COMMENTARY: Black Women Holding Trump Accountable

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Ben Jealous
Ben Jealous, Pres., People for the American Way

By Ben Jealous

Former President Donald Trump has spent a lifetime getting away with things. Rich and willing to use an army of lawyers to defend his abuses and bully people he has wronged into submission, Trump is a prime example of the inequities in our justice system.

But that could all be changing, thanks to two courageous Black women who are not intimidated by his insults and public bullying.

One of them is New York Attorney General Letitia “Tish” James. She has been leading an investigation into a “staggering” amount of financial fraud she charges that Trump has committed over the years.

After trying everything he could to avoid it, Trump appeared in her office in August to answer questions. But the only question he answered was about his name. For every other question—more than 400 other times—he invoked his right under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment to avoid incriminating himself.

In September, after interviewing dozens of people and reviewing millions of pages of documents, James’s office filed a lawsuit against Trump and his three adult children who have been in business with him—Ivanka, Don Jr., and Eric. The suit asks them to forfeit $250 million in ill-gotten gains and seeks to prevent them from doing business in New York for the immediate future. She told a reporter that the lawsuit shows how Trump repeatedly lied about the value of his properties “to unjustly enrich himself and to cheat the system, thereby cheating all of us.”

Trump responded in his typical fashion. He called James a “racist.” He called her investigation “the greatest witch hunt in the history of the country.”

Now, anyone who has followed Trump’s interactions with Black women who call him on his…stuff…knows that this is part of a pattern with Black women who see through him and aren’t afraid to speak truth.

Trump’s disgusting record of insulting and smearing activists like Stacey Abrams, public officials like Vice President Kamala Harris, Rep. Maxine Waters and Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser—and journalists like April Ryan, Abby Phillips, and Yamiche Alcindor—was recently reviewed by Kaly Holloway for The Daily Beast, which said that James’s lawsuit “is bringing the ex-president’s racism and sexism back into the spotlight.”

James is not the only fearless Black woman seeking to hold Trump accountable. In Georgia, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis is conducting a criminal investigation of Team Trump’s efforts to overturn the results of the presidential election in Georgia.

Remember that phone call a few days before the attack on the Capitol? Trump was desperately trying to overturn his defeat by Joe Biden. Trump, his chief of staff Mark Meadows, and a bunch of Trump attorneys got on the phone with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger. Trump demanded that Raffensperger “find” him enough votes to flip the election to him.

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Unethical? Definitely. Illegal? Very likely.

It’s against the law in Georgia to solicit election fraud. And that phone call was just part of the Trump team’s efforts, which included the creation of a fake set of pro-Trump electors. Trump’s efforts in Georgia included false charges of election fraud against two Black women election workers. When Trump and his allies repeated those smears, the women’s lives were disrupted by threats and harassment. According to news reports, Willis’s investigation could lead to a multi-defendant racketeering case.

Trump, predictably, has called the Georgia investigation a “witch hunt.” But Willis has taken on murderers and drug gangs, and she is not afraid of Trump or his insults.

Trump’s record in business and politics suggests that the truth means nothing to him. He acts as if he believes the law does not apply to him. He acts as if his wealth and power and lawyers will continue to let him get away with anything.

It is important that we as Americans affirm the principle that no person—even the country’s most powerful person—is above the law.

There is good news on that front. There are multiple investigations into Trump’s wrongdoing. I am grateful for the work being done by Tish James and Fani Willis, by the House select committee investigating Jan. 6, by staff at the U.S. Department of Justice, and by journalists who are willing to dig for the truth.

Truth is the first step toward accountability, accountability that in Trump’s case is long overdue.

Ben Jealous serves as president of People For the American Way and Professor of the Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. A New York Times best-selling author, his next book “Never Forget Our People Were Always Free” will be published by Harper Collins in December 2022.

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