sustain with near-perfect continuity. Now with the power to decide from the front of the courtroom, he is able to tee up such cases for the Supreme Court.

After his nomination, FLI celebrated Kacsmaryk’s lifetime appointment as “a major win for religious-freedom practitioners, proving that a principled attorney may zealously advocate for the rights of … faith-based ministries without forfeiting the opportunity to serve on the bench,” and boasted that “Matthew is the first [emphasis its own] confirmed judge who’s gone directly from a religious liberty law firm to the federal judiciary.” Kacsmaryk’s nomination was not  solely thanks to FLI: He also held a leadership position in the Federalist Society, the group that vetted a list of judicial nominees for Trump, curated by its board chair (and “friend” of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and his wife, Ginni) Leonard Leo. Having a Christian right–friendly judge like Kacsmaryk on a court is a boon to these legal players; having Kacsmaryk on a court in which he hears at least 95 percent of civil cases filed there is only more so.

First Liberty Institute, like the better-known Alliance Defending Freedom, or ADF, imagines that in the U.S., Christians are a persecuted minority. This assertion is something both groups would claim is not representative of their philosophy, pointing to their stated, broader defense of “religious freedom”—which in practice is a “freedom” reserved primarily for those Christians who use their faith as a rationale for violating the Constitution and civil rights protections. FLI’s founding president Kelly Shackelford was among the first on the Christian right to identify the post–Obergefell v. Hodges moment as the opening of a “a new war over religious freedom,” as he wrote in 2015. Within five years, he was declaring victory in that war. Shackelford said he was “watching history change on its axis,” marveling that groups like FLI were now suddenly prevailing—“because of what’s happening with the judges”—reflecting on, as Sarah Posner reported, the success their movement had putting millions of dollars into their crusade, using Trump’s power to stack the judiciary with their own. 

Shackelford and FLI have continued to go to bat for the man who won for their side with “their” judges. They’ve even helped to substantiate Trump’s conspiracy theories about a stolen election: Shackelford joined a December 30, 2020, letter from a number of Christian-right groups that advanced Trump’s “fake electors” scheme to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election, and asked Senate Republicans to contest legitimate electoral votes, claiming that there was “substantial evidence” of “large numbers of illegal votes” (which there was not). Today, FLI is part of a group preparing the way for Trump’s return, the 2025 Presidential Transition Project, an effort led by the Heritage Foundation. It is a plan for overhauling the government as they see fit, starting from day one; it’s authoritarian in scope and features a “top to bottom overhaul” of the Justice Department, including demands to prosecute anyone providing medication abortion by mail, as well as classifying as “sex offenders” those who distribute what the plan deems “pornography”—which it claims is “manifested today in the omnipresent propagation of transgender ideology and sexualisation of children.” It’s a project already in progress.

Little of this powerful backstory is apparent in the federal courthouse in Amarillo when Judge Kacsmaryk is at work. Likewise, it’s not immediately obvious what the Christian right of today, from its wealthy backers making martinis from glacier ice with Supreme Court justices, to its prayerful warriors engaged in combat outside the Capitol on January 6, has to do with Anthony Comstock. That man died in 1915, leaving behind less a legacy and more a joke in the periodic usage of the term Comstockery to denote censorious impulses. Matthew Kacsmaryk, on the other hand, was only born in 1977, and he will most likely have many more decades on the bench in service to the Christian right.

How much does it cost to buy a federal judge? How much to buy one willing to raise Anthony Comstock from the dead? I sincerely suspect Kacsmaryk might throw that summoning in for free.

Judge Rules That Donald Trump Committed Fraud While Building Real Estate Empire


Judge Rules That Donald Trump Committed Fraud While Building Real Estate Empire

Virginia Chamlee – September 27, 2023

The ruling allows a civil trial against Trump and his adult sons to move forward next week, and orders that some of the former president’s companies be dissolved

James Devaney/GC Images Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower in Manhattan on March 9, 2021
James Devaney/GC Images Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower in Manhattan on March 9, 2021

A New York judge ruled on Tuesday that Donald Trump lied on financial statements about the value of the properties in his real estate portfolio and was therefore able to secure favorable loan terms and lower insurance premiums.

In a 35-page ruling, Judge Arthur Engoron said that Trump and his organization had overvalued several of it’s properties, including the members-only Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida.

In court filings, Trump has pegged the property’s worth at between $426.5 million and $612.1 million. But Engoron cited a Palm Beach County assessor who appraised Mar-a-Lago’s market value to be between $18 million and $27.6 million — at least 2,300 percent less than what the former president has claimed.

In the ruling, the judge adds that some of the former president’s defenses — such as arguing that square footage is “subjective” — are “absurd.” The ruling further sanctions Trump’s attorneys $7,500 each for continuing to make legal arguments that had already been rejected in court twice, and requires that some LLCs associated with Trump be dissolved.

Tuesday’s ruling allows a civil trial into the outstanding claims (to be decided by the judge, with no jury) to begin next week.

©Trump Hotels Eric, Donald Jr., Donald, and Ivanka Trump at the ground-breaking ceremony for Trump Hotel Washington, D.C.
©Trump Hotels Eric, Donald Jr., Donald, and Ivanka Trump at the ground-breaking ceremony for Trump Hotel Washington, D.C.

The ruling came as part of a fraud case brought against the former president, his adult sons Eric Trump and  Donald Trump Jr., and their company the Trump Organization, by New York State Attorney General Letitia James.

“Today, a judge ruled in our favor and found that Donald Trump and the Trump Organization engaged in years of financial fraud,” James said in a statement. “We look forward to presenting the rest of our case at trial.”

James has accused the Trumps and their company of fraudulently inflating the former president’s fortune by as much as $2.2 billion since 2011. The lawsuit aims to have Trump banned from doing business in New York and pay $250 million.

Engoron’s ruling alleges that the inflation of Mar-a-Lago’s worth is akin to fraud. From the ruling: “A discrepancy of this order of magnitude, by a real estate developer sizing up his own living space of decades, can only be considered fraud.”

Related: Donald Trump Has Overstated His Fortune by as Much as $2.2B, Says New York Attorney General in Court Filing

Joe Raedle/Getty Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida
Joe Raedle/Getty Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida

An earlier court filing alleges that “correcting for these and other blatant and obvious deceptive practices engaged in by Defendants reduces Mr. Trump’s net worth by between 17-39% in each year, or between $812 million to $2.2 billion, depending on the year.”

The filing accused Trump of valuing several of his properties “at amounts that significantly exceeded professional appraisals of which his employees were aware and chose to ignore.” In one alleged instance, he valued his leased property on Wall Street at more than twice the amount of the appraised value.

Trump and his sons have both fired back at the recent ruling regarding the worth of Mar-a-Lago, with Eric claiming on Twitter: “Mar-a-Lago is speculated to be worth we’ll [sic] over a billion dollars.”

Trump himself also disputed the ruling, writing an angry missive on his social media site Truth Social in which he accused the judge of being “a Deranged, Trump Hating Judge, who RAILROADED this FAKE CASE through a NYS Court at a speed never seen before, refusing to let it go to the Commercial Division, where it belongs, denying me everything, No Trial, No Jury.”

Related: The Cases Against Trump: What to Know About the Various Investigations Surrounding the 45th U.S. President

Trump added that Mar-a-Lago is “WORTH POSSIBLY 100 TIMES” what Engoron cited in his ruling, adding: “My actual Net Worth is MUCH GREATER than the number shown on the Financial Statements, a BIG SURPRISE to him & the Racist A.G., Letitia James, who campaigned for office on a get Trump Platform.”

