A judge ruled Thursday that former President Donald Trump must answer questions under oath in New York state’s civil investigation into his business practices.
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 ruling after a two-hour hearing with lawyers for the Trumps and James’ office.
“In the final analysis, a State Attorney General commences investigating a business entity, uncovers copious evidence of possible financial fraud, and wants to question, under oath, several of the entities’ principals, including its namesake. She has the clear right to do so,” Engoron wrote in his decision.
Spokespeople for Trump did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the ruling, which is likely to be appealed.
James, a Democrat, said her investigation has uncovered evidence Trump’s company used “fraudulent or misleading” valuations of assets like golf courses and skyscrapers to get loans and tax benefits.
Trump’s lawyers told Engoron during the hearing that having him sit for a civil deposition now, while his company is also the subject of a parallel criminal investigation, is an improper attempt to get around a state law barring prosecutors from calling someone to testify before a criminal grand jury without giving them immunity.
“If she wants sworn testimony from my client, he’s entitled to immunity. He gets immunity for what he says, or he says nothing,” Trump’s criminal defense lawyer, Ronald Fischetti, said in the hearing, which was conducted by video conference.
If Trump were to testify in the civil probe, anything he says could be used against him in the criminal investigation being overseen by the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
Trump could invoke his Fifth Amendment right to remain silent in a deposition — something he’s criticized others for doing in the past.
A lawyer for the attorney general’s office, Kevin Wallace, told the judge that it wasn’t unusual to have civil and criminal investigations proceeding at the same time.
“Mr. Trump is a high-profile individual, yes. That’s unique,” Wallace said. “It’s unique that so many people are paying attention to a rather dry hearing about subpoena enforcement. But the legal issues that we’re dealing with here are pretty standard.”
Another Trump son, Eric Trump, and the Trump Organization’s finance chief Allen Weisselberg, have previously sat for depositions in the civil investigation — and invoked their Fifth Amendment rights hundreds of times when they were questioned by investigators in 2020.
Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., both of whom have been executives in their family’s Trump Organization, said during the court hearing that so far he had no reason to believe either is a target of the district attorney’s criminal investigation.
In a statement Tuesday, Trump railed against what he called a “sham investigation of a great company that has done a spectacular job for New York and beyond” and a racially motivated “continuation of a Witch Hunt the likes of which has never been seen in this Country before.”
Wallace noted the state attorney general’s office was investigating Trump-related matters as far back as 2013, including probes into his charitable foundation and a Trump University real estate training program that started long before James was elected.
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 it prepared based on his company’s valuations, given the questions about their accuracy.