Trump lawsuit against Clinton part of longstanding legal strategy

When a Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic criticized Donald Trump’s plans for a new skyscraper in Manhattan, Trump responded with a lawsuit. When tenants of a building he was planning to vacate sued to stop their evictions, Trump hit back by filing lawsuits against the law firm representing the tenants. And when an author said the former president was worth far less than he claimed, Trump took legal action again.

As Trump filed a sweeping lawsuit last week, accusing his 2016 rival Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party of conspiring to sink his successful presidential campaign by claiming ties to Russia — and one of his longest-held Affronts renewed—that was no surprise.

Trump has spent decades turning political and personal grievances into pleas. Throughout his business and political career, he has used the courts as a place to air his grievances and as a tool to intimidate opponents, smear their reputations and seek media attention.

“It’s part of his pattern to weaponize the law to punish his enemies, as something that was never intended,” said James D. Zirin, a former Manhattan federal attorney and author of the book Plaintiff in Chief, in which Trumps Legal history is described in detail. “For him, the lawsuit was a way of life.”

Trump’s latest lawsuit addresses a well-known complaint that Democrats made fictitious claims in 2016 that his campaign colluded with Russia and that the FBI then conducted an “unfounded” investigation.

The 108-page lawsuit, both a political screed and a legal document, names as defendants longstanding targets of his wrath from both the political realm – Clinton and her aides – and the law enforcement community, including former FBI Director James Comey and Peter Strzok and Lisa Page, two FBI officials who exchanged text messages critical of Trump during the 2016 campaign.

It also draws on the work of Special Counsel John Durham and lists the three people — a cybersecurity attorney, a former FBI attorney and a Russia analyst — as defendants charged in this criminal investigation.

Trump presents himself in the suit as the victim of a vast extortion conspiracy that FBI officials leading the investigation knew was “based on a false and fabricated premise.”

“The defendants acted in concert and maliciously conspired to weave a false narrative that their Republican opponent, Donald J. Trump, was conspiring with a hostile foreign sovereignty,” his attorneys wrote, describing the alleged scheme as “so outrageous, subversive and inflammatory that even the events of Watergate pale in comparison.”

Through an investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general, it is known that the FBI made blunders and missteps during the Russia probe that Trump could address as his lawsuit progresses. But Russia interfered in the 2016 elections.

US intelligence services concluded in January 2017 that Russia had launched a wide-ranging lobbying campaign to help Trump defeat Clinton. And the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee, after a three-year investigation, confirmed those conclusions, saying intelligence officials had specific information that Russia favored Trump and that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “approved and directed” “aspects” of the Kremlin’s influence campaign. It also found clear links between Trump’s campaign and Russia, concluding that Trump’s campaign manager had regular contact with a Russian intelligence officer and that other Trump associates were eager to take advantage of the Kremlin’s help.

Former Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who was tasked with further investigating Trump-Russia ties, found no criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, but concluded that Russian interference was “extensive and systematic.” . His investigations led to criminal charges against 34 people and three entities, including 26 Russians, Trump’s former campaign manager and national security adviser.

Trump officials did not respond to requests for comment. But Trump attorney Alina Habba defended his approach to Newsmax, telling the network more lawsuits were coming “soon.”

“We’ve filed another lawsuit shortly,” she said. “And anyone who tries to fabricate malicious stories about him while he was president, prior to his presidency or now will be sued.”

Trump, meanwhile, has already used the files to anger his crowd at a rally in Georgia on Saturday night.

“To defend myself against the relentless hoaxes and lies of this corrupt establishment, I filed a historic lawsuit this week to hold them accountable for the Russia-Russia-Russia hoax,” Trump said to jubilation. His mention of Clinton drew particularly loud applause and a revival of the “Lock her up!” Vocals, which were a defining feature of his 2016 campaign.

Aside from serving as a useful political bludgeon, Trump’s efforts, which come as he contemplates another run for the White House, could lend credibility to the campaign’s grievances, said Stephen Gillers, a professor of legal ethics at New York University.

“For the unwitting public, the fact that grievances are repackaged as legal rights lends additional credence to the credibility of those grievances,” Gillers said of political victimization in a different form. But the public, by and large, does not pay attention to the validity of the claims.”