Since leaving office in January 2021, Trump’s post-White House prestige has been overshadowed by intensifying investigations on various fronts, including into his political conduct and business affairs.

So far, four of those investigations have led to indictments — the first one making him the only U.S. president to face criminal charges, and the next two further distinguishing him as the only president to face federal charges.

“How you lose your democracy”: Shocking new research shows Americans lack basic civic knowledge


“How you lose your democracy”: Shocking new research shows Americans lack basic civic knowledge

Chauncey DeVega – September 26, 2023

 Mario Tama/Getty Images
Mario Tama/Getty Images

Republicans are systematically eroding the basic civil rights of the American people. As we are seeing in other countries that are experiencing what experts describe as “democratic backsliding,” Republicans are doing this by undermining and corrupting America’s democratic institutions from within. If Republicans get their way, free speech, freedom of association, freedom of religion, freedom of assembly, equal protection under the law, the right to privacy, the right to vote, and other basic freedoms and rights will be severely restricted.

In an example of Orwellian Newspeak, Republicans present themselves as defenders of freedom, when they actually oppose it. More specifically, Republicans believe that freedom is the ability and power of a select group of White Americans (rich, white, “Christian” men) to take away and otherwise deny the rights and liberties of other Americans and people in this country they deem to be less than, second-class, not “real Americans” and the Other, such as Black and brown people, the LGBTQI community, women, non-Christians, and other targeted groups.

Unfortunately, many Americans are unaware of their basic constitutional and other guaranteed rights and liberties – and how the country’s democratic institutions are ideally supposed to function. How can the American people defend and protect their democracy and rights, if they lack such basic knowledge?

Such an outcome is not a coincidence: it is the intentional outcome of how the American right-wing and conservative movements have undermined high-quality public education for decades with the goal of creating a compliant public that lacks the critical thinking skills and knowledge to be engaged citizens. Now new research by the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center provides insight into the extent of this crisis. Some of the Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey’s findings include:

[W]hen U.S. adults are asked to name the specific rights guaranteed by the First Amendment to the Constitution, only one right is recalled by most of the respondents: Freedom of speech, which 77% named.  
Although two-thirds of Americans (66%) can name all three branches of government, 10% can name two, 7% can name only one, and 17% cannot name any.

I recently spoke with Matthew Levendusky, who is a Professor of Political Science, and the Stephen and Mary Baran Chair in the Institutions of Democracy at the Annenberg Public Policy Center, at the University of Pennsylvania, about this new research. His new book is “Our Common Bonds: Using What Americans Share to Help Bridge the Partisan Divide.”

In this conversation, he explains how America’s democracy crisis is connected to a lack of basic political knowledge and civic literacy, the role that education can play in equipping Americans to defend their democracy, and why contrary to what many “conservatives” like to believe, America is not a “republic”.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. 

How you are feeling about the country’s democracy crisis, given your new research that shows a lack of basic civics knowledge among a large portion of the American public?

I am worried, with occasional glimmers of hope. But mostly I worry. Why? Our data show that people lack key civics knowledge, continuing a trend from recent years. A new report from Pew confirms what many suspected: Most Americans are fed up with government and don’t think it’s working. Those two things are deeply related.

To understand why, it’s helpful to take a step back and think about why civics matters, broadly speaking. The main reason is that we want people to understand how they can make their voices heard in our democracy. But you can’t make your voice heard if you don’t understand our system of government. For example, if you don’t know the three branches of government and their roles, then you won’t know why President Biden and Congress are sparring about spending, immigration, green energy, etc. If you don’t know what rights are protected by the First Amendment or what they mean, then you won’t understand why the government can’t censor the New York Times, but Facebook can make you take down a post that violates its community standards policy. If you don’t know which branch has the responsibility of determining whether a law is constitutional, you won’t understand why the Supreme Court and its rulings are so important and influential. In short, without some basic civic knowledge, you can’t even follow the news of the day to be an informed citizen. If you can’t do that, then you cannot know what to expect out of your government. That is not—at all—to say that a lack of knowledge is the root of dysfunction (it is not). But it is to say that they are related.

The concepts of civic literacy and engaged citizenship are not commonly discussed among the news media and general public. Can you explain those two concepts in more detail and why they matter?

What we can measure in a survey is civic literacy, which is your comprehension of basic facts about our system of government. So, for example, we ask if people know the three branches of government, what rights are protected by the 1st Amendment, who is responsible for determining the constitutionality of a law, and so forth. This gets at the pre-requisite knowledge you need to understand government and to participate in our system. But engaged citizenship—having people really how know to function in our governmental system, and make their voices heard—is the deeper goal.

This matters because we do not just want people to vote, we want them to cast an informed vote. This means, at a minimum, that they know where the candidates stand on the issues that matter to them, and they understand the office’s role in our democracy. For example, if you don’t know that the president is responsible for nominating Supreme Court justices who are then confirmed by the Senate, you won’t know to investigate the types of justices that a candidate might nominate. Likewise, if you don’t know the candidate’s positions (or have been misled about them), then you cannot effectively cast your vote on the issues that matters to you.

But even more importantly, we want people to participate in government more broadly. This can be many things: going to a community meeting (such as a school board meeting), volunteering for an election or civic activity (shout out to poll workers, the unsung heroes of democracy!), or working to solve problems in your community. For most of us, local participation is more important than national participation. Few people can meaningfully participate in national politics beyond voting (this is just as true of political scientists as it is of regular folks). But we can all participate locally, and for most of us, that is where we interface with government the most: local governments help pave our roads, police our streets, teach our children in schools, and so forth. What would this knowledge look like?

Take the case of Philadelphia. Here, the information needed to participate could be identifying your councilperson, knowing what they can resolve, and how to contact them. It could be knowing who controls the schools, and what are the roles of the mayor vs. the school board. You could also investigate what should be reported to 311 to get a response from a city agency, and what a registered community organization can help to address. These would differ from place to place, but the core idea is that it would help citizens see how they could uncover how the government can help them solve problems in their lives.

I went to a very good public school system.  I remember taking social studies and civics courses. Obviously, given my career path, those courses and teachers had a great influence on me. Are such courses still taught today? What is their content?

Many states—including Pennsylvania—have civics requirements, and that’s helpful for teaching this sort of civic literacy. But it is on all of us, as citizens, to help the next generation learn how to participate more meaningfully in our democracy. Happily, there are so many great resources for those who need to do this. For example, the Civics Renewal Network provides thousands of free, non-partisan, high-quality learning materials about civics that anyone can use. For example, Annenberg Classroom provides 65 high-quality videos about various key Supreme Court decisions, as well as extensive materials about our system of government. While much of this is aimed at teachers, who can use it directly in their classrooms, parents and others could also make use of this material. [In full disclosure, both CRN and AC are part of the Annenberg Public Policy Center, but I would endorse their content even if I did not work there.]

If I could add something to civics education in our current moment, it would be teaching people skills on how to have conversations across lines of difference. This is something that I discuss in my new book, and I show can reduce animosity and improve understanding between the two sides.

