Taking Down Trump: 12 Rules for Prosecuting Donald Trump by Someone Who Did It Successfully

Taking Down Trump: 12 Rules for Prosecuting Donald Trump by Someone Who Did It Successfully

by Tristan Snell
Taking Down Trump: 12 Rules for Prosecuting Donald Trump by Someone Who Did It Successfully

Taking Down Trump: 12 Rules for Prosecuting Donald Trump by Someone Who Did It Successfully

by Tristan Snell


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"An indispensable must-read. This is THE book to read to understand what’s going on in the cases against Trump.” — Joy Reid, MSNBC News anchor and host of The ReidOut

A former prosecutor provides an essential guide to ensuring that Donald Trump, and other oligarchs of his ilk, no longer beat the rap, and face serious jail time for their crimes . . .

For a half century Donald Trump has evaded justice. Now he finally faces trials for his lies, cons, and misdeeds—but many fear Trump will never face any real consequences.

Is our system so broken that some people are now above the law?

In Taking Down Trump, Tristan Snell—a former assistant attorney general for New York State who took on and beat Trump in a court of law—argues that Donald Trump can indeed be defeated, and shares his secrets for how to beat him.

Snell led New York State’s prosecution of Donald Trump for defrauding hundreds of Trump University students, resulting in Trump having to shell out $25 million to his victims —Trump’s first and only major legal loss to date.

Snell lays out 12 key rules for how to beat Trump—including:

  • How voters and activists hold prosecutors accountable
  • How to stand up to Trump’s public bullying
  • How to persevere against all the stonewalling and counterattacks
  • How to get key figures to cooperate and cough up critical evidence

Along the way, Snell discusses his own experience prosecuting Trump, and observes how prosecutors in the various cases against Trump are exploiting such rules—or not—as well as how Trump’s revolving team of lawyers can be expected to behave, or, more accurately, perform.

Whether you’re a concerned citizen, a lawyer or prosecutor, or an activist or advocate, Snell shows how America’s systems can still work to bring even the richest and most powerful to justice, and why those systems are worth preserving and improving. Ultimately, this is a road map for how America can begin to escape the Trump wilderness of fraud and fascism.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781685891251
Publisher: Melville House Publishing
Publication date: 01/30/2024
Pages: 208
Sales rank: 38,687
Product dimensions: 5.70(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Tristan Snell is a lawyer and legal commentator featured on MSNBC and NPR, and in the Washington Post and Wall Street Journal. He served as Assistant Attorney General for New York State, where he led the investigation and prosecution of Trump University. Today he’s the founder and managing partner of MainStreet.Law, and a content creator on Instagram, Threads, TikTok, and Twitter. He lives in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

At first I wondered if I’d made a terrible mistake.

My first day at the New York Attorney General’s office was not going how I’d envisioned it. The callback interviews had been on the 24th and 25th floors of 120 Broadway, with panoramic views of lower Manhattan, glimpses of the rivers and bridges in between the other buildings. It felt like I’d be starring in the real-life version of Billions or Suits, and in fact 120 Broadway was later featured on Succession.

My office was a different story. The Consumer Frauds Bureau was down on the 3rd floor, in the shadows of the skyscrapers, with stained gray carpet, yellowing ceiling tiles, flickering fluorescents, 10-year-old computers, 30-year-old beige push-button phones, and derelict stacks, boxes, and binders of paper, some decades old. I was given an empty office at the end of a hallway no one ever walked down. Every day, starting just before lunch, the smell of fried onions permeated everything, as my office sat directly above the kitchen of a Capital Grille steakhouse far too expensive for any of the government lawyers to afford. This didn’t feel like the story of a crusading lawyer on TV. It felt like the DMV.

Then on my second day, my bureau chief, Jane Azia, suddenly appeared in my doorway with a new project for me.

It was about an unlicensed for-profit school called Trump University.

The case was stuck, Jane told me. Trump’s lawyers had stonewalled us, giving us only a paltry fraction of the materials we had subpoenaed earlier that year at the beginning of the investigation, in February 2011. It was now October, and it was unclear if there was a case at all. So it was a perfect assignment for the new guy. My task was to call up a number of the New York based students of Trump University and ask them about their experiences.

Some of the former students started to cry when I told them who I was and what I was calling about. Some of them ranted, the words pouring out in a stream for an hour or longer. Some of them refused to answer my questions at first and instead turned the tables and started questioning me: Are you really from the attorney general’s office? How do I know you don’t work for Trump?

