This week, Donald Trump publicly declared that New York Attorney General Letitia James should be “looked at” by the authorities, as the former president raged over her office’s sprawling civil fraud case against his family’s business empire. 

Behind the scenes, various lawyers in the MAGA upper crust — including several close to the former president — have been crafting specific, novel legal schemes that a Justice Department could use to go after the New York prosecutor, three people familiar with the matter tell Rolling Stone. One such proposal, two sources say, would involve accusing James of attempting to illegally interfere in the 2024 presidential race — an argument that would certainly be rich coming from Trump, who has been indicted at the federal and state levels over his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. 

Any such legal maneuvers would, of course, be contingent on Trump defeating President Joe Biden in this year’s election and then appointing a like-minded, hard-right attorney general. The fact the strategies are being considered shows the degree to which Trump and MAGAworld are plotting to leverage his presidency to punish any and all enemies, particularly officials who have tried to hold the former president accountable for his alleged lawlessness. 

As part of James’ case, Trump was ordered to pay $355 million in damages, after he was found liable for defrauding investors and the state of New York by manipulating the value of his real estate holdings for years. Trump was initially required to pay a $464 million bond to appeal the decision — an amount he struggled to come up with — though the former president was granted something of a reprieve on Monday when an appeals court gave him 10 days to post a smaller $175 million bond. 

In recent months, according to two of the sources, a number of legal theories and plans of attack against James have been briefed to Trump, the presumptive 2024 GOP presidential nominee, who has privately responded approvingly, sometimes enthusiastically. In some instances, the ex-president has been emphatic that these kinds of prosecutions need to happen in order to restore a sense of so-called “law and order” in New York and the rest of the United States, one source familiar with the situation recalls.

Some MAGA-diehard attorneys, who have repeatedly spoken to Trump during his post-presidency about planning for a second term and other matters, have assured the former — and perhaps future — president that a Trumpified Department of Justice could wield certain passages of the U.S. criminal code against the New York state attorney general, two of the sources say. 

According to the sources, one strategy under discussion would involve a section of the criminal code barring state officials from using their “official authority for the purpose of interfering with, or affecting, the nomination or the election of any candidate for the office of President.”

The idea of the Justice Department going after James for this may seem dubious. In fact, some of Trump’s own former attorneys and criminal defense lawyers say it would be a bad idea.

“Honestly, one of the things I really liked about Trump was that after he won in 2016, he cut the whole ‘lock her up’ stuff out [about Hillary Clinton],” says Tim Parlatore, a former top Trump attorney who worked on the defense team handling Special Counsel Jack Smith’s probes. “He could have pushed his DOJ to prosecute, but he didn’t, because we shouldn’t be abusing the criminal justice system to lock up political opponents. We need to keep politics out of the criminal justice system, no matter which party is in office. I am not a fan of the prosecutions against Trump, but I am equally against seeking criminal retribution against political opponents. It would push us into a downward spiral.”

Parlatore adds that, ironically, if Trumpland’s desires for deploying that election-interference section of the criminal code — 18 U.S. Code § 595, to be specific — were taken to their logical conclusion, then the Biden Justice Department “could theoretically use it to go after [Texas Attorney General Ken] Paxton and any state official who tried to contest 2020.”

However, Trump and his MAGA legal brain trust — many of whom are informally auditioning for roles in his potential second administration — are serious about keeping their vengeful options wide open. 

“I think the biggest message I can give the American people tonight is that … Letitia James is not going to get away with it,” said Trump attorney Alina Habba, who represented him in James’ civil fraud case, in an interview last month with Fox News host Sean Hannity, another Trump adviser. 

“They will not get away with it,” she continued. “We will come at them. We will come hard and we will literally fight until the truth comes out. There was nothing wrong. President Trump has done nothing wrong. All he has done is won a campaign. And that is scaring them because they know when he goes back in November 2024, he is going to clean house.”

Trump and his 2024 senior staff routinely accuse James, other prosecutors who’ve built cases against him, and judges in the cases of committing “election interference” with their allegations, court proceedings, and trials, all of which Trump claims are part of a grand conspiracy to try to ruin his polling leads and reelect Biden.

“There is no question that if Donald Trump directed the Attorney General to investigate or prosecute Letitia James, who sued him for alleged fraud, it would be an abuse of power and would likely spark calls for his impeachment,” says Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor. “It is unclear what possible charge there would be — 18 U.S.C. § 595 is a non-starter … James used her authority as Attorney General to enforce the laws of New York. To characterize that as ‘interference’ in an election raises obvious federalism concerns. It would essentially mean that state officials could not enforce any state law against an entity affiliated with a potential presidential candidate.”

A Trump spokesperson did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment on this story

On Monday, Trump claimed the New York civil fraud case constitutes “election interference,” by Biden and allies. “What they do is election interference — which is court cases, and let’s try to tie them up and take as much money as possible,” he said. Trump added that the judge and James should both be “looked at,” calling the judge “corrupt” and James “the puppet master of the judge.” 

As it were, Trump has been charged in two criminal cases — one federal, one in Fulton County, Georgia — for actual election interference during his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden. 

Attorneys and other Republicans who have Trump’s ear have also been exploring other sections of the U.S. criminal code in their long-running quest to punish prosecutors — including but certainly not limited to James — who came after Trump in his post-presidency. More than a year ago, Trump was huddling with close allies and conservative legal advisers who were counseling him on specific federal law enforcement statutes that a second Trump administration could use to probe and prosecute Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg. 

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“I have been [present] when the [former] president has asked people to draw up a plan for how to deal with Alvin Bragg and how the Department of Justice could respond to Bragg’s ‘illegal’ investigation of the president,” one source familiar with the matter told Rolling Stone at the time.

This involved proposals, briefed to Trump, that would have his DOJ pursue the Manhattan DA using sections of the U.S. code that restrict government officials from violating people’s civil and constitutional rights.

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