What does this look like? There are many ways of doing this, but they tend to share a few things in common. These are conversations centered on genuinely listening to the other person and their point of view, what some scholars call “perspective getting” so you can understand why they believe what they believe. The goal is to understand those with whom you disagree, not to persuade them. This means asking probing questions and keeping an open mind. These are also conversations grounded in what Keith and Danisch call “strong civility,” basically the idea that we treat each other as political equals and respect the other person’s right to take part in the political process.

But this takes practice, and can be intimidating, so it’s something we all need help to do well. Happily, there are a number of groups working to do this, but it is a vital civic skill as well that we all should try to master.

What measures of political knowledge and civic literacy were used in the new research? What do those measures help to reveal (or not) about a person’s relationship to democratic citizenship and its demands and requirements?

Surveys like ours ask about the key ingredients of civic literacy. Do you know what the three branches of government are? Do you understand their roles? Do you know key rights guaranteed by the various key amendments?  Do you know what a 5-4 Supreme Court decision means? And so forth. These are some of the benchmark pieces of information people need to know to be informed citizens.

And our survey—like many others—finds that many Americans do not. For example, one-third do not know the three branches of government. While most people know that the First Amendment to the Constitution protects freedom of speech, they don’t know the other rights protected by it (freedom of the press, freedom of religion, right to petition the government, and right to peaceably assembly). And even though most people know that free speech is protected by the First Amendment, they don’t understand what that means: roughly half think (incorrectly) that it requires Facebook to let you say whatever you’d like on its platform.

This sort of lack of basic information is quite troubling, as it highlights that citizens lack that core civic literacy.

Many Americans do not have a basic understanding of politics and government. Yet, we are also in an era of 24/7 news media and the Internet. The high levels of civic ignorance and lack of knowledge among the American people is an indictment of our country’s political culture, political elites and the news media, the educational system, and other key agents of political socialization.

This is why the well-documented decline of local media is so important. If you like politics, there’s never been a better time to be alive. You can read Politico, First Branch Forecast, subscribe to Ezra Klein’s podcast, etc. You can consume politics all day, every day. But if you don’t like politics (and most Americans do not!), it’s never been easier to avoid it, so scholars have found that civic knowledge similarly polarizes based on political interest.

In the days of a robust local media, that was less pronounced: if you subscribed to the local paper to get the sports scores, you also flipped past some national stories, and at least glanced at them. Now, you don’t even get this sort of by-product coverage. This is especially consequential for coverage of sub-national politics. All of the sources I discussed above focus on national politics, covering the minutiae of the debates between McConnell, Schumer, Biden, and so forth. But there is far less attention to state and local issues, and indeed, there are just far fewer reporters covering that today than a generation ago.

Given that the business model of local journalism has collapsed, I don’t have a great solution to this problem, but it is an important one that many scholars are working to solve.

As a function of a deep hostility to real multiracial pluralistic democracy, there is a right-wing talking point that America is actually a “republic” and not a “democracy”. Of course, this is not true. What intervention would you make against that disinformation and propaganda?

As someone who has taught core undergraduate American politics classes at Penn for many years, this is a perennial question that comes up every year. When people ask which is right—are we a republic or a democracy—the correct answer is that we’re both.

For the Founders, “democracy” meant some sort of direct democracy, where the people themselves rule. Functionally, that doesn’t exist anywhere in the modern world, at least not at scale (the closest we get are ballot initiatives and referenda in some states). But we have elements of that spirit animating our government today, most notably when we talk about the “will of the people” and public opinion, which is central to our modern understanding of how our government functions.

But we are also a republic, where it is not just what the people want directly that matters, but how that is filtered through our institutions that shapes outcomes (the Electoral College being perhaps the most striking element of that). I try to emphasize to students that our system has both elements, the key is to harness the best of both without succumbing too much to their weaknesses.

Imagine that you are a doctor of American democracy. What is your diagnosis and prognosis for the patient in this time of crisis? How does your new research (and related work of course) help to inform your conclusion(s)? 

Like many others, I fear for our system, and there are real signs of trouble for American democracy. What, then, is to be done? The first, I think, is to put pressure on elites to a bulwark against backsliding. As many scholars—myself included—have shown, backsliding is more the fault of elites than voters (i.e., it is less about voters demanding elites break norms than it is elites breaking norms that voters then rationalize as unimportant). Our job as citizens is to demand better of them. In 2020, despite real threats—including January 6th—the guardrails of democracy held. They need to be strengthened and reinforced to ensure that they can continue to flourish.

At the outset, I said that I occasionally see glimmers of hope. Those glimmers are the people who are working to make our democracy better. They are working to help us better understand one another, build bridges, and make America live up to its founding promises to all Americans, not just some of them. That is hard, difficult work. But it is the work we need at this moment.

Trump’s threats to Milley fuel fears he’ll seek vengeance in second term

The Hill

Trump’s threats to Milley fuel fears he’ll seek vengeance in second term

Brad Dress – September 27, 2023

Former President Trump’s violent rhetoric toward Gen. Mark Milley is raising fears he will use a second term in the Oval Office to seek retribution against his enemies.

Trump suggested Friday that Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who is stepping down from his post at the end of the week, deserves the death penalty for allegedly betraying him and committing an act of treason.

The threat came just days after Milley warned that if Trump wins the presidency in 2024, he would enact vengeance against those he felt have done him wrong.

And Milley believes he is at the top of that revenge list.

“He’ll start throwing people in jail, and I’d be on the top of the list,” Milley told The Atlantic in a profile of the four-star general published last week.

Kristy Parker, a legal counsel at Protect Democracy who leads litigation on abuses of power and interference with government functions, said Trump’s comments about Milley are “deeply troubling” for American democracy.

“Even just the threats have an incredibly chilling effect on public actors’ ability to do the jobs we need them to do to have a functional democracy,” she said.

“Trump has shown and talked about weaponizing the Justice Department to retaliate against people who he perceives as his enemies and he did, in fact, do that to people when he was president the first time.”

The Trump-Milley feud has simmered for years, with the two clashing over the military’s role in the 2020 racial justice protests and the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

But long after the administration ended, Milley remains at the top of Trump’s mind as books and articles have documented steps the general says he took to protect against Trump’s erratic behavior.

Last week’s death threat stems from reports that at the end of his presidency, Milley reassured Chinese officials there would be no threat to Beijing in the final days of Trump’s administration, according to the 2021 book “Peril” by journalists Bob Woodward and Robert Costa.

The communication has long infuriated Trump, who took to Truth Social last week to condemn Milley’s years of service as “treasonous” ahead of his retirement from the Joint Chiefs later this week.

“[Milley] was actually dealing with China to give them a heads up on the thinking of the President of the United States,” he posted. “This is an act so egregious that, in times gone by, the punishment would have been DEATH!”

Peter Feaver, a civil-military relations scholar who recently published a new book on public confidence in the military, said Trump is so enraged by Milley because of these public accounts portraying the general as a protector against his presidency.

Feaver said Trump’s quest to castigate Milley is also designed to warn other potential critics from speaking out. He said the strategy has damaged the civilian-military relationship and could backfire on Trump and his allies.

“Trump thinks he can just personalize this to Milley,” said Feaver. “But he’s failing to understand how this is going to be corrosive of civil-military relations more generally [because …] if they haven’t done something wrong and you’re punishing them, then you get a perverse civil-military relationship.”

The spat is the second time this year their feud has come into the spotlight. Trump has also lobbed accusations at Milley over Iran, disputing claims that the general moved to ensure he wouldn’t attack the country and arguing Milley was the one who recommended an attack.

