The investigation came to a head recently when Trump — who failed in his lawsuit to stop the investigation — refused to answer questions under oath in a deposition, invoking his Fifth Amendment rights hundreds of times.
“No one in this country gets to pick and choose how the law applies to them, and Donald Trump is no exception,” James said in May. “However, as we have said, we will continue this investigation without giving up.”
James, 63, is no stranger to tensions with powerful political figures. It was the result of an investigation into sexual harassment allegations against former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo — a fellow Democrat who won his ticket when he was elected attorney general in 2018 — that ultimately led to his resignation in August 2021. Like Trump, he has since been bombarded with accusations of political partisanship. Last week, he filed an ethics complaint against James over his handling of the investigation, which was conducted by outside lawyers and confirmed the claims of many former employees.
Although James has been mostly silent when it comes to Cuomo, except to defend the integrity of his job, his barb has been consistent. Early last year, his office released a damning report that revealed his administration had underestimated the number of Covid-19 deaths in nursing homes in the early stages of the pandemic — a major blow to Cuomo’s image as a pandemic-era truth-teller.
James has been more direct in his criticism of Trump, especially during the 2018 campaign for attorney general.
“We are angrier and more deeply divided than at any time in our history since the Civil War. And in the eye of the storm is Donald Trump, tearing families apart, threatening women’s most basic rights,” James said. Video produced by NowThis News. “I’m running for attorney general because I will never be afraid to challenge this illegitimate president when our basic rights are at stake.”
Trump has sought to use that statement and others, including a pledge to “focus on Donald Trump” and “follow his money” in the 2018 debate, to argue that his investigation was politically motivated. Trump, in highlighting those remarks, ignored his assertion — at the same event — that anyone in his position should “follow the facts and follow the evidence.”
After testifying in the current case, Trump called James — who was present — a “renegade prosecutor” and labeled the probe “vindictive.”
Trump’s lawyer doubled down on that message in response to the lawsuit James announced Wednesday.
“Today’s filing is focused on neither the facts nor the law, but is focused solely on advancing the Attorney General’s political agenda,” said Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, denying any wrongdoing by the former president.
A long-time political figure
Before his rise to become the state’s attorney general, James established himself as a leading progressive political figure in New York. A graduate of Howard University Law School, he worked as a Legal Aid attorney and Assistant State Attorney General in Brooklyn. He won his first election to the New York City Council in 2003, running on the ballot of the Working Families Party, a progressive organization that was created to act as a check on the New York Democratic Party, but has since become. a national group that supports liberal candidates across the country.
New York City Comptroller Brad Lander was an early activist for the Working Families Party and served on the board with James. He remains a fan and, in an interview last year, described James as a progressive champion who predicted many national leaders on the left wing of the Democratic Party.
“Long before the AOC or Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren, long before Bill de Blasio — this was someone who was really speaking with an energetic progressive energy and integrity,” Lander told CNN, recalling his defense of developers. ‘push to gentrify Brooklyn.
Lupe Todd-Medina also profiled James, who has worked as a campaign communications consultant for top New York officials, including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Cuomo in 2018 and Gov. Kathy Hochul. Although she and James did not always agree ideologically, Todd-Medina praised James’ courage and personal political loyalty.
“As he’s progressed in his career, he’s always kept the door open. That’s a testament to him and his values, his ethics,” said Todd-Medina. “It says a lot because it comes back to, we’re all these black women in this space together and we kind of have to take care of each other.”
But, Todd-Medina added, that desire should not be confused with doubt or weakness when it comes to doing his job.
“I wouldn’t mess with him,” Todd-Medina said. “I think she’s beautiful, and I wouldn’t mess with her.”
James was elected New York City Attorney in 2013, replacing de Blasio, who won his first term as mayor that year. Both were overwhelmingly re-elected in 2017 and James seemed on track to follow de Blasio again when term limits ended his mayoralty last year.
But at the start of his second term as attorney general, in May 2018, New York’s political order was turned upside down when then-Attorney General Eric Schneiderman was hit with a slew of sex and domestic allegations. He quickly resigned, and James soon announced his candidacy to replace him.
A month later, in the 2018 terms, James became the first black person and woman elected to win statewide office. That it came after he traded endorsements with Cuomo confused some on the left, who clashed repeatedly with the former governor during his years in office. However, his ties to the progressive movement in New York remained strong and, after Cuomo’s resignation, the left had a chance to become governor this year.
This February, James spoke at the state party convention where he accepted their unofficial nomination.
“When I was elected attorney general,” he said, “I vowed to act without fear or favor to hold those in power accountable, Republican or Democrat, in the public or private sector.”
The field of leading candidates vying for the job was cleared after the decision to run for re-election, and James won the nomination for a second term unopposed in June.