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Donald Trump launched a pre-emptive strike against New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is investigating his business practices, just before he took the Fifth Amendment during a deposition. Here’s the context behind the sound bites he used against her.
Just before former President Donald Trump invoked the Fifth Amendment and refused to answer questions from lawyers for New York Attorney General Letitia James, he released a video that suggests James has long had it out for him.
"Abusing the attorney general’s office to attack President Trump" read the words across the 24-second video shared on social media Aug. 10, just before Trump went into a deposition in New York City.
The video played five James sound bites, all from statements James made before she was elected in 2018. Trump and his allies circulated the sound bites earlier this year.
They show James eyed her investigation of Trump and the Trump Organization before she was elected, vowing to sue him and saying he had laundered money.
James began the investigation in March 2019, less than three months after taking office.
Here’s a look at the sound bites and their context.
James: "Oh, we’re going to definitely sue him. We’re going to be a real pain in the ass."
The clip is from a video posted Nov. 7, 2018, the day after James was elected, on the Instagram account of Adina Miles-Sash, a community activist who ran for New York City Council in 2019. In the video, which was apparently recorded before the election, Miles-Sash and James stand together at a gathering and look into the camera.
This was the relevant exchange:
Miles-Sash: "What would you say to people who say, ‘I’m not going to bother to register to vote because my voice doesn’t make a difference?’, or ‘I’m just one person.’"
James: "I say one name: Donald Trump. That should motivate you. Get off your ass and vote."
Miles-Sash: "Will you sue him for us?"
James: "Oh, we’re going to definitely sue him. We’re going to be a real pain in the ass. He’s going to know my name personally."
James: "I will never be afraid to challenge this illegitimate president."
James made that statement in a nearly 3½-minute video she posted Sept. 12, 2018, on NowThisNews.com, a politically progressive social media-focused news organization.
The headline was, "Why Letitia James Wants to Take on Donald Trump as New York's Attorney General." James opened the video by saying:
"America is in uncharted territory. We are angrier and more deeply divided than we’ve ever been at any point in our history since the Civil War. And at the eye of the storm is Donald Trump, ripping families apart, threatening women’s most basic rights. I’m running for attorney general because I will never be afraid to challenge this illegitimate president when our fundamental rights are at stake. From the Muslim ban, to efforts to deport immigrants, to denying transgender students the ability to choose whatever bathroom they want, rolling back regulations to protect our planet, colluding with foreign powers, putting profits over people, dividing us in ways we haven’t seen in generations."
James: "We need to focus on Donald Trump. We need to follow his money."
This was part of a response to a question asked of James and other Democratic New York attorney general candidates during a Sept. 16, 2018, debate.
The question: "What is your view of the proper basis required to start an investigation of a person or a corporation or a nonprofit? How much smoke, if any, does there need to be? And how do you guard against a rush to judgment against someone, whether it’s an average, unknown New Yorker or Donald Trump and his associates?"
James said attorneys general should be "following the facts and following the evidence," and that "simply opening up an investigation can ruin lives. And so with respect to Donald Trump, we need to follow his money. We need to find out where he’s laundered money. We need to find out whether or not he’s engaged in conspiracies and whether or not he’s colluded not only with (Russian President Vladimir) Putin, but also with China, as well. We all know that 10 years ago, he was almost bankrupt; most domestic banks were not lending him any money. Where did he get all of the money to purchase his real estate holdings and all of his golf courses? And all of those transactions have happened here in New York City, which is why the next attorney general is absolutely critical."
James: "What is fueling my soul right now is Trump."
James made that remark during her opening statement of an Aug. 28, 2018, debate with the Democratic candidates.
"And what we need now, more than ever, is an experienced attorney general. I’m a former public defender, a former assistant attorney general, a former city council member and now the public advocate of the city of New York. And what is fueling this campaign, what is fueling my soul right now, is Trump and his abuses, abuses against immigrants, against women, against our environment. We need an attorney general who will stand up to Donald Trump. We need an attorney general who will combat corruption both in Albany and in Washington."
James: "Illegitimate president … I look forward to going into the office of attorney general every day, suing him and then going home."
James made this comment during a speech July 19, 2018, to the Bronx Democratic Party in New York City, according to a nearly two-minute video she posted to Facebook. In the video, she ended her speech by saying:
"As the next attorney general, I see the law as a sword and as a shield to protect those who are vulnerable, because no one is above the law, including this illegitimate president. And so, I look forward to going into the office of attorney general every day, suing him, defending your rights and then going home."
Trump played a video with the same James clips he used in his Aug. 10 video at an Arizona Republican Party rally on Jan. 18, according to a transcript from CQ Transcriptions. Trump’s son Eric tweeted a video with some of the sound bites on Jan. 27. The sound bites also appeared in a video posted Jan. 10 on Facebook by the politically conservative website Newsmax.
Following congressional testimony by Trump’s convicted former lawyer Michael Cohen, James opened a civil investigation to explore whether "Trump’s annual financial statements inflated the values of Trump’s assets to obtain favorable terms for loans and insurance coverage, while also deflating the value of other assets to reduce real estate taxes."
In a statement Trump issued Aug. 10 that cited some of his video’s sound bites, he said, "I did nothing wrong" and he called James’ investigation "a vindictive and self-serving fishing expedition."
Two days earlier, the FBI executed a search warrant at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate. Multiple news reports connected that investigation to official documents brought from the White House to Mar-a-Lago. On Aug. 11, the Justice Department asked a Florida judge to unseal the warrant; on Aug. 12 it was unsealed.
PolitiFact staff researcher Caryn Baird and PolitiFact New York writer Jill Terreri Ramos contributed to this article.
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