But Milley is not the only one in Trump’s crosshairs: Former Attorney General Bill Barr and former Defense Secretary Mark Esper have also drawn his ire.

Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie wrote on X, formerly Twitter, that Esper, Barr and Milley were all once “praised by Trump” but are “now all regularly attacked by Trump because they had the nerve to put the country ahead of him.”

“What kind of person threatens execution on a third-tier social media site? A sad and disturbed person who has no place being near the White House, let alone living inside it,” said Christie, a Republican presidential candidate challenging Trump.

Esper told CNN that Milley “deserves praise and thanks” and “does not deserve what he is receiving from President Trump right now.”

Referring to the China conflict, Esper said after the 2020 election, he told Chinese officials the U.S. was steady and directed Milley to send a similar message to his Chinese counterpart.

Esper said the way Milley’s main offense was offering “candid, frank advice” did not comport with Trump’s expectations.

“He wants to find ‘yes’ men in his office,” Esper said.

“The president has also said that a second term would be about retribution, right? So, I think these are all legitimate concerns,” he later added.

While experts agree Trump would have no case to prosecute Milley for treason, the death threats alone are already alarming advocacy groups.

Abe Bonowtiz, the founder of Death Penalty Action, an organization working to abolish the death penalty, said, “Trump has an unhealthy addiction for the dictatorial power to execute political rivals.”

“The death penalty is a very serious matter,” he said in a statement, “and it’s being tossed around as a political tool by Republican presidential candidates, which should concern everyone.”

What does New York fraud ruling mean for Donald Trump’s business empire?


Explainer-What does New York fraud ruling mean for Donald Trump’s business empire?

Jack Queen – September 27, 2023

FILE PHOTO: A worker cleans up one of the Trump Tower’s entrance before the arrival of former U.S. President Trump in New York

(Reuters) – The fate of Donald Trump’s business empire hangs in the balance after a New York judge stripped control of key properties from the former U.S. president as punishment for his “repeated and persistent fraud” over their valuations.

Here’s a look at the ruling and its implications for Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.


Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a civil lawsuit against Trump, his adult sons and nearly a dozen business entities in September 2022, alleging they inflated the value of their assets by billions of dollars to secure more favorable loan and insurance terms.

Justice Arthur Engoron of New York state court in Manhattan ruled on Tuesday that Trump and his co-defendants committed fraud and ordered the cancellation of certificates that some of his businesses need to operate in New York. He also said he would appoint independent receivers to manage the dissolution of the canceled certificates.

The order did not provide a timeline for the cancellations. Engoron asked the parties to recommend potential receivers within the next 30 days.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and said the case is part of a political witch hunt.


The immediate impact of the ruling is unclear as Trump’s holdings comprise a network of roughly 500 entities spanning real estate, licensing and other business ventures.

The ruling covers 10 Trump entities but includes pillars of Trump’s empire, including his commercial property at 40 Wall Street in Manhattan, golf resort in Scotland and Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.

Independent receivers could continue to operate the properties as businesses or liquidate them, though Trump would likely be entitled the proceeds of any sale, legal experts say.

Engoron declined to answer whether the assets would be sold or simply managed by an independent receiver when asked by one of Trump’s lawyers during a hearing on Wednesday, saying he would rule on that question later.


Trump’s lawyers have said they will appeal the decision, which they described as an “outrageous” attempt to “nationalize one of the most successful corporate empires in the United States and seize control of private property.”

Trump could also seek a stay or pause of the court’s order pending appeal, which would likely be met by a request from James to block any asset transfers while the case plays out.

A trial is scheduled to begin on Monday. Because of Engoron’s fraud ruling, it would largely be limited to how much Trump and his co-defendants must pay in penalties.

James is seeking at least $250 million and has asked the court to permanently bar Trump from serving as an officer or director of any business in New York, and prohibit him from acquiring any real estate or applying for a loan in the state for five years.

James is seeking the same restrictions for Trump’s two adult sons, Donald Jr and Eric.


Not in this case, which is civil. But Trump is under indictment in four separate criminal cases.

He has been charged in Florida for his handling of classified documents upon leaving office; in Washington D.C. over his efforts to undo his loss in the 2020 presidential election; in Georgia over his efforts to reverse the election results in that state; and in New York over hush money payments he made to a porn star.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all four cases.

(Reporting by Jack Queen; Editing by Noeleen Walder and Bill Berkrot)

“The end of Trump’s financial empire”: Legal experts say N.Y. fraud ruling could bring him down


“The end of Trump’s financial empire”: Legal experts say N.Y. fraud ruling could bring him down

Areeba Shah – September 27, 2023

Donald Trump; Trump Tower Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images
Donald Trump; Trump Tower Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images

Donald Trump committed massive fraud in New York for years by repeatedly misrepresenting his wealth by hundreds of millions of dollars while building his real estate empire, a state Supreme Court judge ruled on Tuesday afternoon.

This startling decision came in the civil case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has argued that Trump, along his sons Donald Jr. and Eric and the entire Trump Organization, had “grossly” inflated the value of more than a dozen assets by hundreds of millions in total, and then used those fake values to defraud banks and insurers in order to obtain more favorable deals and secure loans.

James argued that Trump routinely overstated his net worth to financial institutions by between $812 million to $2.2 billion, depending on the year and the specific applications he filed, and is seeking a penalty of about $250 million in a trial scheduled to begin Oct. 2.

New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron, who issued the summary judgment on Tuesday, ordered that some of Trump’s business licenses be rescinded as punishment and ordered that an outside “receiver” must be appointed to supervise the management of those Trump properties. The ultimate outcome could well be the end of Trump’s ability to do business in the state.

Trump and his adult sons are now “barred from doing business in New York forever” under Engoron’s ruling, said Catherine Ross, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University. “And given that New York was the home base of their business, the base of their fortune, of Trump’s reputation, his credibility, his integrity — it’s all been found lacking.” The former president “is not a good businessman,” she added. “He’s a conman.”

Tuesday’s ruling came summary judgment, a decision indicating that there is no need for a jury trial because the evidence is “so strong” for one side, Ross explained, that no reasonable jury could reach a different decision.

Engoron’s ruling amounts to saying “that the New York attorney general presented an ironclad, well-documented case backed up with lots of evidence,” Ross said. In fact, she added, Engoron had already “lambasted Trump’s lawyers for trying to resuscitate defense arguments and positions that he had already expressly rejected and for essentially misleading the court in a number of instances.”

This decision was viewed as a surprise by legal observers and is clearly a major victory for James, who has been investigating claims since March 2019 that Trump and other executives at his companies had manipulated the values of various properties in order to get better deals from banks and insurers. She filed a lawsuit in September 2022.

Though the trial will determine the exact magnitude of the financial penalty inflicted on the Trumps and their business entity, Engoron has already granted one of the biggest punishments James pursued: the cancellation of business certificates that allow some of Trump’s New York properties, including the Trump Organization itself, to operate in the state. That could have major repercussions for the Trump family business.

This decision “signals the end of Trump’s financial empire,” Bennett Gershman, a former New York prosecutor and law professor at Pace University, told Salon.

“The judge declared that Trump and his family are guilty of a massive, staggering fraud in overvaluing his properties,” Gershman said. “The only issue left to be decided is the penalty to be imposed on him.”

The ruling, if it survives the appeals that are sure to follow, would deprive Trump of his ability to exercise control over critical properties in the state, particularly with regard to strategic and financial decisions. This would effectively dismantle a large portion of the former president’s business empire, and could destabilize his financial standing.

