Ruling against Trump touches the heart of his identity | ET REALITY


Nearly every aspect of Donald J. Trump’s life and career has come under scrutiny by the justice system in recent years, leaving him under criminal indictment in four jurisdictions and being held accountable in a civil case for which a jury considered sexual. Abuse he committed decades ago.

But Tuesday’s ruling by a New York state judge that Trump had committed fraud by inflating the value of his real estate holdings went to the heart of the identity that made him a national figure and launched his political career.

By effectively branding him a cheat, Judge Arthur F. Engoron’s decision in the civil proceeding undermined Trump’s relentlessly promoted narrative of himself as a master of the business world, the persona he used to entangle himself in the fabric of popular culture. . and that finally gave him the stature and resources to reach the White House.

The ruling was the latest notable development that tested the resilience of Trump’s appeal as he seeks to win the election again despite the weight of evidence against him in cases spanning his years as a developer in New York, his 2016 campaign, his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss and his handling of national security secrets after leaving office.

The federal case accusing him of plotting to retain power despite his defeat at the polls three years ago presents him as a threat to democracy, as does a similar prosecution in Georgia. The classified documents case portrays him as willing to obstruct justice to cover up a reckless disregard for the laws governing the handling of such documents. An indictment in New York stemming from hush payments to a porn star in the final stages of the 2016 election presents evidence of the kind of political chicanery he professes to want to eradicate from Washington.

So far, none of those cases have visibly hurt Trump’s campaign in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, which polls suggest he leads by wide margins. In fact, polls show that the accusations have cemented his support among Republicans. The prosecutions have helped his fundraising.

It remains to be seen whether the effect of Judge Engoron’s ruling is different. But his discovery endangers both Trump’s public image and his business empire. The former president now faces not only the prospect of having to pay $250 million in damages, but could also lose properties like Trump Tower that are inextricably linked to his brand.

Trump’s lawyer in the case, Christopher M. Kise, called the ruling “scandalous” and said the decision would be appealed. He called it “completely out of touch with the facts and the current law.”

“The decision seeks to nationalize one of America’s most successful corporate empires and take control of private property, while recognizing that there is no evidence of default, default, late payment or any claim of damage,” Kise said.

Trump, in a lengthy post on his social media site, called the ruling’s claims about fraud “ridiculous and false” and said the decision was a political attack on him in the midst of the presidential campaign.

In all of Trump’s recent legal troubles, his typical self-preservation tactics have largely failed him. When he’s cornered, Trump has traditionally tried to bluff his way out of trouble, resorting to exaggerations or outright lies to escape.

These methods have served him well in business and politics, where there is often little price to pay for twisting the truth and where voters tend not to distinguish between gradations of evasion. Those methods, however, have so far been much less effective in courts, which operate under strict standards of truthfulness and serious, sober rules.

In simple terms, Judge Engoron deflated Trump’s bubble of protective falsehoods about the way he conducted his business.

“In the defendants’ world,” Judge Engoron wrote, “rent-regulated apartments are the same as unregulated apartments; restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land; restrictions can evaporate into thin air.”

“That’s a fantasy world,” the judge continued, “not the real world.”

Trump’s other weapon of choice (intimidating his adversaries) has not fared much better in court. This month, federal prosecutors asked the judge overseeing his federal election interference case to impose a gag order on him, citing his “almost daily” attacks on social media against people involved in the proceedings and the threats they were generating.

Trump ignored an early warning from the judge in that case, Tanya S. Chutkan, to take into account what she said about witnesses, prosecutors and potential jurors in the case. But if he thought he could simply ignore the judge’s admonishment, prosecutors found out. Now Trump has put himself on what could be a collision course with the judge that could result in his public statements being restricted in the midst of his presidential campaign.

Trump is being limited by the same system he often uses to try to hinder the opposition: the courts. Over the past two years, Trump has filed a flurry of legal actions against news networks, political critics and even the Pulitzer Prize committee. Several of those cases have been dismissed.

But Judge Engoron’s decision hinted at a trait that has long defined Trump’s personality and approach to doing business. He has always sought to create his own reality, and often gets his way, to a point.

In a 2006 lawsuit Trump filed against journalist Timothy O’Brien, author of the book “TrumpNation: The Art of Being The Donald,” which estimated Trump’s net worth was no more than $250 million, the future president took the stand and made a surprising statement about how he calculates the value of his holdings.

“My net worth fluctuates and goes up and down with markets and attitudes and feelings, even my own feelings, but I try,” Trump said.

A judge ultimately dismissed his lawsuit.

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