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Federal judge dismisses Trump's bid to block N.Y. attorney general's tax fraud probe

Judge Brenda K. Sannes said the former president failed to show that the investigation into his company's finances was politically motivated.
Image: Donald J. Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 26, 2022 in Orlando, Fla.
Donald J. Trump at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Feb. 26, 2022 in Orlando, Fla.Jabin Botsford / The Washington Post via Getty Images file

A federal judge on Friday dismissed former President Donald Trump's lawsuit to stop the New York attorney general's office from continuing its sprawling investigation into his company's business practices.

Trump had sued Attorney General Letitia James in December, arguing her years-long civil tax fraud investigation “is guided solely by political animus and a desire to harass, intimidate, and retaliate against a private citizen who she views as a political opponent.”

The filing pointed to numerous disparaging statements James had made about Trump over the years, including calling him an "illegitimate president" and telling NBC News after her election in 2018 that she planned to “use every area of the law to investigate President Trump and his businesses transactions and that of his family as well."

In her 43-page ruling, U.S. District Judge Brenda K. Sannes said that while Trump and his company pointed to several comments that they argue show James' "personal animus toward Mr. Trump and evince an intent to retaliate for or stifle plaintiffs’ free speech," they did not show her effort to enforce subpoenas against the company "was commenced for the purpose of retaliation."

"The fact that defendant’s public statements reflect personal and/or political animus toward plaintiffs is not, in and of itself, sufficient," the judge said, noting the investigation had a "legitimate factual predicate" in former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen's testimony before Congress about Trump’s business practices in February of 2019.

Cohen testified that Trump “inflated his total assets when it served his purposes” and “deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes.”

Sannes noted that the state judge presiding over the attorney general's efforts to get Trump and his company to comply with their subpoenas has already found that if James had not investigated the Trump Organization following Cohen’s testimony, it would have been “a blatant dereliction of duty.”

James called the federal court ruling "a big victory."

"Frivolous lawsuits won’t stop us from completing our lawful, legitimate investigation," she tweeted.

Trump lawyer Alina Habba criticized what she called James's "egregious conduct and harassing investigation."

"There is no question that we will be appealing this decision," Habba said.

The court victory was the third for James in recent weeks. On Thursday, an appeals court ruled Trump must appear for a deposition in the attorney general's investigation, and last week, Trump paid James' office a $110,000 after being found in contempt of court for not responding to another subpoena.

The AG's office has been investigating whether the Trump Organization committed fraud in reporting the value of certain properties to banks and tax authorities, and is weighing whether to file a civil suit against the company. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and called the probe a "witch hunt."