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How Letitia James' lawsuit could break Trump's spirit

If successful, the New York attorney general would deprive Trump of a key part of his identity: his business.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday that her office had filed a civil suit against former President Donald Trump, three of his adult children and the Trump Organization, accusing them of more than 200 instances of fraud over the last decade. As a penalty, James’ office is seeking approximately $250 million from the Trump family and their business.

That’s a massive sum of money, even for someone like Trump, who, while seemingly not as rich as he’s claimed to be, still has a higher net worth than most of us ever will. The penalty James’ office seeks likely wouldn’t be enough to force the Trump Organization to shut down forever. But here’s the thing: If successful, James’ lawsuit would land an even deeper blow to Trump than the one against his wallet. It could essentially throw him, his family and their business out of New York — forever.

This lawsuit could essentially throw him, his family and their business out of New York — forever.

Initially, it appeared that a fine on this scale from James’ office could shut down the Trump empire alone. In 2020, the Trump Organization was facing $479 million in loans that were coming due in the next four years, and according to James’ filings earlier this year, the then-president had only (“only”) $93 million in liquid assets available to him at the time. Trump International in Washington, his hotel, was deep in the red and was floundering, as were many of his other properties during the height of the pandemic.

Then, as ever, things managed to swing Trump’s way again. As Forbes’ Dan Alexander reported in July, Trump’s longtime business associate Steven Roth of Vornado Realty Trust stepped in last year with a conveniently timed windfall on two buildings where Trump had a minority stake: Roth managed to obtain new loans from JPMorgan Chase that pushed back the date those loans would mature to 2028 and landed Trump an estimated $162 million.

The Trump family also managed to unload Trump International in Washington in May. That sale raked in enough money to pay $170 million to Deutsche Bank that would have been due in 2024, Forbes reported. Trump net an estimated $135 million on that deal, according to Forbes, while the three children named in James’ suit — Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump — got about $13 million each, according to Alexander.

Trump’s other major lifeline came in the form of a small internet-only company called Axos Financial. Trump Tower in Manhattan had a $100 million mortgage that would have been due this month, a major headache even with the recent influx. Axos managed to refinance that loan, as well as provide $125 million to cover a Deutsche Bank loan on his Doral golf course in Florida that would have come due next year, Forbes reported.

Imagine the psychic damage Trump would take from being torn away from the family business he’s spent decades building

All told, Forbes estimated that Trump is now sitting on roughly $375 million in cash on hand, more than enough to cover the $250 million in penalties that James is seeking. But money isn’t the only thing James is seeking in recompense. Her office is also asking for the courts to bar Trump and the Trump Organization from:

  • buying any property in New York for the next five years;
  • applying for loans from any New York-based or -registered financial institution for the same amount of time; or
  • operating any subsidiary companies under different names currently filed with the state.

James’ preferred punishment would also block Trump and his children named as co-defendants from ever “serving as an officer or director in any New York corporation or similar business entity registered and/or licensed in New York State.”

(Trump's lawyers responded to the suit on Wednesday saying that James' office was "prying into transactions where absolutely no wrongdoing has taken place" and that they would be " defending our client against each and every one of the Attorney General’s meritless claims.")

In effect, defeat would mean Trump — who began his empire in Queens and dreamed of expanding into Manhattan — would be run out of not only New York City, but also New York state. The Trump Organization could still continue on, just without him or his children leading it. (He could, in theory, appoint Tiffany Trump or Melania Trump in his stead, but I somehow doubt that would fly with a court.)

Losing the presidency was such a massive blow to Trump’s psyche that he won’t even admit that he lost. Instead, he's created an alternative reality involving a massive conspiracy against him. Imagine the psychic damage he would take from being torn away from the family business he’s spent decades building through deceit, cutting corners and allegedly outright fraud.

Yes, he’s already decamped to Mar-a-Lago for his residency. But who is Trump without his businesses? What will he do if he’s no longer forever seeking the love and approval of a city that has never quite loved him back? Such a banishment would be rough for anyone, let alone the narcissistic 76-year-old — but there may be no more fitting punishment than having the New York real estate mogul evicted from the place where it all began.