“This ruling cripples [Trump’s] ability to engage in business activities anywhere, and completely terminates his ability to do business in New York state,” Gershman said, adding that Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg could now decide to reopen “his criminal investigation of Trump for falsely stating the value of his properties.” Bragg had earlier declined to prosecute Trump on those charges.

The former president has “boasted” that his personal net worth in the billions, Gershman added, although many observers have concluded that is unlikely. “The truth is that his net worth is far, far less than that,” Gershman said. “The consequences of this ruling and the upcoming trial, while not making him a pauper, will significantly reduce his net worth.”

According to Engoron’s ruling, Trump, along with his company and key executives, engaged in a pattern of false statements about their financial status in annual statements. This resulted in more favorable loan conditions and reduced insurance expenses, among other tangible benefits, the judge found.

Furthermore, these deceptive tactics violated legal boundaries, Engoron said, despite the arguments by Trump’s lawyers that a disclaimer attached to his financial statements absolved him of liability.

“In defendants’ world: rent regulated apartments are worth the same as unregulated apartments; restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land; restrictions can evaporate into thin air; a disclaimer by one party casting responsibility on another party exonerates the other party’s lies,” Engoron wrote in his 35-page ruling. “That is a fantasy world, not the real world.”

The judge ordered that Trump and the other defendants provide the names of potential independent receivers “to manage the dissolution of the canceled LLCs,” meaning the various Trump business entities, within 10 days of the ruling.

No member of the Trump family will have control over the properties in question, and according to Ross it is “very likely” that many or most will be sold to compensate for the Trumps’ fraudulent gains, a process similar to the “liquidation” that occurs in bankruptcy proceedings.

One notable finding in Engoron’s decision was that Trump had continuously overvalued Mar-a-Lago, his private club in Palm Beach, inflating its value on one financial statement by as much as 2,300%, The Associated Press reported. Engoron also challenged Trump’s claim about the size of his apartment in Manhattan’s Trump Tower, which the former president on at least one occasion had asserted was 30,000 square feet, nearly three times its actual size. Trump had estimated the apartment’s market value at $327 million, a patently implausible number even in the New York City real estate market.

“A discrepancy of this order of magnitude, by a real estate developer sizing up his own living space of decades, can only be considered fraud,” Engoron wrote.

Former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told Salon that while the former president is a “fraudster,” his supporters will continue to claim that “he’s a good businessman,” adding that Trump has “proven time and again that he can survive these sorts of stains on him and his company.”

As far as Trump’s business ventures go, Rahmani said: “He’s done doing business in New York. He’s just done.”

In their own motion for summary judgment, Trump’s legal team had asked the judge to dismiss the case, contending that there was no evidence that the public had been harmed by Trump’s actions. They also argued that many of the allegations in the lawsuit were barred by the statute of limitations.

Engoron noted that he had rejected those arguments earlier in the case, and fined Trump’s five defense lawyers $7,500 each as punishment for “engaging in repetitive, frivolous” arguments.

James’ lawsuit is just one of many legal challenges confronting Trump, who remains the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. Over the past six months, the former president has faced four criminal indictments and is also facing a second defamation suit filed by writer E. Jean Carroll, who earlier won a civil verdict against Trump for sexually assaulting her in the 1990s.

“Maybe this will affect the public’s perception of him not only as an obstructer of justice, who undermined national security and sought to unlawfully undo a fair election, but also as a financial cheat,” Gershman said.

Ross added that Trump “seems to be leveraged up to his eyeballs,” facing “enormous debts” and rapidly mounting legal bills. And this decision creates further legal jeopardy for him, she added.

“If he were to consider taking the stand in one of the many pending cases against him, whether criminal or civil,” Ross said, “this finding of fraud could be used by the other side — by the prosecution, or the other party in a civil case — to impeach his testimony. Fraud goes to the essence of whether you tell the truth.”

The Biggest Bombshells in Trump Whistleblower Cassidy Hutchinson’s New White House Memoir


The Biggest Bombshells in Trump Whistleblower Cassidy Hutchinson’s New White House Memoir

Kyler Alvord – September 26, 2023

In her newly published book, “Enough,” the former White House aide shares disturbing allegations involving several D.C. power players, including Rudy Giuliani, Matt Gaetz and President Trump himself

<p>Candace Dane Chambers;  Simon and Schuster</p> Cassidy Hutchinson pictured in Washington, D.C. in September 2023; Hutchinson
Candace Dane Chambers; Simon and SchusterCassidy Hutchinson pictured in Washington, D.C. in September 2023; Hutchinson’s new memoir, “Enough,” out now

After laying low for more than a year, former White House aide Cassidy Hutchinson is returning to the public eye with the release of a new tell-all memoir, Enough, that’s already put some of Donald Trump‘s allies on the defensive.

Hutchinson, who served as a top aide to former White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, became an instant public figure last summer when she testified against Trump in a televised hearing before the House committee investigating the Jan. 6, 2021, Capitol riot. Immediately after her explosive testimony, she had to go into hiding for safety reasons, holed up in a Washington, D.C. hotel for several days before temporarily relocating to Atlanta to wait out the backlash.

In her 356-page book, published Tuesday, Hutchinson puts forth several previously unheard claims, walking readers through the ups and downs of her life, including her once-skyrocketing career. Along the way, the 26-year-old shares countless stories about her time before, during and after working in Trump’s White House, offering a brief on all of the major players in the modern Republican Party and the inner-workings of the Trump administration.

Related: First Look at Cassidy Hutchinson’s Memoir: Trump Whistleblower Details Life After Jan. 6 Testimony (Exclusive)

<p>Candace Dane Chambers</p> Cassidy Hutchinson stands before the U.S. Capitol in September 2023
Candace Dane ChambersCassidy Hutchinson stands before the U.S. Capitol in September 2023

Chock-full of details both consequential and just plain juicy, the book covers everything from Trump officials’ favorite candies (Jared Kushner gravitated to peach rings, she writes) to various lawmakers’ personalities (Sen. Ted Cruz lacked a sense of humor and once called her a “tattletale,” she alleges) to the president’s erratic leadership style (examples of which are too vast to summarize).

Hutchinson explains how various high-ranking Republicans reacted to the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection, and uses a wide range of anecdotes to exemplify her high-profile friendships in Washington, including with now-House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.

Related: Cassidy Hutchinson Refuses to Respond to Donald Trump’s Insults: ‘Being Ignored Drives Him Mad’ (Exclusive)

<p>Tia Dufour/The White House</p> House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and powerful GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, walk past the Rose Garden with Cassidy Hutchinson on April 4, 2020
Tia Dufour/The White HouseHouse Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and powerful GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, walk past the Rose Garden with Cassidy Hutchinson on April 4, 2020

Some of the more damning claims in Hutchinson’s book include an alleged incident of groping by disgraced ex-Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani on the morning of the U.S. Capitol Riot, the “vain” reason Trump didn’t want to be seen wearing a N95 mask during the pandemic, Meadows’ apparent sense of guilt surrounding prominent Republican Herman Cain‘s premature COVID death, and a couple of uncomfortable encounters with firebrand House Freedom Caucus member Matt Gaetz.

Asked whether she fears the attacks that may come as people pore over the details in her memoir, Hutchinson tells PEOPLE that she doesn’t, and that she stands by all of her claims.

