Early in the 2024 GOP presidential primary, right-wing media established that attacking former President Donald Trump was essentially forbidden, especially when it came to his many alleged crimes. And after a summary judgment this week found that Trump repeatedly committed fraud for decades, the Trump family and conservative media are enforcing that foundational fact of the Republican primary once again.
On Tuesday, The Associated Press reported that Trump “consistently” committed fraud while amassing his real estate properties, according to a summary judgment in a civil suit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James. Judge Arthur Engoron “found that Trump and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and exaggerating his net worth on paperwork used in making deals and securing loans.”
A judge ruling that the former president defrauded banks and investors for decades should, in theory, be a crushing blow against Trump’s profile as a successful business genius and serve as fodder for his Republican primary opponents. Yet right-wing media have already begun sweeping the ruling under the rug, following the Trump family’s lead in downplaying the alleged fraud and raging against the judge and prosecutor.
Trump’s immediate response on his Truth Social platform set the tone. Originally in all capital letters, one part of his winding rant wound up getting repeated, first by his family and then by right-wing media: “The banks were paid back in full, sometimes early, there were no defaults, the banks made money, were represented by the best law firms, & were very ‘happy.’ There were no victims!”
On September 26, Lara Trump appeared on Newsmax’s Rob Schmitt Tonight to defend her father-in-law from the fraud ruling.
“It’s obvious what’s going on here,” Lara Trump said, getting ready to strike a familiar tone: “This is more persecution of our family” from James, who ran for attorney general “simply to take down Donald Trump, just like so many of these other woke Democrat DAs across the country.”
Lara Trump then launched into the same line of defense from her father-in-law’s Truth Social post, claiming that “there was no allegation by any bank that there was ever an issue” and “these banks made hundreds of millions of dollars thanks to the Trump Organization.”
“This will make no difference to Donald Trump either,” she promised, dismissing the impact the ruling could have on his ability to oversee his businesses.
On September 27, Newsmax’s Newsline hosted Donald Trump Jr. for an interview, with anchor Bianca de la Garza repeating several talking points directly from Trump’s Truth Social post:
- De la Garza complained that James “campaigned on getting Trump, we all remember that.”
- De la Garza characterized the Trump Organization as “a great company that is often maligned by this politically motivated witch hunt.”
- De la Garza asserted that “there were also disclaimers on all of these paperworks” that should shield Trump from liability.
During the segment, Trump Jr. complained that “the judge unilaterally decides the value of an asset,” arguing that Engoron had drastically undervalued his father’s properties in order to rule that he committed fraud.
“Mar-a-Lago is 20 acres on both the lake and the ocean in Palm Beach, Florida. A lot that’s 2.2 acres within about a half a mile of Mar-a-Lago right now, just vacant lot, not on the ocean, is on the market for $150 million. But Mar-a-Lago, that’s about 10 times the size of that land-wise, with one of the most spectacular homes anywhere in the world, yes, that’s only worth 18 [million dollars]. Because a judge unilaterally decided that. They disregarded all of the experts.”
Trump Jr. also repeated his family’s main point of defense: “There is no victim. The banks were paid back in full. They made interest. They frankly made a lot of profits, which is why we’re still, despite all of this insanity, able to work with banks. Because they understand we’re good credit, we run spectacular properties, we make them money, and we don’t default, but that doesnt matter in this day and age because Donald Trump decided to take on the establishment.”
Finally taking a breath, Trump Jr. reinforced another familiar defense: that everything bad that happens to Donald Trump is part of a politically motivated witch hunt.
“Letitia James, she ran a campaign before even being in office or seeing any actual evidence that she was going to get Trump.”
Right-wing media figures are also harping on the tried-and-true narrative of Trump as an innocent victim of a rigged justice system out to harm him for political reasons.
On Jesse Watters Primetime, as part of a segment previewing his network’s Trump-free GOP primary debate last night, Watters described James and Engoron as “savage partisans” while defending Mar-a-Lago’s property value as “the crown jewel of Billionaires’ Row” and decrying “Soviet-style prosecutions and property seizures.”
Nodding to Trump’s many legal troubles, Watters told the GOP hopefuls: “You have to lead Americans against injustice, whether you’re running against the victim of injustice or not.”
Another right-wing radio staple, Fox host Mark Levin, complained about the fraud ruling as another example of “the kind of Stalinism that Trump is contending with,” suggesting some kind of overarching conspiracy against him with the incredulous question, “Isn’t it amazing to you that he never wins a case? Is it because he’s just wrong all the time?”