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Judge says Trump, adult children must testify in New York AG probe

Lawyers for Donald Trump and two of his adult children fought to quash subpoenas from Attorney General Letitia James’ office. That effort failed.


Lawyers for Donald Trump Sr., Donald Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump fought tooth and nail to quash subpoenas from Attorney General Letitia James’ office. As NBC News reported just minutes ago, those efforts have failed.

A New York judge on Thursday ordered former President Donald Trump and two of his children to answer questions under oath about the Trump Organization’s business practices in the state attorney general’s civil probe of the company.... In his ruling, state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron gave the green light for the three Trumps be deposed within the next three weeks.

For those new to this story, it was nearly three years ago when New York’s attorney general’s office first opened a civil investigation into the Trump Organization. Over the course of 35 months, the examination into Trump’s business operation has unfolded methodically, leading to a recent subpoena for the former president and two of his adult children.

In defense of the subpoenas, the state attorney general declared last month, “Thus far in our investigation, we have uncovered significant evidence that suggests Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization falsely and fraudulently valued multiple assets and misrepresented those values to financial institutions for economic benefit. The Trumps must comply with our lawful subpoenas for documents and testimony because no one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them.”

As we’ve discussed, the ongoing probe is examining whether Trump’s business committed fraud in reporting the value of certain properties to banks and tax authorities. And while a controversy surrounding how the Republican’s operation valued its assets may sound like a boring topic, it’s proving to be a surprisingly potent problem.

“In light of the pervasive and repeated nature of the misstatements and omissions, it appears that the valuations in the Statements were generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared,” James added.

This proved persuasive in court. “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.

In case this isn’t obvious, it’s worth emphasizing that this isn’t an instance in which a state A.G. is going after a suspect’s kids. Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. have long been executives at the controversial family business. If the allegations are true and the Trump Organization engaged in tax fraud and bank fraud, it stands to reason that the company’s executives would be asked to cooperate with the civil investigation.

It’s also worth noting that while this is not a criminal probe — though the Trump Organization is facing criminal charges in a separate matter — that doesn’t make the matter less relevant. It was, after all, civil investigations launched by the New York attorney general’s office that led to the dismantling of Trump’s bogus “university” and the former president’s fraudulent charitable foundation.

What’s more, as Rachel recently explained on the show, the fact that there are two parallel lines of legal inquiry is of particular relevance. If Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. give testimony in the civil case, for example, that testimony could potentially be used against them in the criminal case.

But if they refuse to testify to the attorney general’s office — if they, for example, take the Fifth — that very refusal could conceivably be used against them in the other case.

Their solution was to try to quash the subpoenas in the civil case. As of this afternoon, that avenue appears closed — and the door to some under-oath depositions is open.

Today’s ruling will, however, be appealed. Watch this space.