“If somebody wants to attack the way that they come off in the book, I’m not going to hold myself responsible for what they may say about the way that they’re framed,” she says. “I’m holding them accountable to their own actions.”

Here, five of Hutchinson’s most memorable allegations scattered throughout the pages of Enough.

Trump refused to wear masks during the pandemic because his bronzer turned the straps visibly orange
<p>Drew Angerer/Getty </p> President Donald Trump stands in front of Dr. Anthony Fauci while speaking about coronavirus vaccine development in the White House Rose Garden on May 15, 2020
Drew Angerer/GettyPresident Donald Trump stands in front of Dr. Anthony Fauci while speaking about coronavirus vaccine development in the White House Rose Garden on May 15, 2020

According to Hutchinson’s new book, the anti-mask movement that Trump supporters spearheaded during COVID-19 — leading to countless preventable deaths nationwide — stemmed from a makeup mishap involving the president early on in the pandemic.

“The president tried on several N95 masks at the Honeywell plant in Phoenix, Arizona, which manufactured all manner of personal protective equipment (PPE). He was not thrilled that staff urged him to wear a mask, believing it would make him look weak and afraid of the virus,” Hutchinson writes. “He decided on a white mask and strapped it to his face before asking each staffer whether or not he should wear it in front of the press pool.”

Related: Governors Ask Congress to Investigate Trump’s ‘Politicization’ of COVID-19 Response

Hutchinson says that the president looked to her for input, making a “thumbs-up/thumbs-down” gesture. She shook her head, signaling that he shouldn’t wear it.

“I pointed at the straps of the N95 I was holding,” she recalls. “When he looked at the straps of his mask, he saw that they were covered in bronzer. ‘Why did no one else tell me that,’ he snapped. ‘I’m not wearing this thing.'”

“He wore safety goggles on the tour,” she continues in the book. “The press would criticize him for not wearing a mask, not knowing that the depth of his vanity had caused him to reject masks—and then millions of his fans followed suit.”

Related: Dr. Fauci Says He Was ‘Absolutely Not’ Surprised That President Trump Caught COVID-19

Cassidy says Rudy Giuliani groped her on the morning of the Jan. 6 Capitol riot
<p>Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty</p>
Eric Lee/Bloomberg via Getty

Buried in Hutchinson’s account of the chaos that ensued on Jan. 6, 2021, is a disturbing allegation that former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani groped her — in the presence of a fellow Trump attorney, John Eastman.

In her memoir, Hutchinson recalls frantically looking for Giuliani as the morning’s rally was beginning — she says she was trying to get more information on what Trump and his confidants were planning that day, as well as convince the president’s closest advisers to keep Trump from meeting his supporters at the Capitol. She eventually tracked Giuliani down in a tent near the rally stage, and when Giuliani saw her, she says “the corners of his mouth split into a Cheshire cat smile.”

Waving a stack of documents — which he allegedly told her was evidence that Trump could still win the election — Giuliani approached Hutchinson “like a wolf closing in on its prey,” she writes.

“Rudy wraps one arm around my body, closing the space that was separating us. I feel his stack of documents press into the small of my back,” she writes. “I lower my eyes and watch his free hand reach for the hem of my blazer.”

After complimenting her leather jacket, she alleges, “His hand slips under my blazer, then my skirt. I felt his frozen fingertips trail up my thigh. He tilts his chin up. The whites of his eyes look jaundiced. My eyes dart to John Eastman, who flashes a leering grin.”

Related: Cassidy Hutchinson Claims Rudy Giuliani Groped Her on Jan. 6: ‘Like a Wolf Closing In on Its Prey’

Responding to the groping claim, Giuliani’s political adviser, Ted Goodman, told PEOPLE, “It’s fair to ask Cassidy Hutchinson why she is just now coming out with these allegations from two and a half years ago, as part of the marketing campaign for her upcoming book release.”

Eastman’s personal attorney, Charles Burnham, said his client “categorically denies” the allegation that he witnessed Hutchinson get groped, claiming that Eastman didn’t know who she was until her testimony before the Jan. 6 House committee in June 2022. “Dr. Eastman is considering defamation litigation against those responsible for making or publishing these libelous allegations,” he wrote in a statement shared with PEOPLE.

Related: Rudy Giuliani’s 60-Point Dive in Popularity Poll Stuns Data Reporter: ‘Never Seen Anything Like This’

Cassidy says Matt Gaetz made a pass at her at Camp David, and raised red flags among top Republicans prior to his sexual abuse allegations
<p>Drew Angerer/Getty</p> Rep. Matt Gaetz leaves a closed-door meeting with former White House counsel Don McGahn on June 4, 2021
Drew Angerer/GettyRep. Matt Gaetz leaves a closed-door meeting with former White House counsel Don McGahn on June 4, 2021

In Hutchinson’s Jan. 6 testimony, she alleged that Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz was among a handful of Republican lawmakers who sought a pardon from Trump before he left office. In her memoir, though, she shares multiple other stories centered around Gaetz — including a couple of uncomfortable moments she allegedly had with the controversial House Freedom Caucus member, resulting in a confrontation at Camp David at which Republican House leader Kevin McCarthy was present.

According to Hutchinson, she organized a May 2020 retreat at Camp David to which some of Trump’s closest friends in the House GOP were invited, including Gaetz and McCarthy. By the time the House members arrived in the evening, Trump and Meadows had already gone off to their cabins for the night. McCarthy “ordered a few bottles of bourbon and wine” from the bar and invited some of the members over to his cabin to drink, Hutchinson writes. Then around 1 a.m., she alleges, the few who were still hanging around heard a knock at McCarthy’s cabin door.

“I thought it was Camp David’s staff coming to quiet us down—Kevin’s cabin was across from the president’s. But when Kevin opened the door, we discovered Matt Gaetz leaning against the door frame,” she writes in the book. “Matt straightened his posture when Kevin asked him what he wanted, and he explained that he had seen my golf cart parked outside and thought that this was my cabin.”

She continues: “Embarrassed, I got up and asked Matt what he needed. He explained that he was lost and needed me to escort him back to his cabin. I told him to proceed around the circle drive—all the cabins were clearly marked and it was impossible to get lost. He asked me one more time to leave with him. ‘Get a life, Matt,’ Kevin said, then shut the door.”

Related: Matt Gaetz May Have Trouble Ahead — House Ethics Committee Quietly Reopens Its Probe into His Conduct: Report

At various points in the memoir, Hutchinson briefly mentions other strange interactions with Gaetz, like at a bar following Trump’s first impeachment vote, when she writes that Gaetz “chuckled and brushed his thumb across my chin” before allegedly asking her, “Has anyone ever told you that you’re a national treasure?”

In the later days of the administration, when Gaetz began dropping by on occasion to seek a pardon from Trump, Hutchinson writes, “I tried to dismiss Matt’s antics but began wondering why he was pushing so hard for a pardon. I raised the issue with Mark one day after Matt had left and asked if there was anything I should know about. ‘Between you and me,’ Mark said, ‘DOJ may be looking into something about Matt. Best to stay away from him. Can you do that for me?’ I nodded and promised I would.”

It was later reported that Gaetz was the subject of a sex trafficking probe for an alleged sexual relationship with an underage girl, but he was ultimately not indicted by the Justice Department. The House Ethics Committee reportedly reopened its own probe into his conduct in June 2023, the status of which is unknown.

