Trump’s lawsuit against Clinton is part of a long-running legal strategy

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NEW YORK (AP) — When a Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic slammed Donald Trump’s plans for a new skyscraper in Manhattan, Trump responded by suing. When tenants of a building he was trying to clean up sued to stop their evictions, Trump retaliated by filing a lawsuit against the law firm. representing tenants. And when an author said the former president was worth far less than he claimed, Trump again sued.

So when Trump filed a sprawling lawsuit last week accusing his 2016 rival Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party of conspiring to sink his winning presidential campaign by alleging ties to Russia – renewing one of his oldest perceived slights – it was no surprise.

Trump has spent decades turning political and personal grievances into lawsuits. Throughout his business and political career, he has used the courts as a forum to voice his complaints and as a tool to intimidate opponents, smear their reputations and attempt to attract media attention.

“It’s part of his pattern of using the law to punish his enemies, as a weapon, as something it was never intended to be,” said James D. Zirin, a former federal prosecutor at Manhattan and author of the book “Plaintiff in Chief,” which details Trump’s legal history. “For him, litigation was a way of life.”

Trump’s latest trial returns to a familiar grievance: that Democrats in 2016 concocted fictitious claims that his campaign colluded with Russia and that the FBI consequently conducted a “baseless” investigation.

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

It also draws on the work of Special Counsel John Durham, citing as defendants the three people – a cybersecurity attorney, a former FBI attorney and a Russian analyst – who have been charged in the criminal investigation.

Trump, in the suit, portrays himself as the victim of a massive racketeering conspiracy that the FBI officials conducting the investigation knew was “based on a false and contrived premise.”

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

It is well established by a Justice Department Inspector General’s investigation that the FBI made mistakes and missteps in the Russia investigation that Trump may seek to seize if his trial progresses. But Russia meddled in the 2016 elections.

US intelligence agencies concluded in January 2017 that Russia had launched a massive influence campaign aimed at helping Trump defeat Clinton. And the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee, after three years of investigation, confirmed those findings., saying intelligence officials had specific information that Russia favored Trump and that Russian President Vladimir Putin had “endorsed and directed aspects” of the Kremlin’s influence campaign. He also found clear links between Trump’s campaign and Russia, concluding that Trump’s campaign chairman had regular contact with a Russian intelligence officer. and that other Trump associates were eager to tap into Kremlin aid.

Former special counsel Robert Mueller, tasked with further investigating Trump’s ties to Russia, did not establish a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign, but concluded Russian interference was “radical.” and systematic. His investigation resulted in criminal charges against 34 people and three entities, including 26 Russians, Trump’s former campaign chairman and national security adviser.

Representatives for Trump did not respond to requests for comment. But Trump lawyer Alina Habba defended her approach on Newsmax, telling the network that more lawsuits would be coming “soon.”

“We have another complaint being filed shortly,” she said. “And anyone who tries to make up malicious stories about him while he was president, before his presidency or now will be prosecuted.”

Trump, meanwhile, was already using the dossier to annoy his crowds at a rally in Georgia on Saturday night.

“To combat 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 cheers. Her mention of Clinton drew particularly loud applause and a rhyme of “Lock her up!” singing which was a defining feature of his 2016 campaign.

Besides serving as a useful political cudgel, Trump’s effort, which comes as he mulls another run for the White House, could lend the imprimatur of credibility to campaign grievances, Stephen Gillers said. , professor of legal ethics at New York University.

“For the oblivious public, having grievances repackaged as legal claims adds credence to the strength of those grievances,” Gillers said. “Anyone who pays attention to what is happening in the courts will be able to see through these claims as claims of political victimization in another form. But the public as a whole does not pay attention to the validity of the claims.

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

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

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

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

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

Indeed, when Trump defaulted on a giant Deutsche Bank loan for his Chicago hotel and apartment tower during the 2008 financial crisis, he didn’t wait to be sued. Instead, he filed a lawsuit accusing the lender of “predatory lending practices” that damaged his reputation and helped spark the global depression.

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

It was a new argument and one that finally succeeded. Deutsche Bank ended up forgoing part of his loan, then gave him hundreds of millions of dollars in new loans in the coming years.

As a New York Times columnist was about to write about the effort, he received a note from one of Trump’s lawyers: “Rest assured that if your article is not factually correct, we will not We’ll have no choice but to sue you.”

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

“We will pursue you! We will pursue you! a Trump attorney shouted to Associated Press reporters in a phone interview about Trump University and other defunct Trump businesses in 2016.

Trump learned his attack dog legal tactics from one of his earliest legal advisers, the late Roy Cohn, the disbarred attorney who made a name for himself as a prosecutor in the communist spy case Julius and Ethel Rosenberg who sent husband and wife to the electric chair, then as an aide to Senator Joe McCarthy during the Red Scare hearings.

Under Cohn, Trump countersued the Justice Department after it sued the Trump Organization in the early 1970s for housing discrimination. The Trump Organization eventually settled, admitting no guilt.

In the years that followed, the cases never stopped.

A USA Today survey found that Trump had been involved in at least 3,500 court cases over three decades – more than five other major US real estate owners combined. In more than half of the cases, Trump was the one who filed the complaint.

The litigation continued while Trump was in the White House. In a desperate and futile bid to stay in power, Trump and his allies have filed dozens of baseless lawsuits challenge the results of the 2020 election. Judges have repeatedly said plaintiffs have failed to prove fraud or misconduct.

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

“We will go to the Supreme Court of the United States,” he said in a 2:30 a.m. appearance after the polls closed.

“He is exceptionally litigious, much of which is not set up to win but rather to frustrate the opposing side by causing financial hardship,” said former Trump opponent Michael Cohen, who went to jail. for silently paying money to a porn star who alleged an affair with Trump, as well as lying to Congress about a Trump skyscraper project in Moscow.

When Trump wins – like he did last week in a case involving porn star Stormy Daniels – Cohen said, “It emboldens her to pursue this litigation rampage for alternative ends.”

The combinations have proven beneficial in other ways. Trump spent more than a year and a half fight off 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. Although Trump was ultimately unsuccessful, his stalling tactics dragged the case out so long that Vance, who was about to seek an indictment, was replaced by a successor who allegedly almost 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, 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 records to newspaper reporters.

Mary Trump’s lawyer, Ted Boutrous, wrote in a March 11 letter to the court that Trump’s lawsuit was “introduced to punish Mary Trump and to chill public interest speeches about the former president. “.

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

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