Last year, Trump took similar action, filing lawsuits against three of the country’s biggest tech companies and claiming he and other conservatives were unfairly censored after his accounts were suspended.

It’s a tactic Trump has used time and time again.

In the real estate, casino and other industries where the former president has made and lost fortunes, Trump’s use of lawsuits as a business weapon has been legendary. He sued or threatened to sue contractors, business partners, tax authorities and the media.

“Trump loved to sue, especially parties that couldn’t afford legal defense,” said Barbara Res, a former longtime executive-turned-critic at the Trump Organization. She said one legal tactic he often resorted to was the “pre-emptive strike” suit to weaken rivals and make it appear that he was the injured party before they acted.

“Trump’s perception, and that of many people, is that the first person to sue has a legitimate complaint,” Res said.

When Trump defaulted on a gigantic loan from Deutsche Bank for his Chicago hotel and condo tower during the 2008 financial crisis, he didn’t wait to be sued. Instead, he filed a complaint accusing the lender of “predatory lending practices” that tarnished its reputation and helped start the global depression.

Instead of paying the bank, he argued, the bank should pay him.

It was a novel argument and one that ultimately succeeded. Deutsche Bank eventually forgave some of his loan and granted him hundreds of millions of dollars in new credit over the coming years.

As a New York Times columnist prepared to write about the effort, he received a message from one of Trump’s attorneys: “Please rest assured that we will have no choice but to sue you if your article fails.” is factually correct.”

For many journalists, it’s a familiar threat, raised in voice and repeated for emphasis.

“We will sue you! We’re going to sue you!” a Trump attorney yelled at Associated Press journalists in a 2016 phone interview about Trump University and other defunct Trump ventures.

Trump learned his attack dog legal tactics from one of his early legal advisers, the late Roy Cohn, the disfellowshipped attorney who made his name as a prosecutor in the communist spy case Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, which sent the couple to the electric chair at the time as Senator Joe’s advisers McCarthy during the Red Scare hearings.

Under Cohn, Trump sued the Justice Department after it brought a case against the Trump Organization over housing discrimination in the early 1970s. The Trump Organization finally made up its mind and admitted no guilt.

In the years that followed, the casework did not diminish.

A USA Today investigation found that Trump has been involved in at least 3,500 lawsuits over the course of three decades — more than five other top US homeowners combined. In more than half of the cases, Trump was the one who sued.

The legal battle continued while Trump was in the White House. In a desperate and futile attempt to stay in power, Trump and his allies filed dozens of baseless lawsuits over the 2020 election results. Judges repeatedly said the plaintiffs had failed to prove fraud or wrongdoing.

Trump had made his intentions clear before all the votes were counted.

“We’re going to go to the US Supreme Court,” he said during a 2:30 a.m. appearance after polling stations closed.

“He is exceptionally belligerent, many of which are used not to win but to frustrate the opposing party by causing financial difficulties,” said Trump’s former opponent-turned-fixer Michael Cohen, who was jailed for killing him paid hush money to a porn star who claimed he was having an affair with Trump and lied to Congress about a proposed Trump skyscraper in Moscow.

When Trump wins — as he did last week in a case involving porn star Stormy Daniels — Cohen said, “It emboldens him to continue this litigation rampage for alternative purposes.”

The suits have proven beneficial in other ways. Trump spent more than a year and a half fighting efforts by then-Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. to obtain copies of his tax returns, taking the case all the way to the Supreme Court. While Trump ultimately failed, his delaying tactics dragged the case out so long that Vance, who was close to filing charges, was replaced by a successor who is said to have all but closed the case.

Even the family is not immune.

In September, Trump sued his estranged niece, Mary Trump, and the New York Times over a 2018 story that challenged Trump’s claims of self-made wealth by documenting how his father Fred gave him at least $413 million over the decades had, including through tax avoidance schemes. Trump’s lawsuit, filed in state court in New York, accused Mary Trump of violating a settlement agreement by disclosing the recordings to the newspaper’s reporters.

Mary Trump’s attorney, Ted Boutrous, wrote in a March 11 letter to the court that Trump’s lawsuit “was brought to punish Mary Trump and suppress public interest speech about the former president.”


Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Michael Sisak contributed to this report.

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