Related: Ex-Matt Gaetz Associate Joel Greenberg Pleads Guilty to Sex Trafficking, Says He’ll Help Prosecutors

Asked for comment about the alleged encounters with Hutchinson, Gaetz told PEOPLE in a statement: “I don’t remember either of these events and based on Cassidy’s prior false statements, I doubt they occurred.”

The written statement continued: “I did date Cassidy for a few weeks when we were both single years ago. We parted amicably and remained friends thereafter, even during President Trump’s post presidency when she asked me to help her secure housing in South Florida because she was eager to continue working for President Trump. It is sad to see Cassidy dishonestly turn against so many people who cared about her for fame and book sales.”

Hutchinson denied ever dating Gaetz in a Monday night interview on The Rachel Maddow Show, saying that they were friends at times but that he “does not have the best track record for relationships” and that she has “much higher standards in men.”

Related: Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz Eloped amid Scandal and Sex Trafficking Investigation

Mark Meadows privately took some responsibility for former presidential candidate Herman Cain’s COVID-19 death
<p>NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via Getty </p> Onetime presidential candidate Herman Cain (seated, left) attends a Trump 2020 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Cain fell ill with COVID-19 days after the rally, and died of complications the following month.
NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP via GettyOnetime presidential candidate Herman Cain (seated, left) attends a Trump 2020 rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Cain fell ill with COVID-19 days after the rally, and died of complications the following month.

Hutchinson’s book details the moment she informed Mark Meadows that former presidential candidate Herman Cain died from COVID-19 complications after attending Trump’s first pandemic-era campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma. She alleges that Meadows felt at least some responsibility for Cain’s death.

“I had slipped into Mark’s office when I got the news, my middle finger and thumb tapping together as I gnawed the inside of my cheek, wrestling with my words. ‘Chief, have you heard about Herman Cain?'” Hutchinson writes, recalling the July 30, 2020, conversation.

By her account, Meadows responded asking if Cain was all right, to which she replied, “No, Mark, he’s dead.” Hutchinson says the blood drained from Meadows’ face, and he began asking her questions: “He was in Tulsa wasn’t he?” (Yes, sir.) “That’s where he caught COVID, right?” (Yes, sir.)

“Mark had briefly turned his attention to the TV. I had assumed that he was wondering if the news had been made public,” she continues in the memoir. “He looked back at me and said flatly, ‘We killed Herman Cain.’ I could hear him swallow. ‘Get me his wife’s number,’ he said sadly.”

Related: Herman Cain Dies a Month After Contracting COVID-19: ‘Gone to Be with the Lord’

Earlier in the book, Hutchinson writes that Trump was getting stir-crazy in the first months of the pandemic, leading to the early campaign rallies: “What little patience the president possessed had been exhausted. He wanted to be out on the campaign trail. ‘We have to start doing rallies again,’ he stressed to anyone within earshot.”

“The consensus among senior staff was that rallies were a bad idea both for reasons of public health and because it wasn’t the time to wade into politics. Clearly indoor rallies were off-limits, for the former reason,” she continues in the book. “‘Antifa is having rallies every day on the streets,’ countered Trump, referring to the Black Lives Matter protests. ‘We are going to plan a big rally, and it’s going to happen as soon as possible.'”

Hutchinson writes that Trump’s adamancy signaled the planning of the June 20, 2020, Tulsa rally that Cain would ultimately attend.

“I had seen [Cain] in the risers behind the stage in Tulsa,” Hutchinson recalls in the book. “He grabbed my wrists and pumped my arms above my head, flashing his enigmatic smile as he cried out, ‘We’re going to win! We’re going to win! Four more years! Four more years!'”

Related: Tulsa City Health Official Says Trump Rally ‘Likely Contributed’ to Surge of New Coronavirus Cases

Cassidy says Liz Cheney secretly helped her break free from Trump’s legal team during the Jan. 6 investigation
<p>Brandon Bell/Getty</p> Cassidy Hutchinson hugs Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the Jan. 6 House committee, after her two-hour live testimony on June 28, 2022
Brandon Bell/GettyCassidy Hutchinson hugs Rep. Liz Cheney, vice chair of the Jan. 6 House committee, after her two-hour live testimony on June 28, 2022

Initially represented by a Trump-aligned lawyer after getting subpoenaed by the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol riot, Hutchinson struggled with what she characterized as his alleged instruction to be unforthcoming with the committee’s search for answers — and, eventually, to refuse testifying in subsequent depositions, even if it ran the “small risk” of being held in contempt of Congress.

“I knew in my heart that was a luxury I could not afford,” she writes. “There was only one option — to fulfill my moral and civic obligations.”

Hutchinson says she had already tried finding independent legal representation, meeting numerous lawyers and brainstorming ways to scrape together money — even visiting her estranged father to ask for financial help — but was met with unreasonably high fees at every turn.

Related: Trump Attorney Allegedly Told Cassidy Hutchinson to Give Misleading Testimony to Jan. 6 Committee

“To honor the oath I swore to defend, I had to free myself from Trump World,” she remembers thinking in the book. “All I had to do was figure out a way to free myself without doing anything that would draw their attention and arouse suspicion.”

In an earlier deposition, Hutchinson had tried to slyly feed committee members some helpful answers without appearing insubordinate to the Trump attorney accompanying her, and afterward, committee vice chair Liz Cheney had walked up to her, given her a hug, and whispered, “Thank you.” But she writes that she had more to say, and that she felt her attorney was trying to keep her from saying it.

In a bind, she quietly turned to one of the few people she felt she could trust — Cheney — arranging a phone call to discuss her situation and ask for help finding a new, affordable lawyer so she could come clean about what she saw in Trump’s White House.

The next day, Hutchinson says, Cheney provided her with a list of lawyers to reach out to that she believed would help. “I thanked her and promised that I would figure out a way to do the right thing, regardless of the outcome of the search for new counsel,” she writes. “I could not find the words to tell her that the committee was giving me one of the greatest gifts I could have received: hope.”

Soon, Hutchinson had signed an engagement letter with two lawyers who’d worked in the Justice Department under President George W. Bush. They agreed to represent her pro bono.

Related: Liz Cheney Says Jan. 6 Role May Be ‘Most Important Thing I Ever Do’ amid Televised House Hearings

Hutchinson writes that she formed a friendship with Cheney after breaking free from Trump’s orbit, saying that when she was exiled after testifying live, she knew that she could always look to the Wyoming congresswoman for support.

“Liz checks on me every day,” she writes of the time that she was in hiding after testifying. “She sends encouraging articles, shares stories about the public support we’ve received since the hearing, and relays messages from prominent figures in the Republican Party, our Republican Party. We talk and laugh, I cry, we laugh some more. Liz is becoming my rock.”

Related: Rep. Liz Cheney Says She’s ‘Absolutely Confident’ in Cassidy Hutchinson’s Credibility amid Scrutiny

The acknowledgements section of Hutchinson’s book concludes with a nod to Cheney, who was ostracized from her party for supporting Trump’s second impeachment and ousted from Congress by a Trump-backed challenger in the 2022 midterm elections.

“Liz reminds us that true leadership is grounded in principle, and that change can be achieved through unyielding loyalty to our democratic ideals,” it reads. “May this book serve as a testament to the transformative power of leaders like Liz, who inspire us to be agents of the truth in our republic, and beyond. That we, as individuals, are enough.”

