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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
17 Feb 2024
Dave Seminara

Trump's latest legal harpooning: An extraordinarily harsh penalty in a victimless case

The bills keep piling up for Donald Trump, don’t they? Last week, a judge ordered him to pay E Jean Carroll, who says Trump sexually assaulted her decades ago, $83.3 million in damages for defamation in addition to the $5 million he already owes her from an earlier sexual assault trial. On Friday, Manhattan Supreme Court judge Arthur Engoron piled on with a much bigger tab in Trump’s business fraud trial: $450 million.

New York Attorney General Letitia James delivered on her campaign promises to get Trump with a 2022 lawsuit alleging that he lied to insurers and lenders by fraudulently exaggerating his assets by billions of dollars on financial statements to obtain favorable lending terms and insurance policies. Engoron, a Democrat whom Trump has described as “deranged” previously ruled that Trump was guilty of committing fraud, determining without a jury that there was no need for a trial.

Engoron has been married three times, just like Trump. They also both opposed the Vietnam War; Engoron engaged in protests while Trump did not, unless you consider his heel spur medical deferment a form of protest. But they have little else in common. Engoron, who is a few years younger than Trump, has a lifetime gig on the court and will likely never have to pay for a beer in Trump-hating Manhattan again.

He stopped short of knocking Trump out by barring him from doing business in New York, but he landed heavy body blows in a 92-page opinion that claimed Trump’s “complete lack of contrition and remorse borders on pathological”. Engoron barred Trump for three years from serving in key roles at any New York company, extended for three years the appointment of an independent monitor to scrutinize company operations, and imposed a $355m fine that rises to a cool $450m with interest, according to Ms. James.

Trump can hold off on paying Ms. Carroll until his appeals are exhausted. He’ll appeal the fraud verdict too, but he’ll need to either come up with the money or secure a “supersedeas bond” within 30 days. US$83 million one week, $450 million the next, it all adds up doesn’t it?  But Donald and Melania won’t be eating Ramen noodles or cutting back on Barron’s golf lessons anytime soon. Last year when Trump was deposed in the civil fraud case, the former president claimed his company had more than $400 million in cash, though his real estate holdings are worth much more. Some experts have asserted that bits of Trump’s company could file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, but most think this is unlikely in an election season given the optics.

Has the left finally harpooned the titanic orange whale its been pursuing for years?

Trump called the verdict a “Complete and Total sham,” and said it was “an illegal, un-American judgment against me, my family, and my tremendous business”. He’ll fundraise off what seems like an extraordinarily harsh penalty for a case where there were no victims seeking redress. I suspect his legal and financial problems in this case and the others swirling around him will energize his fan base and further erode his already wobbly standing among independents. But we won’t know until the polls close on November 5 which candidate Americans dislike more.