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Trump Organization faces difficult legal scrutiny in New York

New York investigators are apparently exploring the possibility of Trump's business misleading financial lenders by inflating the value of company assets.
Image:  Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York City
Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York City on June 22, 2020.Timothy A. Clary / AFP - Getty Images

If Donald Trump seemed a bit more unsettled than usual during his 53-minute tirade at the Republican National Convention yesterday, it may be because things aren't going especially well for the president. The coronavirus is still taking a severe daily toll on his country; the unemployment rate is at levels unseen since the Great Depression; and polls show him struggling in his re-election bid.

It's against this backdrop that Trump's business appears to be facing real legal trouble. The New York Times reported late yesterday:

The New York State attorney general's office has stepped up its inquiry into whether President Trump and the Trump Organization committed fraud by overstating assets to get loans and tax benefits, asking a judge to order Eric Trump to answer questions under oath and the company to hand over documents, court papers show.... [State Attorney General Letitia James] is seeking to determine if President Trump and his business improperly inflated his assets "to secure loans and obtain economic and tax benefits," the filing said.

Often, controversies from the business world resonate differently than political scandals, but make no mistake: the Trump Organization is facing a very serious probe. What the New York attorney general's office is apparently exploring is the possibility of the president's business misleading financial lenders by inflating the value of the company's assets.

To be sure, these allegations are not altogether new: Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and fixer, gave sworn testimony to Congress last year and claimed that the Trump Organization routinely lied to gain financial advantages.

If proven true, these are the kinds of fraudulent activities that can create a legal nightmare for a company.

What's more, while the investigation plodded along in the wake of Cohen's revelations, it now appears to be reaching a new and more serious level -- including the state attorney general's office eagerly seeking a conversation with the Trump Organization's current executive vice president, helping oversee the day-to-day operation. NBC News added yesterday:

The president's son Eric Trump has refused to comply with a subpoena in a New York state prosecutor's investigation of the Trump Organization, court documents revealed Monday. President Donald Trump's entire private business entity has yet to comply with subpoenas from New York Attorney General Letitia James, James said in court documents.... Prosecutors assert that hundreds of documents have been withheld by the Trump Organization in the inquiry.

It's worth noting for context that Eric Trump reportedly agreed to an interview with New York investigators, but then canceled ahead of the scheduled meeting. This came around the same time Trump Organization lawyers said the company did not intend to comply with subpoenas related to the investigation.

That's probably not a sustainable posture.

"Nothing will stop us from following the facts and the law, wherever they may lead," state AG Letitia James said yesterday. "For months, the Trump organization has made baseless claims in an effort to shield evidence from a lawful investigation into its financial dealings."

She added, "They have stalled, withheld documents, and instructed witnesses, including Eric Trump, to refuse to answer questions under oath. That's why we've filed a motion to compel the Trump Organization to comply with our office's lawful subpoenas for documents and testimony. These questions will be answered and the truth will be uncovered, because no one is above the law."

Watch this space.