Donald Trump must testify in the investigation into his business practices


A New York judge ruled Thursday that Donald Trump and two of his children are set to testify in a sweeping civil fraud investigation led by New York Attorney General Letitia James, summarily denying the ex-president’s request to quash the subpoenas.

Trump must deliver the documents within 14 days, and he, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump must appear for depositions within 21 days, according to an eight-page ruling by State Judge Arthur F. Engoron.

It may not happen so quickly, as Trump’s attorneys have already signaled they will appeal.

In authorizing the subpoenas, Engoron rejected arguments from Trump’s lawyers that James is politically biased against the former president and is using a civil law investigation to advance a criminal case against him.

In a scathing postscript, the judge wrote, “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 leaders of the entities, including his namesake. . She has every right to do so.

The New York Attorney General’s Office and the Manhattan District Attorney are investigating whether Trump inflated the value of his assets to secure loans and deflated the values ​​to reduce taxes.

Declaring victory over the decision, James said “justice has prevailed” and “no one will be allowed to stand in the way of the pursuit of justice, however powerful he may be”.

The Trumps “have been ordered by the court to comply with our lawful investigation into the financial dealings of Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization,” she said.

In a written statement, Trump condemned the decision and said, “I cannot get a fair hearing in New York because of the hatred of the judges and the judiciary for me. It is not possible!”

In a statement ahead of a two-hour hearing that preceded Engoron’s decision, James said “evidence continues to mount showing that Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization used fraudulent and misleading financial statements to obtain economic benefits”.

Related: Court documents: Mazars, Donald Trump’s accounting firm, cuts ties with Trump Organization

Trump Lawyers: James’ Political Investigation

During the video hearing, Trump’s lawyers claimed inappropriate political bias on the part of the prosecutor. Lawyer Alina Habba, one of the former president’s attorneys, cited a litany of comments James made during his campaign for attorney general, pledging to investigate Trump and his business practices.

“It’s political,” Habba said. “It tainted this entire investigation.”

At one point during a heated hearing, Habba said James was targeting Trump “probably because he can win again” in the 2024 presidential race.

Another Trump attorney, Ronald P. Fischetti, said James was working hand-in-hand with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and trying to use civil court rules to compel testimony in a criminal case, depriving the Trump of their legal rights.

“This is a criminal investigation and she is acting as the district attorney,” he said at one point.

Kevin Wallace, the attorney for the attorney general’s office, said investigators are following the facts.

As for any bias, Wallace quoted longtime former federal prosecutor Robert Morgenthau of a lawyer who was investigated: “A man is not immune to prosecution just because the U.S. Attorney doesn’t like it.” The comment was about the late Roy Cohn, a lawyer whose controversial career included work with 1950s US Senator Joe McCarthy – and with Donald Trump.

Continued: New York attorney general seeks statement from Trump in fraud investigation targeting Trump Organization

Continued: Donald Trump sues New York attorney general in bid to stop investigation into his business practices

Judge says Trump family not ‘protected’ or disenfranchised

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 such as race or religion.

Regarding claims that James is carrying out a biased investigation, Engoron asked attorneys at the hearing, “How do we know the motive is Donald Trump’s speech rather than his financial practices?”

In its written decision, Engoron rejected the Trumps’ claim that James improperly solicited the Trumps’ depositions to gain an unfair advantage in the parallel criminal investigation being conducted by the Manhattan District Attorney and James’s prosecutors. This argument “completely misses the mark,” the judge wrote in his ruling.

For one thing, he said, the Trumps’ position “ignores the salient fact that they (the Trumps) have the absolute right to refuse to answer questions that they believe could incriminate them.”

Engoron said the attorney general “continued his civil investigation for over a year without the slightest indication that it was a subterfuge to gather evidence for a pending criminal investigation.”

In a terse statement following the judge’s decision, a spokesperson for the Trump Organization said, “The whole system is corrupt.”

Former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti said Trump was “between a rock and a hard place” when it came to the double investigation and the prospect of invoking his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination.

“If Trump takes the fifth, it can be used against him in the civil case being worked on by the New York attorney general,” Mariotti said. “If Trump doesn’t take the fifth, the Manhattan prosecutor can use his words against him.”

The judge’s ruling also dismissed the Trumps’ claim that James was pursuing them as part of a political “vendetta.” Engoron said he privately reviewed thousands of documents filed as part of the attorney general’s investigation and determined there was a “sufficient basis” to continue the investigation.

A decision by James not to subpoena Trump “would have been a gross dereliction of duty (and would have broken an oft-repeated campaign promise),” the judge wrote.

Financial ties cut this week

There are signs that investigations into Trump’s business practices are progressing beyond Thursday’s decision to force the Trumps to comply with subpoenas.

A court document filed this week by James said Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars, had severed ties with the family business, the Trump Organization.

In a letter, Mazars told the Trump Organization that the company’s statements about its financial condition “should no longer be relied upon” and that it should notify recipients of the decision.

While Trump’s lawyers signaled their intention to appeal Engoron’s ruling, the judge was quick to challenge Trump’s claim that the civil investigation somehow became moot when the accountants de Mazars revealed that a decade of financial statements from the Trump Organization were no longer reliable.

Continued: Former Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke abused his cabinet position, probe finds

Such claims, Engoron said, were “bold” and “absurd”.

Engoron also wrote that “the impetus for the inquiry was not personal animosity, nor racial, ethnic or other discrimination, (and) not campaign promises”. Instead, it was congressional testimony from Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, who said Trump and his aides were “preparing the books” with their various business ventures.

Cohen, who served time in prison for Trump-related campaign finance violations, said in an interview after Thursday’s ruling that Trump may have to take the fifth because his testimony would not help his cause.

“He’s got a lot of issues,” Cohen said. “Let me put it this way.”

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