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Analysis

Donald Trump has been called a fraud for years. N.Y.’s attorney general claims she can prove it.

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday that she is suing former president Donald Trump for fraudHIROKO MASUIKE/NYT

New York Attorney General Letitia James announced Wednesday that she is suing former president Donald Trump for fraud after her investigation found at least 200 instances when his company either inflated the value of his assets to secure better business loans and aid personal branding or lowered them to avoid taxes.

None of the civil allegations were related to Trump’s presidency, although James said in a news conference that it was unclear whether he personally signed off on fraudulent paperwork while president. On this matter, Trump reportedly invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 400 times when he was under oath this summer.

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The charges are not criminal, so Trump would not face jail time even if he is found of any wrongdoing. Instead, James is asking that Trump and his three grown children — Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Jr. — pay $250 million, lose their ability to conduct business in New York state, and be barred from securing any loan with banks that have ties to New York.

Since Trump is now a Florida resident (and probably few New Yorkers would be willing to do a deal with him anyway), that might not be that big of a deal.

However, unlike the five other ongoing legal investigations involving Trump, involving matters before and during his presidency, this lawsuit could well bother him the most.

After all, Trump has always been sensitive to any suggestion that he has not been as successful in business. He is famous for caring deeply about his ranking among Forbes Magazine’s richest individuals.

On Wednesday, James said that Trump ordered his accountant to make sure it appeared that he was constantly getting richer, regardless of the actual value of his assets. One of the details she zeroed in on was that Trump claimed his apartment in Trump Tower was three times larger than it was, making his penthouse the most expensive New York apartment ever. Trump knew this was false, James alleged, since he had intimate knowledge of everything about his building.

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The lawsuit is not likely to be resolved anytime soon. Trump is known for using every avenue to delay legal proceedings, as is his right. In the meantime, James says she was passing on the findings from her agency’s two-year investigation to the criminal departments of the Department of Justice and the Internal Revenue Service.

Yet, if used effectively, the actual numbers behind the alleged fraud might be very damaging politically for Trump, whose political rise was based largely on the premise that he was a wildly successful businessman who was looking out for the little guy.

The narrative James presented, by contrast, suggests he wasn’t nearly as successful as he claims and he was using tricks common among the uber-wealthy to secure better loans for himself.

After his presidency, these issues may be less salient. Take Utah Senator Mitt Romney: In 2016, he called Trump a personal fraud for the reasons James has now listed. But Romney and other critics now rank Trump’s efforts to undermine American democracy as a far more dangerous issue.

Nonetheless, while Trump is weighed down by this legal matter, other prominent Republicans are visiting Iowa and New Hampshire and looking past him. On Wednesday, a new Florida poll found that Governor Ron DeSantis led Trump for president in 2024 by eight points.

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James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.