Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump must testify in civil case, judge says
James, who has called himself a partner in a criminal investigation launched by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, is conducting a parallel civil investigation that has covered the same topics: whether valuations of assets that Trump and the Trump Organization provided to potential lenders, tax authorities and insurance brokers were false or exaggerated and constituted wrongdoing.
Trump has sued James over the investigation, calling it politically motivated and saying it violates his constitutional rights. This lawsuit is still pending in federal court in Syracuse, NY.
In an eight-page ruling on Thursday afternoon, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron denied a family request to quash James’s subpoenas in the civil case or postpone their enforcement until the conclusion of the criminal investigation. One of the Trumps’ lawyers said he plans to appeal.
Engoron wrote that calling the Trumps to testify in the civil case does not mean their protection against self-incrimination will be violated, since they can plead the Fifth Amendment.
“When deposited, the [Trumps] will have the right to refuse to answer any questions that they believe may incriminate them, and such refusal may not be commented on or used against them in any criminal prosecution,” Engoron wrote.
Eric Trump, another Trump son who served as an executive at the Trump Organization, asserted his Fifth Amendment more than 500 times when it was filed in the same case, the attorney general’s office previously revealed.
Trump lawyer Alina Habba argued that James should not be allowed to file a civil suit because she publicly disparaged the former president during his candidacy. Alan Futerfas, representing Trump’s son and daughter, said that by filing a civil suit, James was making an “end around the grand jury” summoned in the criminal case.
Wallace of the attorney general’s office argued that “what matters is the substance of the investigation, the substance of what we found. And we were very detailed in what we found.
He added that the idea that the office cannot conduct both a criminal case and a criminal investigation at the same time “is not accurate”.
Trump’s use of financial statements to declare his wealth to various parties is a key issue in the civil and criminal investigation and has also come under the microscope of Congress. Capitol Hill scrutiny intensified this week, after a filing by James included a report from Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars. The report says the financial statements the company helped prepare for Trump can no longer be relied upon and suggests that any recipient of the documents be alerted.
On Thursday, two congressional Democrats cited that report as asking the General Services Administration to consider terminating Trump’s federal lease for the hotel he built in the Old Post Office building in downtown Washington, just blocks from the White House.
Trump’s company is preparing to sell the hotel lease shortly, in a deal expected to close this spring and expected to net his company a profit of more than $100 million. It was a popular gathering place for his supporters during his four years in power.
In their letter to the GSA, Reps. Carolyn B. Maloney (NY) and Gerald E. Connolly (Virginia), top Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, say Mazars’ revelations warrant further scrutiny of the lease. Lawmakers specifically point to a clause in the lease requiring that any information provided by the tenant to a bank “…be true and correct in all material respects…”
This language, Maloney and Connolly wrote, gives the GSA an opportunity to address what they call “the serious damage this improper lease has done to presidential ethics and integrity in government contracts.”
The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter to the GSA. But in a Tuesday press release, Trump pointed out that Mazars had not audited its financial statements anyway, which accountants have sometimes revealed in side letters attached to the documents.
“My company has one of the best real estate and other assets in the world, has ample cash on hand, and has relatively very little debt, which is very current,” Trump said in the statement. A spokesperson for Deutsche Bank, which loaned Trump $170 million to develop the hotel, declined to comment.
If recent history is any guide, there’s little reason to expect the agency to take action in response to Maloney and Connolly’s letter.
Democrats in Congress have raised concerns about the hotel’s lease since Trump’s 2016 campaign. But the agency, under Presidents Barack Obama, Trump and now Biden, has claimed the Trump Organization is abiding by the lease. and took no further action.
GSA spokeswoman Channing Grate said in a statement Thursday that the agency “has taken and will continue to take steps to ensure the tenant complies with the terms and conditions of the lease.”
“GSA is committed to ensuring a thorough and appropriate review process” of the proposed sale of the property, Channing said, to ensure the buyer meets the basic criteria of being able to finance the purchase and manage the building.
O’Connell reported from Washington.