NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump must answer questions under oath as part of New York State’s civil investigation into his business practices, a judge ruled Thursday.
Judge Arthur Engoron ordered Trump and his two eldest children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., to comply with subpoenas issued in December by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Trump and his two children must sit for a deposition within 21 days, Engoron said.
Engoron issued the decision after a two-hour hearing with attorneys for Trump and James’s office.
“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, Engoron wrote in her decision.
The decision is almost certain to be appealed, but if upheld it could force the former president to make a difficult decision on whether to answer questions or remain silent, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Trump spokesmen did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the decision.
James, a Democrat, said her investigation uncovered evidence Trump’s company used “fraudulent or misleading” valuations of assets such as golf courses and skyscrapers to obtain loans and tax breaks. .
Trump’s attorneys told Engoron in court that having him sit for a civil deposition now, while his business is also the subject of a parallel criminal investigation, is an improper attempt to circumvent a law. of the state prohibiting prosecutors from calling someone to testify before a criminal. grand jury without granting them immunity.
“If she wants sworn testimony from my client, he is entitled to immunity. He gets immunity for what he says, or he doesn’t say anything,” Trump’s criminal defense attorney Ronald Fischetti said during the hearing, which was held by videoconference.
If Trump were to testify in the civil investigation, anything he says could be used against him in the criminal investigation overseen by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
Trump could invoke his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in a deposition — something he has criticized others for doing in the past. But Fischetti said if Trump does, it could still hurt a potential criminal defense.
“If he comes in and takes my advice, which will be that you can’t answer these questions without…immunity because that’s what the law provides, and take the Fifth Amendment, it’ll be on every front page world newspapers. And how do I possibly choose a jury in this case?” Fischetti said.
A lawyer for the attorney general’s office, Kevin Wallace, told the judge it was not unusual for civil and criminal investigations to be going on at the same time.
“Mr. Trump is a high profile person, yes. It’s unique,” Wallace said. legal issues we face here are fairly standard.
Another Trump son, Eric Trump, and the Trump Organization’s chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, have previously sat for depositions in the civilian inquiry — and have invoked their Fifth Amendment rights hundreds of times when they were interviewed by investigators in 2020.
Another Donald Trump lawyer, Alina Habba, accused James of trying to use the civil investigation to gather evidence for the criminal investigation.
She said the civil investigation should be put on hold until the criminal case is completed, saying James’ office puts the Trumps “in a position where they leak evidence in a civil investigation or they have to invoke the law constitutional not to testify, thereby triggering an adverse inference in the civil action.
“How is that fair, Your Honor?” We have to stop one,” she said.
Alan Futerfas, an attorney for Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., who have both been leaders of their family’s Trump Organization, said in the hearing that so far he had no reason to believe that either was the target of the district attorney’s criminal investigation.
In a statement on Tuesday, Trump railed against what he called a “sham investigation of a major corporation that has done spectacular work for New York and beyond” and a “racially motivated pursuit of a hunt. to witches like this has never been seen in this country before.
Habba argued in Thursday’s hearing that James’ investigation was a ‘selective prosecution’ and that the attorney general ‘engages in point of view discrimination’ motivated by his political ambitions and contempt for the former Republican president, as evidenced by comments she has made over the years about suing Trump.
“We have a rare and extraordinary case where we can prove selective prosecution because she spoke her words so much and took every opportunity to voice her vendetta against Donald Trump and his family to bring him down,” Habba said.
Wallace noted that the state attorney general’s office was investigating Trump-related matters as early as 2013, including investigations into his charitable foundation and a Trump University real estate training program that began long before Trump. election of James.
In a court filing this week, James included a letter from Trump’s longtime accounting firm advising him to no longer rely on years of financial statements he prepared based on his company’s valuations, given the questions about their accuracy.
Last summer, spurred by evidence uncovered during James’ civil investigation, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office charged Weisselberg and the Trump Organization with tax evasion, alleging he collected more than $1.7 million dollars in unofficial compensation. Weisselberg and company have pleaded not guilty.
Engoron has previously sided with James on other matters related to the investigation, including calling Eric Trump to testify after his attorneys abruptly called off a scheduled deposition.