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Trump Legal News: Moby Dick

Led Zeppelin's John Bonham, who is the featured instrumentalist on "Moby Dick," was famous for being able to extend drum solos longer than any other drummer. Donald Trump is famous for being able to extend court cases longer than any other defendant. If you feel that a song that references a book about a great white whale has any other connections to Trump, that is up to you.

Yesterday's Trump legal news actually went against the usual grain when it comes to the former president and litigation. To start, Trump's legal team advised Judge Scott McAfee that they will not try to move the Georgia election interference case to federal court. If they did plan to make such a request, the deadline for it was 5:00 p.m. today.

Here is the rational reason for this decision: Several of Trump's Georgia co-defendants already tried to move their cases to federal court and failed. And by "failed," we mean "remember the Hindenburg" level failure. The rulings in these cases made clear that the defendants were not within a country mile of securing the decisions they wanted. That includes former Trump chief-of-staff Mark Meadows, whose argument for removal most closely approximates the one Trump would have made. Since Trump was likely to join his co-defendants in losing, and since every Hail Mary pass a legal team throws causes the judge to take the next Hail Mary pass a little less seriously, there was wisdom in not wasting a bullet here tilting at windmills. If we may mix our metaphors for a moment.

So that is the rational reason. Why Team Trump made this decision, we do not know. Maybe Trump's lawyers laid it out to him, and said that fighting for removal was a dumb play. Maybe he has decided that the more times a judge says "no" to him, the worse he looks. Truth be told, if we had to guess, we would speculate that Trump is starting to get nervous about money, and that he might start clamping down on longshot motions that cost him five figures to produce and file, and that have virtually no chance of being successful.

And now that we're on the subjects of Trump's finances and of failed motions, that brings us to the other big story from yesterday. Trump did not try to remove his New York (civil) fraud case, since there is no argument for doing so. But he did try to delay it. And yesterday, the appellate court issued one of the shortest legal rulings we've ever seen. The executive summary: "Hmmm. No." The actual ruling isn't much longer than that. This means that, barring some sort of last-second "Trump miracle," the case will proceed on Monday.

We have noted that New York State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled summarily against Trump and his sons on one count, finding that they are guilty of fraud. We've also noted that in the case that will go to trial next week, New York AG Letitia James is seeking a fine of $250 million, which is a chunk of change. That said, we really should emphasize how much financial peril the former president is in. If he is unable to get Engoron's order overturned (and the case against the Trumps is rock solid), or if he loses on the other counts, Trump will be unable to do business in New York and will have to divest himself of his New York properties, like Trump Tower. The Trump Organization, which is incorporated in New York, will be badly wounded, and may collapse. The same is true of at least a dozen other LLCs, and God (and Mazars) only know how many S-Corps.

Meanwhile, the fine that James is seeking is actually a baseline. Experts who have looked at the case, and who have watched similar cases in the past, guess that the final hit could be something more like $500-$750 million. Even if you believe Trump really is a billionaire (and many do not), he certainly doesn't have that kind of cash laying around. And this is before we consider that he'd have to pay up right at the time that his business empire would be crumbling into dust.

Trump's criminal cases get more attention because they threaten his freedom as a citizen. But our guess is that, at least at the moment (thanks to the power of positive delusion), the former president is most worried about the New York case, because it threatens him as Trump the tycoon. Of course, if Trump the tycoon is broke, or nearly so, it will be rather harder to pay the bills needed for lawyers to protect Trump the citizen. Which goes back to why he might be putting the brakes on moderately expensive legal longshots. (Z)

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