Lying to voters may be immoral but it is not, mostly, illegal. For some politicians, Donald Trump most notably, it is de rigueur, part and parcel of a modus operandi that has served him well, with little legal comeback. But lying in business is illegal, often rising to the level of fraud, and it appears that the former US president is at last getting a comeuppance from the courts that will cost him dearly in cash terms, as well as reputationally.
“I call it truthful hyperbole,” he once boasted of his lies. “It’s an innocent form of exaggeration and a very effective form of promotion.” Not so, say the courts.
In a ruling this week, New York’s Justice Arthur Engoron held as fact that Trump, by illegally inflating the value of his properties to lenders and insurers to secure more favourable terms, committed fraud by as much as €2.0 billion. The former president now faces not only having to pay €240 million in damages, but could also lose properties like Trump Tower which are inextricably linked to his brand. Justice Engoron also took the unusual step of cancelling business certificates that allow some of Trump’s properties to operate.
Trump’s property empire could now collapse “like falling dominoes”, experts told the Guardian, and according to Michael Cohen, his former lawyer and fixer, Trump is already effectively “out of business”.
He continues to lead Republican primary polls by large margins, but also faces four other trials at federal and state level involving charges of plotting to retain power despite his defeat at the polls, disregard for the laws governing the handling of state documents, and a civil case over hush-money payments to a porn star.
His right even to stand in the presidential election is also being tested in Colorado where lawyers argue confidently that section 3 of the 14th amendment to the US constitution bars from federal office those who “shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion … or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof.” It is all surely an unprecedented legal assault.