Once they were satisfied I was on their side, they started telling me the truth about Trump University. All I had to ask was the open-ended question: “Could you tell me about your experiences?” 

It was a rip-off. A scam. A fraud. We were conned. The whole thing was a bait-and-switch. I had just started working on the case, and the court documents were practically writing themselves.

Yet underneath all the anger was a deep sense of pain and betrayal. They were believers. They believed in Donald Trump as a winner, as a paragon of the American Dream, and they believed in Trump University’s sales pitch, that it would teach them Trump’s secrets for achieving that dream, for making millions as real estate investors. They trusted him. And he took their money, as much as $35,000 per person and sometimes more, and left them with nothing to show for it but fake diplomas and photos of themselves standing next to a cardboard cutout of Trump.

And the ones who cried? They cried because they were mortified. I feel like such a fool. I can’t believe I fell for that. But they also cried because they didn’t believe that anyone would ever look into it, that they would ever have a chance of getting their money back, that there would ever be any consequences for the scammers. They didn’t believe that someone like me would ever call them, and even once I did, they still didn’t believe that someone like Trump would ever be brought to justice.

Yet without prompting, dozens of them volunteered to be interviewed further, to testify, to help however they could. I’m afraid of him, one told me, but someone has to do something about this. But they were still deeply skeptical that anything would actually happen. Do you promise you’ll look into this? Do you promise you’re actually going to do something about it?

Most of the time, no one does anything about a malefactor like Donald Trump. This was especially true with Trump prior to the Trump University case. He was first the target of a government enforcement action in 1973, for blatant and systematic racial discrimination to keep Black tenants from getting units in Trump apartment buildings; he got off with a slap on the wrist, as we’ll see. He managed to get an entire generation of otherwise high-powered New York City prosecutors tucked away in his pocket, bought off with donations, co-opted with the promise of future donations, bullied into passivity. Only starting in the 2010s, with the Trump University case and the New York AG’s subsequent case against the Trump Foundation, did prosecutors and litigators finally start cracking the code for taking down Trump.

This book, for the first time, shares the blueprint for how to make that happen.

You’re about to learn all the key lessons on how to bring the powerful to justice—specifically about how to bring Donald Trump to justice, something that many people still believe cannot be done.

But I know it can be done, because I did it. 

As part of an amazing team of lawyers with the New York AG, I helped lead the investigation into Trump University, building the civil prosecution that we filed against Trump in August 2013, which ultimately resulted in a $25 million settlement that was announced in 2016 and finalized in 2017–18, the first major loss he had ever suffered in a court case.

Yet perhaps the most amazing thing about the Trump University case is that it almost didn’t happen at all. 

Trump refused to produce the documents he was obligated to produce; other evidence was out there, but it was difficult and labor-intensive to unearth. Many prosecutors and litigators would have stopped short or would never have devoted the resources in the first place. But it’s not just about the quantum of evidence—it’s also about having the will and the commitment to bring a case against a powerful target like Trump. And as we’ll see, that will and commitment wavered and almost collapsed, numerous times, when it came to the deeply flawed person who held the office of New York Attorney General at the time, Eric Schneiderman. And all the evidence in the world cannot make a case if the senior-most prosecutors in an office simply refuse to bring it.

Therein lies the problem: prosecutors are humans, with all the imperfections that brings. Worse, prosecutors are often politicians, which only exacerbates the problem. Donald Trump is supremely untalented or a complete fake and phony at many, many things, but one of his actual strengths is knowing how to work someone, especially someone weak and insecure and easily swayed by flattery or money or the promise of it—in other words, he’s really good at manipulating people like himself.  

This is, therefore, a playbook for the real world we inhabit, a world of flawed public officials who can be drawn to the dark side, or who can be coaxed into using their prosecutorial powers for good. After all, for all of Eric Schneiderman’s flaws, he ultimately did green-light the Trump University case. And whether you’re an activist or advocate, a career prosecutor, or a concerned and engaged citizen, we all need to know how to work the system and the people who hold the levers of power, so we can work it as well, and ultimately better than, someone like Trump. 

This is also a playbook of the legal tactics that it takes to defeat someone like Trump. How do you get the evidence you need to win? How do you convince people to cooperate with you? How do you overcome all the stonewalling, all the bullying, all the counterattacks, all the diversions, all the endless delays, and all of the personal attacks that will inevitably come from any legal case against Trump?

