Briefing

Trump's increasingly costly lawsuits: 'Witch hunt' or a modicum of justice?

Former President Donald Trump, famous for suing people and being sued, is facing mounting legal costs as the numerous cases tied to his presidency, personal conduct, and decades as a real estate developer start to wrap up.

Last week alone, Trump's family business and presidential inaugural committee agreed to pay $750,000 to settle a corruption lawsuit with Washington, D.C., and a New York judge said he must continue paying $10,000 a day until he produces documents in a large investigation into his business practices. Here's what's being said around the web:

THE 'GRIFT' IS UP

"No one is above the law — not even a president," D.C. Attorney General Karl Racine said in announcing the $750,000 settlement, adding that "after he was elected, one of the first actions Donald Trump took was illegally using his own inauguration to enrich his family. We refused to let that corruption stand." The lawsuit alleged that Trump's nonprofit inaugural committee spent $1.03 million at Trump's D.C. hotel at above-market rates.

"Trump displayed from the first day of his presidency that the whole enterprise was a grift," said Robert Weissman, president of the watchdog group Public Citizen. "And much of that was in plain sight of the public."

VIVA LA 'WITCH HUNT'

Trump emphasized that the settlement included "absolutely no admission of liability or guilt" and turned to his usual catch phrase for investigations of his conduct: "As crime rates are soaring in our Nation's Capital, it is necessary that the Attorney General focus on those issues rather than a further leg of the greatest Witch-Hunt in political history." He has also called New York Attorney General Letitia James' investigation of his property valuations and other business practices a "witch hunt."

TRUMP HAS 'ONCE AGAIN GOTTEN OFF EASY'

To people involved in the D.C. settlement, it's becoming clear that Trump "has once again gotten off easy," Jose Pagliery writes at The Daily Beast

"He is above the law. There's just no accountability whatsoever. For $750,000," star witness Stephanie Winston Wolkoff told The Daily Beast. "I'm just so shattered. It's awful, it's unjust, it's absurd," she added. "I can't believe this. They stole so much. The self-dealing. The perjury. They all know about it."

"Donald Trump and his associates have a strategy of aggressive litigation and particularly delay tactics," and that Racine got them "to a place where they were willing to pay up is pretty remarkable," argued Noah Bookbinder, president of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Still, "I wish it was more," he added. "It is frustrating that Donald Trump always seems to escape without admitting anything."

TRUMP STILL FACES A RECKONING

"We understand that after Robert Mueller's investigation and two impeachments, the prospect of Mr. Trump actually facing accountability may be viewed with skepticism," Norman Eisen and Donald Ayer write at The New York Times. But there are other cases pending, and Trump's "most serious prospect of prosecution" is just heating up in Fulton County, Georgia, where District Attorney Fani Willis "has a demonstrated record of courage and of conviction" and "is playing with a strong hand" in her criminal investigation of Trump's efforts to meddle in the presidential vote-counting. 

In fact, "there are so many legal actions — criminal and civil — against Trump they're hard to keep track of," said Joyce Vance, a former federal prosecutor. "And the courts have treated them seriously, like the federal judge in California who found it more likely than not his conduct was criminal. Odd a major party would have him as a [presidential] candidate."

AND HIS LOSSES KEEP ADDING UP

Along Trump's $750,000 settlement and $10,000 a day in fines, Trump paid $2 million in 2019 to settle a New York lawsuit involving his now-defunct charity, and his presidential campaign was ordered to pay former aide Omarosa Manigault Newman $1.3 million in late April for her legal fees in Trump's unsuccessful lawsuit to hold her to a nondisclosure agreement. 

"At face value, this is a costly setback for the former president and his political operation," Steve Bennen wrote at MSNBC. "But the problem for Team Trump is not just that it lost a non-disclosure case; the problem is that it keeps losing non-disclosure cases."

In March, Trump's campaign was ordered to pay another $300,000 for his unsuccessful effort to hold former campaign worker Alva Johnson, who says Trump grabbed and kissed her in 2016, to an NDA. These awards "hopefully will send a message that weaponized litigation will not be tolerated and empower other lawyers to stand up and fight," Manigault Newman's lawyer said. 

BUT TRUMP ISN'T PAYING ANY REAL COST

Trump may be losing in court, but his "most recent campaign finance filings reveal a sharp and dramatic drop in legal expenses," Roger Sollenberger reports at The Daily Beast. "It's not because he's involved in any fewer legal battles, however. It's because he got someone else to start picking up the tab," including various well-funded campaign committees and, "for reasons still unknown to the public," the Republican National Committee.

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