For weeks, months and some years to come, the world might be constrained to harbour their thoughts of the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump, who left office on January 20, a remarkable day in the US and many other countries.
Trump was a president like no other. What with the ease with which he abused people with dissenting views, including fellow world leaders, journalists and former appointees, his (provocative) utterances, impulsive behaviour, idiosyncrasies, divisive tweets, the way he trivialised very serious matters and many things people described as unpresidential about him.
To many Americans and millions others outside their borders, no US President has caused such a momentous disruption to the smooth running of the country like Trump did as his pastime. His actions did not only make a mockery of the reputation and ideals the US had built for itself over the years, the biggest economy and biggest democracy in the world also became a laughing stock among nations that used to hold it as a primus inter pares, all during Trump’s infrequent presidency.
Meanwhile, Trump is equally a man of many firsts. Apart from being the first US President without experience in government or public office, he is also the first to be impeached twice and more strikingly, the first occupant of the White House to assume such an exalted office with an unprecedented assortment of lawsuits, numbering about 3,500. His litigiousness was virtually unrivalled.
As a man reported to be notable for beating the system, like refusing to disclose his financial and tax information, manipulating or weaponising the legal process to ward off critics and government agencies could have become something he did for amusement. Trump was said to have learnt such tactics from his late lawyer, Roy Cohn, who was eventually disbarred for various infractions.
A former US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, James D. Zirin, made a book of Trump’s many lawsuits over a period of 45 years. In the book titled, ‘Plaintiff in Chief: A Portrait of Donald Trump in 3,500 lawsuits’, published in 2019, Zirin said Trump had in the last 40 years sued all kinds of people and organisations for all kinds of reasons.
He said in the book, “Trump saw litigation as being only about winning. He sued at the drop of a hat. He sued for sport; he sued to achieve control; and he sued to make a point. He sued as a means of destroying or silencing those who crossed him. He became a plaintiff in chief.”
In his interview with Robin Lindley, a US-based writer with History News Network, after the book was published, Zirin said, “I knew he had been sued a number of times. And I knew that he had been a plaintiff an extraordinary number of times. He sued journalists. He sued small businesspeople for using the Trump name. He sued women who he was involved with. He sued his wives even after a divorce, both Ivana and Marla Maples.”
In the interview, Zirin also stressed that Trump sees litigation as being only about winning, adding that he was fond of exploiting the limitations in the law for his personal interest.
Noticeably, Trump demonstrated this after he lost the November 3, 2020 election to Joe Biden, the then Democratic candidate and now the incumbent President. After suffering a defeat, Trump and his allies, seeking to overturn Biden’s victory in states where he (Trump) lost, filed no fewer than 62 lawsuits in various courts. Without delay, most of the cases were dismissed by judges that were appointed by both Democratic and Republican governors and Presidents.
For example, before he became President, Trump once sued a family for naming their small travel agency ‘Trump Travel’. Even though the family won the case, they spent their life savings in defending it.
Zirin said, “They used Trump Travel because they were selling a bridge tour for people who play bridge, and “trump” is a bridge term. Also, like ‘Ace Hardware,’ they thought ‘Trump’ keynoted excellence. This was a little storefront travel agency in a small Long Island community. Trump had never been in the travel business and he never had any business involvement in Long Island, but he sued them. At the end of the day, they were allowed to continue to use the name Trump Travel, but they had to make the lettering a little smaller.”
In yet another incident, Trump sued a South African family, named Trump, ostensibly for using his name. The family had a highly successful pharmaceutical business, and despite the fact that Trump had never been in that line of business, he dragged them to court over the name. The case was eventually thrown out and the family was allowed to keep using the name.
In 2005, Trump was said to have taken a $500m loan from a German financial institution, Deutsche Bank AG, to build a mixed-use hotel and condominium in Chicago. An American journalist, Timothy O’Brien, in an article on Bloomberg noted that when they began selling the unit apartments in 2008, the sale was low and when the financial crisis worsened, which limited his ability to repay the loan, Trump sued the bank for $3bn instead of looking for ways to pay his debt. He claimed that his lender was at fault given its involvement in the financial crisis. The matter was eventually resolved after the bank countersued.
In 1990, O’Brien pointed out that a financial analyst, Marvin Roffman, told journalists that a new Trump casino in Atlantic City, named the Taj Mahal, may not be profitable because of too much debt. Trump reportedly threatened to sue Roffman’s employer for the statement or they should promptly sack Roffman. Though Roffman countersued, Taj eventually went bankrupt. Trump would later blame a market in the city for being responsible for his bankruptcy.
Perhaps, Trump also likes to sue for pleasure, as he once sued O’Brien for writing that his net worth was overstated. Zirin pointed out that Trump lied 32 times and the case was eventually dismissed because the defense was able to show that he indeed overstated his net worth.
O’Brien pointed out that sometime in 1984, Trump planned to erect a 150-storey building on the West side of Manhattan in New York when an architectural critic for the Chicago Tribune, Paul Gapp, remarked that the building would be an eyesore.
Even though the building had yet to be built, Trump sued him for libel, saying he described the planned building as an “an atrocious, ugly monstrosity”, which Gapp never did. The suit was dismissed eventually but the newspaper spent a whopping $60,000 to defend itself. At the end, the skyscraper was never built, but Trump blamed it on New York, its mayor and the residents.