The lessons assembled here are more specific to a case against Trump or a Trump-like figure of power, resources, and a shameless lack of scruples (more on that in a bit). The list is not meant to be comprehensive, and really, any attempt to be comprehensive would be sure to fail. But I endeavored to collect the most obvious rules that followed directly from my own experiences as well as others who’ve tangled with Trump—especially those who have now joined the still exclusive club of lawyers who have defeated him.

Then there are other lessons and rules that are even more blazingly obvious but are more generally applicable to any case, not just against Trump; but they’re worth mentioning here at the outset.

First, you have to start with a clean slate. No preconceived notions. No picking an outcome and then trying to find evidence to fit that outcome. Prosecutors talk about going where the facts and the law lead them, and though that’s a platitude, it’s a platitude for a reason. Any valid case must be grounded firmly in evidence that an illegality has occurred (notice I did not say “crime,” as we’re discussing both civil as well as criminal offenses; the civil offenses include the fraud claims New York has brought against Trump University, the Trump Foundation, and the Trump Organization, plus pursuing Trump University for its failures to have the requisite licenses and approvals to operate a school and to call it a “University”). At the beginning of a case, that quantum of evidence has not yet been obtained. 

Of course, the genesis of a case usually comes from some kind of complaint or suspicion—complaints from victims, whistleblower reports, referrals from other government agencies, or investigative journalism. But that’s just the spark. If there’s no fuel, then there’s no fire, and the spark will die out. 

At the beginning of the Trump University case, when I joined the AG’s office in October 2011, we had a referral from the New York State Education Department regarding the lack of licensure, and we had a handful of complaints from victims. This was enough for us to open an investigation, but it was not enough for us to escalate it, or to bring a case. When I was handed the matter, I was told—correctly and properly—that we weren’t sure yet if there was a case. No one started with a preconceived mission to “take down Trump.” We started with initial signs of potential misconduct, and we began to investigate. Back in 2011, we still had a blank slate. We needed to fill it in, or drop the matter and move on.

Second, then, is to dig and dig and dig, and then dig some more. This may be the most obvious rule of any investigation, but it’s worth mentioning precisely because it’s so fundamental. Every piece of potential evidence must be pursued, and followed up on. Every document must be reviewed. Every potential witness must be contacted. 

When I started contacting some of the Trump University victims, the investigation quickly turned into a task I simply had to complete. I’d been asked to talk to “a few dozen” victims. Once I heard their heartbreaking accounts, I determined I should talk to a few more people, just to make sure I was getting a well-rounded account. So I decided I would set a goal of 50 witnesses.

Then I kept on hearing these horror stories. The man who’d been forced to sell his house because of the credit card debt he incurred on the useless “Trump Gold Elite” mentorship program. The woman with a child with special medical needs who had wavered about signing up but ultimately did when she was promised that her instructor would personally take her on as a mentee—and then the instructor ghosted her. The teachers and accountants who just wanted a chance to live out their long-deferred dreams of being successful entrepreneurs—but who came away with their life savings wiped out, or more debt, and absolutely nothing to show for it but lies and broken promises.

I couldn’t stop. I needed to hear from more of them.

And more and more of them called me back even when I left voicemails. So the 50 had turned into 63. And even though it had been weeks of work, I had a feeling that this case was far, far bigger and more grave than anyone had realized, that it merited this kind of extraordinary investment of time. I had also been asked to come up with a sort of scoring system: what percentage of the students were satisfied, dissatisfied, or neutral? I conveniently rationalized that it would be annoying for everyone to be doing mental math to divide by 63, so I decided I would see if I could get to 100 interviews. Then I wrote an executive summary of my findings—including that 87 of the 100 students were dissatisfied, most of them extremely so, and that, unprompted, they reported a staggering array of gross misrepresentations and deceptions.

They were told to call their credit card companies to get credit limit increases, supposedly as an exercise to boost their assertiveness in deal-making—but really it was to make sure that the students would have more credit with which to purchase the more expensive “Elite” programs (which ran from $10,000 to $35,000 or more). They were told that Donald Trump had “handpicked” the instructors, when in fact he had never met them and did not know them at all.

They were told that they would learn Donald Trump’s special, proprietary techniques for investing in real estate, when in fact the “curriculum” was created by a company that made materials for wealth-creation seminars and time-share sales companies. They were told that they would get special access to “hard money lenders” who could finance their real estate deals, but there was no special access, and the list they were given came from a magazine. They were told that Trump donated all the proceeds from Trump University to charity. They were told (at the free preview session) that Donald Trump might stop by to speak (at the paid session), but of course he never did—all they could do was take photos next to a life-sized cardboard cutout of Trump.

Dig, and dig, and dig. And then dig some more.

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