ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Letitia James fixated on Donald Trump as she campaigned for New York attorney general, branding the then-president a “con man” and ″carnival barker” and pledging to shine a “bright light into every dark corner of his real estate dealings.”
Five years later, James is on the verge of disrupting Trump’s real estate empire after a judge ruled Tuesday that he defrauded banks, insurers and others by exaggerating the value of assets on paperwork used for deals and securing loans.
The ruling shifts control of some of Trump’s companies to a court-appointed receiver, meaning he could lose control of prized properties like Trump Tower, a sprawling suburban estate, office buildings and more.
For James, a Democrat, it’s just the latest joust with a powerful foe.
Here’s a look at her political background and some of her biggest cases:
James began investigating Trump just about as soon as she took office as attorney general in 2019.
She launched several lawsuits against the Republican’s administration over his immigration and environmental policies when he was in the White House. James inherited an ongoing state lawsuit against Trump’s charitable foundation, filed before she took office, and steered it to a settlement that included a $2 million fine.
She filed another civil lawsuit against Trump last year, alleging that his company deceived banks, insurers and others by overvaluing assets and his net worth on financial paperwork.
“It’s the art of the steal,” she said when announcing the case against Trump, turning the title of Trump’s book “The Art of the Deal” against him.
A judge in New York on Tuesday sided with James, ruling Trump and his company committed fraud and ordering some of his business licenses to be rescinded as punishment.
The ruling, if it stands after an expected appeal, could make it impossible for Trump to do business in New York and would strip him of the ability to make strategic and financial decisions over some of his properties in the state.
Trump has long criticized James’ legal volleys as political theater designed to catapult her to fame. He slammed the most recent ruling in a series of social media posts, calling it a “POLITICALLY MOTIVATED WITCH HUNT.”
The Republican has also complained that her comments about him, prior to her election, show she never intended to be fair.
In 2021, James oversaw an investigation of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who had been accused by multiple women of sexual harassment.
The inquiry led to a remarkable downfall for the once-rising star in the Democratic party. Lawyers hired by James concluded that 11 women were telling the truth when they said Cuomo touched them inappropriately, commented on their appearance or made suggestive comments about their sex lives.
Cuomo says he was the target of an overzealous #MeToo persecution and alleged that James used the investigation to further her own political aspirations.
James ran a brief campaign for governor after Cuomo resigned but abandoned the bid after a few weeks, saying she would instead seek a second term as attorney general. She has dismissed Cuomo’s claim that her investigation of him was motivated by politics.
Since 2020, James has been leading a lawsuit against the National Rifle Association in a case that accuses its leaders of financial mismanagement.
Her lawsuit accused some of the NRA’s leaders of using the gun advocacy group to enrich themselves and associates. As attorney general, James has regulatory power over tax-exempt nonprofits, and she cast the legal battle against the NRA as an effort to protect the organization from itself.
Critics, though, claimed James — a proponent of gun control — was trying to silence the nation’s strongest voice of gun owners.
She initially sought to have the NRA dissolved. A judge rejected that idea, but allowed the lawsuit to continue.
James won a 2018 election for attorney general in New York, becoming the first Black woman elected to statewide office, the state’s first Black attorney general and the first woman elected to the post. (A female predecessor, Barbara Underwood, was appointed.) She won reelection as attorney general in 2022 after ditching her short-lived campaign for governor.
Prior to that, James was the New York City Public Advocate, a role intended to help people navigate and resolve issues with government services and serve as a watchdog over City Hall.
The job made James a familiar fixture in the city, often appearing at crime scenes, news conferences and other events to amplify the concerns of city residents.
She has also served in the City Council and worked as a a public defender and an assistant state attorney general. She graduated from Lehman College in the Bronx and earned her law degree from Howard University in Washington.