Announcement Speech at Trump Tower

This is the full text of the speech I gave at Trump Tower at noon on June 5th, 2018, announcing my run for Attorney General of the State of New York.

Zephyr Teachout
Jun 5, 2018 · 7 min read

I am here today to formally declare that I am running to be the next Attorney General of the State of New York.

These are my four top priorities:

Fighting Trump, taking on Albany corruption, fighting corporate scams and corporate monopolies, and spearheading the moral argument against mass incarceration.

In coming weeks I will lay out my vision on all of these. Today, I am here to talk about Donald Trump’s corruption and how, as AG, I will lead the fight to stop it.

I have been in the legal fight against Trump’s lawless actions from the moment he was elected, and I am fully ready to lead that fight for the people of New York. I will be relentless, independent, ethical and swift, acting without fear or favor. I will use law as a sword, not just a shield.

The owner of this tower, Donald Trump, is tearing apart the very fabric of our nation, stomping on our most basic principles, ripping children away from their mothers, and attacking the rule of law itself, the foundation of democracy and decency. He calls people animals. He mocks the law and those entrusted to enforce it. He opens our lands and water and air to polluters. He ignores our religious freedom, disrespecting millions. He abuses the privileges of free speech, and tries to use corporate power to throttle others’ free speech. And he is doing all of this, all of this, to make himself rich, stealing from America to gather gold for himself.

This week we learned that his lawyers wrote a memo saying he could not violate federal obstruction of justice statutes and is not subject to subpoena power. We also learned that Trump believes he can pardon himself.

He is saying, “I am justice, and justice is me.”

When I am your Attorney General, we in New York will show the world what justice really looks like.

I’ll be blunt: New York, can and must do far more to protect our Constitution and laws, because Trump will not be deterred by op-eds and we cannot complacently rely on federal elections in 2018 or 2020. We are currently in a crisis of corruption. The Trump lawsuits that New York has filed to date are vital, but mostly defensive, trying to stop Trump’s formal presidential actions.

We must litigate more aggressively. The beating heart of Trump’s corruption is right here in our state. It is through the Trump Organization, headquartered here in New York, that he has turned the presidency into his personal ATM — engaging in highly suspect business deals aimed at funneling money from foreign governments into his own pockets. He has turned our democracy into a kleptocracy. That is unacceptable. All New Yorkers — all Americans — must be held to an equal standard. The President — and his businesses — are not above the law.

The largest office of China’s largest bank is here, in Trump Tower, on the 20th floor of this building. The Chinese Government controls the bank that pays the rent, and that rent goes to the Trump Organization of which Trump is the principal owner.

Every dime of rent paid to him by China is in violation of our sacred Constitution. Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 prohibits federal officers, including the president, from receiving gifts or benefits from foreign governments without the consent of Congress.

This clause was designed to protect against bribery and corruption, to protect the integrity of our government and laws.

Three days after Trump took office, I was part of a team of lawyers, including Larry Tribe, Norm Eisen, Richard Painter and Deepak Gupta, that sued Donald Trump for using his businesses to take money from foreign and domestic governments. I worked with the lawyers at CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, to build the legal team and the strategy behind the suit.

This lawsuit, the first of its kind, has the power to do what other Trump litigation cannot do: get a court order declaring that Trump must divest his business interests.

New York, which should have been the lead on a parallel suit, did not bring a case. In the first week of January 2017, before Trump became President, I sat down with Eric Schneiderman with a stack of legal precedent, and told him that New York State should sue the President for violating the Constitution, because the violations were happening right here in New York.

He did not act.

I persisted. The next month, I pressed him to use Business Law 1101(a), a key provision that allows the attorney general to investigate and restrain unlawful corporate behavior.

This law is the codification of an ancient legal writ known as “quo warranto,” meaning “by what authority?” The quo warranto theory was revived by my colleague, Jed Shugerman, who is also a key legal advisor on this campaign.

Again, Schneiderman did not act. Quo warranto lies unused in the fight against Trump. When I am Attorney General, we will make sure everyone in the country knows what New York’s quo Warranto statute can do.

We also have Executive Law 63 Section 12, which gives the Attorney General power to investigate and bring an action against fraudulent or illegal acts by a business entity in New York..

I am a woman of action, and not scared to pick up these legal swords on behalf of New York and our country.

Here’s the rub: Trump’s power didn’t grow out of nothing: it grew out of New York finance and New York real estate. So investigating his real power means being ready to look under the hood in New York finance and New York real estate.

To take on Trump’s business corruption without fear or favor, the next Attorney General should be totally independent, not only of Trump, but of traditional New York politics. That is because some of some of the bodies in the Trump organization may lie pretty close to the some of the bodies in New York politics.

The New York Attorney General’s office can’t be nervous about what might happen if you ask questions of any real estate or financial firm. Real estate and finance are heavy hitters in NY politics. Between 2013 and 2014, 10 of the biggest real estate empires in New York City together donated approximately $6.5 million to political campaigns. We won’t know where an investigation will lead until we begin, but you know I will be ready to follow the money, without fear or favor.

This goes to a deeper uncomfortable truth: New York government was caught at a weak moment when Trump came along. As a state, we cannot fight Trump when our own government is enfeebled by corruption and scandal.

New York should be and can be the crown jewel of democracy, the living counter-argument to Washington. Instead, we have a rolling scandal of corruption and sexual misconduct. In the coming weeks, I will lay out my plan for combating the culture of corruption in Albany.

But I will never take my eye off the threat in the White House.

Before closing, I want to return to this week’s claims by Trump that he is above the law, that he can pardon himself, and his signal that he is ready to pardon associates to protect himself.

Let me speak directly to the President.

The truth is, President Trump, you may think you can pardon associates to protect yourself, but you hold no “Get Out of Jail Free” cards for people who violate the laws of the State of New York. Federal pardons do not cover state prosecutions for acts different than the federal offense.

New York has strong laws against bank fraud, tax fraud, false statements, obstruction of governmental administration, larceny, money laundering, and bribery.

No one is above these laws, and the existing double jeopardy statute in New York will not bar prosecution in many cases of a self-serving federal pardon because there are likely to be criminal actions not covered by a federal indictment. The people of New York should know that when I am your Attorney General, we will not wait to investigate: we will aggressively investigate violations of these laws and others, digging into every file cabinet, finding every report tacked to the back of a real estate filing, and be always ready to use our full criminal and civil powers to protect the rule of law for the people of New York.

As many of you know, I am in the middle of my first pregnancy. I have the future growing inside me, and with every kick I become more determined, and with every stretch I become more committed to fighting for freedom and justice.

Join me. Whether you are rich or poor, angry or scared, young or old, upstate or downstate, join me. We are New Yorkers — together we can charge forth.

This is not a time for merely good defensive lawyering at a reasonable pace. Instead we must act fast, decisively, and without hesitation. It is an extraordinary moment, and we need an extraordinary Attorney General’s office that is willing to push past what has been done before.

I’ve never been scared to lead.

The best answer to Trump’s threat of tyranny, of unchecked arbitrary power, is the sword of law.

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