NEW YORK ( Associated Press) – When an architecture critic who won the Pulitzer Prize worked out his plans for a new skyscraper in Manhattan, Donald Trump responded with a lawsuit. When the tenants of a building he was trying to erase sued to stop their evictions, Trump bounced back by filing a lawsuit against the law firm. representing the tenants. And when a writer says the former president is worth far less than he claimed, Trump took legal action again.
So when Trump filed a lengthy lawsuit last week in which he accused his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, of plotting to sink his winning presidential campaign by claiming ties with Russia – which one renewed some of his longest alleged insults – it was no surprise.
Trump has spent decades reusing political and personal grievances in causes of legal action. Throughout his business and political career, he has used the courts as a place to air his complaints and as a tool to intimidate opponents, tarnish their reputations and try to attract media attention.
“It’s part of his pattern to use the law to punish his enemies, as a weapon, as something it was never meant to be,” said James D. Zirin, a former federal prosecutor in Manhattan and the author of the book “Plaintiff in Chief,” which outlines Trump’s legal history. “For him, litigation was a way of life.”
Trump’s latest lawsuit reviews a well-known grievance: that in 2016 Democrats summed up fictitious allegations that his campaign was colluding with Russia and that the FBI consequently continued an “unfounded” investigation.
The 108-page lawsuit, as much as a political emblem as a legal document, cites as defendants well-known targets of his anger at both the political empire – Clinton and her assistants – and the law enforcement community. It also dismisses the work of special counsel John Durham, who lists the three people – a cyber security lawyer, a former FBI lawyer and a Russian analyst – as accused charged in that criminal investigation.
Trump, in the case, portrays himself as the victim of a large-scale, blackmailing conspiracy in which FBI officials who led the investigation knew it was “based on a false and seasoned premise.”
It is well established by a general investigation by a Justice Department inspector that the FBI made mistakes and missteps during the Russia investigation that Trump may seize if his lawsuit progresses. But Russia did interfere in the 2016 election.
U.S. intelligence agencies concluded in January 2017 that Russia had launched a far-reaching campaign of influence aimed at helping Trump beat Clinton. And the dual Senate Intelligence Committee, after three years of investigation, confirmed these conclusions, saying intelligence officials had specific information that Russia had elected Trump and that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “approved and directed aspects of the Kremlin’s campaign of influence”. It also found clear links between Trump’s campaign and Russia, which led to the conclusion that Trump’s campaign chairman had regular contact with a Russian intelligence official. and that other Trump associates were eager to exploit the Kremlin’s assistance.
Representatives for Trump did not respond to requests for comment. But Trump attorney Alina Habba defended his approach on Newsmax, telling the network that more cases are coming “soon.”
“We have another case pending soon,” she said. “And anyone who is going to try to make up malicious stories about him while he is president, before his presidency or now, is going to be sued.”
Trump, meanwhile, has already used the filing to cheer up his crowds at a rally in Georgia on Saturday night.
“To fight back against this corrupt enterprise’s relentless hoaxes and lies, I filed a historic lawsuit this week to hold them accountable for the Russia, Russia-Russia fraud,” Trump cheered. His mention of Clinton elicited particularly loud applause and a revival of the “Lock her up!” song that was a defining feature of his 2016 campaign.
In addition to serving as a useful political cuddle, Trump’s effort, which comes as he reflects on another run – in for the White House, could give the imprimatur of credibility to campaigns’ grievances, said Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics. of New York University, said.
“For the unconscious public, the fact that grievances are repackaged as legal claims adds credibility to the power of those grievances,” Gillers said. “Anyone who pays attention to what is going on in the courts will be able to see through these claims as allegations of political victimization in another form. But the public largely does not care about the validity of the claims. “
Last year, Trump took similar steps and took action against three of the country’s largest technology companies, he claims, and other conservatives were wrongly censored after his accounts were suspended.
This is a tactic that Trump has used over and over again.
In the real estate, casino and other industries where the former president made fortunes and lost them, Trump’s use of lawsuits as a business weapon was legendary. He sued or threatened to sue contractors, business partners, tax authorities and the media.
“Trump loved to sue, especially parties that could not afford a legal defense,” said Barbara Res, a former Trump Organization chief executive who became critical. She said one legal tactic he used regularly was the “preventive strike” package to weaken opponents and create the impression that he was the aggrieved party before they acted.
In fact, when Trump defaulted on a huge Deutsche Bank loan for his hotel and apartment tower in Chicago during the 2008 financial crisis, he did not wait to be sued. Instead, he filed a lawsuit in which he accused the borrower of “robbery lending practices” that damaged his reputation and helped cause the global depression.
Instead of paying the bank, he argued, the bank should pay him.
It was a new argument and one that finally succeeded. Deutsche Bank eventually forgave a portion of its loan and then lent it hundreds of millions of dollars in new loans in the coming years.
A 2016 USA Today survey found Trump was involved in at least 3,500 court cases over the course of three decades – more than five other top U.S. property owners combined. In more than half of the cases, Trump was the one who sued.
The litigation continued while Trump was in the White House. In a desperate and futile attempt to stay in power, Trump and his allies have filed dozens of unfounded lawsuits challenge the 2020 election results. Judges repeatedly said the plaintiffs failed to prove fraud or misconduct.
“He’s extremely litigious, many of whom are intent
on not winning, but rather on frustrating the opposing party by causing financial hardship,” said Trump’s former affirmative action opponent Michael Cohen, who went to jail. because he made silent payments to a porn star who allegedly had an affair with Trump, as well as lying to Congress about a proposed Trump skyscraper in Moscow.
The packs proved beneficial in other ways. Trump has spent more than a year and a half combat efforts by then-Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. to obtain copies of his tax returns, which took the case to the Supreme Court.
While Trump eventually failed, his stall tactics stretched the case so long that Vance, who was on the verge of seeking a charge sheet, was replaced by a successor who allegedly all but the case closed.
Tucker reports from Washington. Associated Press author Michael Sisak contributed to this report.