The Bloomberg article again pointed out that Trump, his father and their real estate company once countersued the US Department of Justice in 1973 for $100m when it sued them for violating the Fair Housing Act and discriminating against prospective renters who wanted apartments in Trump buildings. They eventually settled out of court but the government later took them to court for failing to comply with the settlement.
Even after having thousands of cases previously, Trump sustained his litigiousness after he became the President.
For example, in 2019, Trump sued his personal accounting firm, Mazars USA, for its readiness to honour the subpoena issued by the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Reform, which demanded financial information pertaining to him and his affiliated businesses. The subpoena was blocked and the matter went up to the Supreme Court.
Beyond being sued, Trump and sometimes alongside his family members had been sued for different misdemeanour. For example, in 2018, the New York Attorney General sued the Donald J. Trump Foundation, Trump himself and their adult children for allegedly engaging in extensive unlawful political conduct and Trump himself for using the foundation’s funds to settle personal debts and to support his presidential campaign. The suit sought for $2.8m in restitution and the dissolution of the foundation.
While some of the cases have been dispensed with, some are still ongoing. Meanwhile, on Thursday, a day after he vacated the oval office, House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said she expected Trump’s trial to begin soon at the Senate so that he wouldn’t receive a “get out of jail card” simply because he had left office.
The trial, which necessitated Trump’s second impeachment by the House, was because he allegedly incited the January 6 riot at the Capitol over the certification of Biden as the President-elect. The riot left five persons, including a police officer, dead.
Pelosi, a Democrat, said at a press conference, “It (the trial) will be soon. I don’t think it will be long. But we must do it. I will be talking with the managers as to when the Senate will be ready for the trial of the then-president of the United States for his role in instigating an insurrection on the Capitol of the United States, on our democracy, to undermine the will of the people.”
Thus, Now that he is out of office and has returned to a private life, there are indications that the former President may have some legal issues and lawsuits to contend with.
Sharing his thoughts on Trump’s post-presidency life, a former Nigerian Ambassador to France and Monaco, Mr Akin Fayomi, said with Trump’s alleged garrulous nature, he wasn’t surprised about his debts and litigation, especially as a businessman, adding that Trump might continue to be preoccupied with his lawsuits in a bid to manage his reputation.
Fayomi, who is also a former Undersecretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said, “He would have to hire lawyers and make his defences. The Republicans in the Senate, who used to be the majority, have said they would give him some weeks before continuing with the impeachment trial. All these might take him some years to deal with. So, post-presidency, he would be engaged with all these litigation that have trailed his past.
“I read a book by his former lawyer (Michael Cohen) who was even sent to prison, even though he has come back now. He cited an example where he (Trump) cheated an old widow, who was their family friend. Trump bought their property at about one-tenth of the price, renovated it and sold it at a huge price, instead of lending the woman some money at least.
“So, he has always been a ‘sharp’ businessman, who was always ready to outsmart anyone. He even treated the presidency like a business. So, post-presidency, there is no doubt that he would be occupied with litigation and he would try to manage his reputation and redeem himself.”
Asked if he could be jailed if indicted over the riot at the Capitol, Fayomi said he could but that he would always fight back.
He added, “When you are no longer a president, you still enjoy some immunity, but I don’t think it includes immunity from prosecution. Some people were of the view that the House didn’t need to go ahead with the second impeachment since he would leave office in a few days, but they wanted it to be on record.
“So, if the Senate does the same, he could still be impeached despite that he has left office. That would mean he has lost everything he is entitled to as a former President. That is why he is going to fight it, because he knows it would mean losing his place in history.
“But he can be jailed and some people would want that, but it depends on his offence. The chances are slim but it’s not impossible. It would be nice to see Trump go through the process because he gave so much trouble to the whole world. Therefore, let us see how he would wriggle himself out of it as a canny businessman.”
Also, a lawyer and public affairs analyst, Mr Liborous Oshoma, said Trump behaved like some African businessmen and politicians who always run to court for everything, whether to shortchange their opponents or delay justice. He said his many lawsuits have exposed the inadequacies of the American system and the lack of adequate understanding by some educated persons.
He, however, noted that what had helped the American system to withstand the excesses of people like Trump was the independence of institutions, in which case Republican judges dismissed his post-election cases.
Speaking on the likely outcome of the post-impeachment trial that might soon begin at the Senate, Oshoma said Trump would have some legal issues to contend with, even though he would fight back.
He added, “Though the new President, Biden, is preaching reconciliation, forgiveness and the need to build bridges, they would (still) want to ensure that America does not experience a recurrence of a Trump era. Why they probably want to go ahead with the trial is to ensure that his record is dented, make sure he is convicted and ensure that he wouldn’t be able to stand for reelection sometime later.
“Is it not interesting that Trump could still garner 71 million votes despite all he did?” he queried.
“In his farewell speech, he promised to come back in some form. That is figurative. So, they won’t want to create an opportunity for him to come back having almost destroyed all the democratic structures and ideals they stood for and preached to the rest of the world,” Oshoma added.
He said 2021 would be interesting for Trump as it would be seen whether he would be prosecuted or the American system may not want their former President humiliated. “They might charge him and he would go for plea bargaining and that would end the matter,” he added.
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