A New York judge said Thursday that Donald Trump and two of his children have to testify in a business fraud investigation, rejecting the ex-president’s request to quash subpoenas issued by the state’s attorney general.
Trump must turn over documents within 14 days, and he, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump must appear for depositions within 21 days, said the ruling from state Judge Arthur F. Engoron.
It may not happen that fast; Trump could well appeal the ruling.
In allowing the subpoenas from Attorney General Letitia James, Engoron essentially rejected arguments by Trump attorneys that James is politically biased against the former president, and is using a civil law investigation to advance a criminal case against him.
A refusal to subpoena Trump “would have been blatant dereliction of duty (and would have broken an oft-repeated campaign promise),” the judge wrote.
Both the New York attorney general’s office and the Manhattan district attorney are investigating whether Trump inflated the value of his holdings in order to secure loans and deflated values in order to reduce taxes.
“The evidence continues to mount showing that Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization used fraudulent and misleading financial statements to obtain economic benefit,” James said before the subpoena hearing.
This is a “lawful investigation” and her office has “legitimate reason to seek testimony” from the ex-president and his children who are also involved in his business affairs, James said.
Trump lawyers say James’ probe is political
During the video hearing, Trump’s lawyers claimed improper political bias on the part of the prosecutor. Attorney Alina Habba cited a litany of James’ comments during her campaign for attorney general, pledging to investigate Trump over alleged business practices.
“This is political,” Habba said. “It has tainted this entire investigation.”
At one point in a heated hearing, Habba said James is targeting Trump “probably because he can win again” in the 2024 presidential race.
Another Trump attorney, Ronald P. Fischetti, said James is working hand-in-glove with the Manhattan district attorney’s office and trying to use civil court rules to compel testimony in a criminal case, depriving the Trumps of their legal rights.
“This is a criminal investigation, and she is acting as a district attorney,” he said at one point.
Kevin Wallace, the lawyer for the attorney general’s office, said investigators are following the facts.
As for any bias, Wallace quoted former longtime federal prosecutor Robert Morgenthau about a lawyer once under investigation: “A man is not immune from prosecution simply because the U.S. Attorney doesn’t like him.” The comment concerned the late Roy Cohn, an attorney whose controversial career included work with 1950s red-baiting U.S. Sen. Joe McCarthy – and with Donald Trump.
Judge says Trump, family aren’t ‘protected,’ nor denied rights
During the hearing and in his ruling, Engoron said Trump and his family are not part of a legal “protected class,” which normally includes factors like race or religion.
As for James’ alleged biased investigation, Engoron asked the attorneys: “How do we know that the motive is Donald Trump’s speech rather than his financial practices?”
Trump and his children are not denied any of their legal rights, the judge said, and they can always invoke their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.
Financial ties cut this week
There are signs the investigations of Trump’s business practices are moving forward.
A court document filed this week by James said that Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars, has cut its ties to the family-run business, the Trump Organization.
In a letter, Mazars told the Trump Organization that the company’s statements of its financial condition “should no longer be relied upon,” and that it should inform recipients of that determination.
In his ruling, Judge Engoron wrote that “the impetus for the investigation was not personal animus, not racial or ethnic or other discrimination, (and) not campaign promises.” Instead, it was congressional testimony by former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who said Trump and his aides were “cooking the books”with their various business enterprises.
Cohen, who served a prison term for campaign finance violations linked to Trump, said in an interview after Thursday’s ruling that Trump might have to take the fifth because his testimony would not help his cause.
“He’s got a lot of problems,” Cohen said. “Let me put it that way.”
He added: “Numbers don’t lie – people do.”