A New York judge on Thursday ordered former President Donald Trump and two of his children to answer questions under oath about the Trump Organization’s business practices as part of the attorney general’s civil investigation. on the business.
Trump attorneys Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump had sought to quash subpoenas from Attorney General Letitia James’ office, arguing that her investigation was politically motivated and designed to fuel an ongoing criminal investigation into the company by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. .
In his ruling, state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron gave the go-ahead for all three to be filed within the next three weeks. He also ordered the former president to hand over documents and information that had been subpoenaed within two weeks, and described the Trumps’ claims that they were being selectively targeted as exaggerated.
“Ultimately, a state attorney general begins to investigate a business entity, uncovers extensive evidence of possible financial fraud, and wishes to interview, under oath, several of the entity’s executives, including its namesake. She clearly has the right to do so,” the judge wrote in his eight-page decision.
The Trumps’ attorneys said in a hearing earlier in the day that they would appeal if the judge allowed the depositions to continue. “It’s likely we’ll appeal,” said Alan Futerfas, the Trump children’s attorney.
James celebrated the decision in a statement, saying, “Today justice prevailed.”
“No one will be allowed to stand in the way of the pursuit of justice, however powerful. No one is above the law,” she added.
James’ office is considering whether to file a civil suit against the Trump Organization over allegedly inflated financial statements. In court filings, his office alleged that it “uncovered substantial evidence establishing numerous misrepresentations in Mr. Trump’s financial statements provided to banks, insurers and the Internal Revenue Service.”
Among the things James wants to ask Trump about are several “financial statements” involving the company that the attorney general says were inflated by hundreds of millions of dollars and signed by the former president. .
The attorney general’s office said in January that it had not yet made a final decision on whether the evidence it said it found warranted legal action.
The Trumps’ attorneys argued that James wanted to question the trio to improperly gather evidence in a related criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
Two attorneys from James’ office are participating in the district attorney’s investigation, which has led to criminal charges against the Trump Organization and its former chief financial officer, Allan Weisselberg. The company and Weisselberg have pleaded not guilty to the charges, which include allegations of tax evasion and falsifying business records.
The judge noted that the Trumps could invoke their Fifth Amendment rights during depositions if they had concerns about self-incrimination, and noted that Trump’s son Eric took the Fifth more than 500 times when it was filed for the 2020 return investigation.
Donald Trump’s lawyer, Ron Fischetti, said this case was “special” because “he is about a former president of the United States,” and if he takes fifth while answering questions, ” it will be on all the front pages of the world”.
Engoron countered that there was nothing in the law that made a former president special. “For me, he is a citizen,” the judge said.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that asserting Fifth Amendment rights is not an admission of guilt, but Trump offered a different perspective when he ran for president in 2016. “The crowd takes the fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you accepting the Fifth Amendment? he said at a rally in Iowa after an aide to rival Hillary Clinton aides took the Fifth on an investigation into his email server.
Allegations over the inflated financial statements have caused further problems for Trump over the past week, including the decision by his longtime accounting firm Mazars to cut ties with the Trump Organization after reviewing statements that she helped prepare.
“We are writing to advise you that Donald J. Trump’s Statements of Financial Condition for the years ending June 30, 2011 – June 30, 2020 should no longer be relied upon,” the company said in a letter.
“Although we have not concluded that the various financial statements, taken together, contain material differences, based on the totality of the circumstances, we believe that our advice to no longer rely on these financial statements is appropriate. “, he added.
In a statement Monday, the Trump Organization highlighted the line on the lack of “material differences” as “confirmation (that) effectively renders the DA and AG investigations moot.”
Engoron scoffed at this claim in its decision. “To proclaim that Mazars’ red flag warning that Trump’s financial statements are unreliable suddenly renders the OAG’s long-running investigation moot is as bold as it is absurd,” the judge wrote.
On Thursday, the Democratic-controlled House Oversight Committee, citing Mazars’ disavowal of the statements, urged the General Services Administration to cancel its lease for the Trump Hotel in Washington, DC. Trump reportedly reached an agreement to sell the lease late last year, and he is expected to make a profit of $100 million if the GSA approves the sale, the committee noted.
In a filing responding to the attorney general’s specific allegations regarding the financial statements earlier this week, Trump’s attorney Alina Habba said the former president “(d) denies knowledge or information sufficient to make a opinion as to the veracity of the allegations”.
The day after that filing, however, Trump issued a lengthy statement defending his company’s accounting, saying, “We have a great company with fantastic assets that are unique, extremely valuable and, in many cases, far more valuable than which was listed in our Financial Statements.”
He said Mazars was “essentially forced to resign from a large long-term account by the misconduct of the prosecutor of a highly political but failed gubernatorial candidate, Letitia James, and the district attorney’s office.” of Manhattan led by Hillary Clinton”.
The attorney general’s office reported the statement to the judge in a letter Wednesday.
“It is not uncommon for parties to legal proceedings to disagree on the facts,” the letter states. “But it’s really rare for a party to publicly disagree with statements submitted by its own attorneys in a signed pleading – let alone a day after the pleading is filed.”
The letter urged the judge to ignore legal responses from Trump and his children, arguing that they “falsely deny knowledge of matters indisputably known” to them, including Trump’s positions in the company and the work of Trump Jr.
“Although he is currently Executive Vice President of the Trump Organization, Donald Trump, Jr. denies having sufficient knowledge or information to believe the allegations that he is Executive Vice President of the Trump Organization,” indicates the Attorney General’s letter.
Futerfas responded in his own letter to the judge that the attorney general’s account of the case included “vague” allegations and that Trump’s responses were all made in “good faith.”
Also on Thursday, a judge in Washington, DC, set a trial date for a separate civil case that was brought against the Trump Organization and the Trump Presidential Inaugural Committee by Washington Attorney General Karl Racine. He alleges that the inaugural committee improperly used inaugural funds to enrich the Trump family. The company and the committee have denied any wrongdoing. The case is scheduled to go to trial on September 26.