Judge rules Donald Trump defrauded banks, insurers while building real estate empire

Associated Press – U.S. News

Judge rules Donald Trump defrauded banks, insurers while building real estate empire

By Michael R. Sisak – September 26, 2023

FILE - Former President Donald Trump pauses before ending his remarks at a rally in Summerville, S.C., Sept. 25, 2023. A New York judge ruled, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, that the former president and his company committed fraud for years while building the real estate empire that catapulted him to fame and the White House. (AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr., File)
FILE – Former President Donald Trump pauses before ending his remarks at a rally in Summerville, S.C., Sept. 25, 2023. A New York judge ruled, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, that the former president and his company committed fraud for years while building the real estate empire that catapulted him to fame and the White House. (AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr., File)

NEW YORK (AP) — A judge ruled Tuesday that Donald Trump committed fraud for years while building the real estate empire that catapulted him to fame and the White House.

Judge Arthur Engoron, ruling in a civil lawsuit brought by New York’s attorney general, found that the former president and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and exaggerating his net worth on paperwork used in making deals and securing financing.

Engoron ordered that some of Trump’s business licenses be rescinded as punishment, making it difficult or impossible for them to do business in New York, and said he would continue to have an independent monitor oversee the Trump Organization’s operations.

A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling. Trump has long insisted he did nothing wrong.

FILE- Attorney Scott Grubman, who is defending Kenneth Chesebro, argues before Fulton County Superior Judge Scott McAfee in Atlanta on Wednesday, Sept. 6, 2023. Past high-profile trials suggest additional scrutiny and stress for the four judges overseeing the indictments against former President Donald Trump. But the challenge facing Fulton County Judge Scott McAfee in Georgia is unlike any of the others. (Jason Getz/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool, File)

With cameras capturing every word, the pressure is on for the Georgia judge over Trump’s indictment

Former President Donald Trump speaks at a rally in Summerville, S.C., Monday, Sept. 25, 2023. (AP Photo/Artie Walker Jr.)

Trump lawyers say prosecutors want to ‘silence’ him with gag order in his federal 2020 election case

FILE - A woman walks across the street with a flag supporting President Donald Trump during a rally Jan. 6, 2021, in Huntington Beach, Calif. A state GOP rule change has opened the possibility that former President Donald Trump could sweep California’s entire trove of delegates in the March 5 primary, the plumpest prize in the party’s nominating contest. The election falls on Super Tuesday, when California is among more than a dozen states holding primaries and the largest number of delegates are up for grabs of any single day. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

California, a liberal bastion, may give Donald Trump an unlikely boost in 2024

The decision, days before the start of a non-jury trial in Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit, is the strongest repudiation yet of Trump’s carefully coiffed image as a wealthy and shrewd real estate mogul turned political powerhouse.

Beyond mere bragging about his riches, Trump, his company and key executives repeatedly lied about them on his annual financial statements, reaping rewards such as favorable loan terms and lower insurance premiums, Engoron found.

Those tactics crossed a line and violated the law, the judge said, rejecting Trump’s contention that a disclaimer on the financial statements absolved him of any wrongdoing.

“In defendants’ world: rent regulated apartments are worth the same as unregulated apartments; restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land; restrictions can evaporate into thin air; a disclaimer by one party casting responsibility on another party exonerates the other party’s lies,” Engoron wrote in his 35-page ruling. “That is a is a fantasy world, not the real world.”

Manhattan prosecutors had looked into bringing a criminal case over the same conduct but declined to do so, leaving James to sue Trump and seek penalties that could disrupt his and his family’s ability to do business in the state.

Engoron’s ruling, in a phase of the case known as summary judgment, resolves the key claim in James’ lawsuit, but six others remain.

Engoron is slated to hold a non-jury trial starting Oct. 2 before deciding on those claims and any punishments he may impose. James is seeking $250 million in penalties and a ban on Trump doing business in New York, his home state. The trial could last into December, Engoron has said.

Trump’s lawyers had asked the judge to throw out the case, which he denied. They contend that James wasn’t legally allowed to file the lawsuit because there isn’t any evidence that the public was harmed by Trump’s actions. They also argued that many of the allegations in the lawsuit were barred by the statute of limitations.

Engoron, noting that he had “emphatically rejected” those arguments earlier in the case, equated them to the “time-loop in the film ‘Groundhog Day.’”

James, a Democrat, sued Trump and the Trump Organization a year ago, alleging a pattern of duplicity that she dubbed “the art of the steal,” a twist on the title of Trump’s 1987 business memoir “The Art of the Deal.”

The lawsuit accused Trump and his company of routinely inflating the value of assets like skyscrapers, golf courses and his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, padding his bottom line by billions.

Among the allegations were that Trump claimed his Trump Tower apartment in Manhattan — a three-story penthouse replete with gold-plated fixtures — was nearly three times its actual size and valued the property at $327 million. No apartment in New York City has ever sold for close to that amount, James said.

Trump valued Mar-a-Lago as high as $739 million — more than 10 times a more reasonable estimate of its worth. Trump’s figure for the private club and residence was based on the idea that the property could be developed for residential use, but deed terms prohibit that, James said.

Trump has denied wrongdoing, arguing in sworn testimony for the case that it didn’t matter what he put on his financial statements because they have a disclaimer that says they shouldn’t be trusted. He told James at the April deposition, “You don’t have a case and you should drop this case.”

“Do you know the banks were fully paid? Do you know the banks made a lot of money?” Trump testified. “Do you know I don’t believe I ever got even a default notice, and even during COVID, the banks were all paid? And yet you’re suing on behalf of banks, I guess. It’s crazy. The whole case is crazy.”

Engoron rejected that argument when the defense previously sought to have the case thrown out.

The judge said the disclaimer on the financial statements “makes abundantly clear that Mr. Trump was fully responsible for the information contained within” them and that “allowing blanket disclaimers to insulate liars from liability would completely undercut” the “important function” that such statements serve “in the real world.”

James’ lawsuit is one of several legal headaches for Trump as he campaigns for a return to the White House in 2024. He has been indicted four times in the last six months — accused in Georgia and Washington, D.C., of plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss, in Florida of hoarding classified documents, and in Manhattan of falsifying business records related to hush money paid on his behalf.

The Trump Organization was convicted of tax fraud last year in an unrelated criminal case for helping executives dodge taxes on extravagant perks such as Manhattan apartments and luxury cars. The company was fined $1.6 million. One of the executives, Trump’s longtime finance chief Allen Weisselberg, pleaded guilty and served five months in jail. He is a defendant in James’ lawsuit and gave sworn deposition testimony for the case in May.

James’ lawsuit does not carry the potential of prison time, but could complicate his ability to transact real estate deals. It could also stain his legacy as a developer.

James has asked Engoron to ban Trump and his three eldest children from ever again running a company based New York. She also wants Trump and the Trump Organization barred from entering into commercial real estate acquisitions for five years, among other sanctions. The $250 million in penalties she is seeking is the estimated worth of benefits derived from the alleged fraud, she said.

James, who campaigned for office as a Trump critic and watchdog, started scrutinizing his business practices in March 2019 after his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen testified to Congress that Trump exaggerated his wealth on financial statements provided to Deutsche Bank while trying to obtain financing to buy the NFL’s Buffalo Bills.

James’ office previously sued Trump for misusing his own charitable foundation to further his political and business interests. Trump was ordered to pay $2 million to an array of charities as a fine and the charity, the Trump Foundation, was shut down.