An appeals court on Thursday unanimously rejected a bid by former President Donald Trump and two of his adult children to avoid being compelled to answer questions under oath by investigators for New York Attorney General Letitia James as part of her civil investigation of Trump Organization business practices.
The decision was the latest legal loss for Trump in his efforts to limit the probe by James, who is focused on allegations that the Trump Organization illegally manipulated the stated valuations of different real estate assets for financial gain.
In addition to Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr., and his daughter Ivanka Trump must comply with subpoenas issued by James seeking their testimony, according to the four-page order by a panel of four judges in the Appellate Division of the First Judicial Department of Manhattan Supreme Court.
The ruling dismissed arguments raised by Trump’s lawyers at a hearing earlier this month that James should be barred from interviewing him and his children because she is also working with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office on a criminal investigation of the Trump Organization.
Donald Trump Jr. currently operates the Trump family business with his brother Eric Trump, who previously answered questions under oath by James’ investigators. Ivanka Trump, who served as senior White House advisor during her father’s presidency, is a former top executive in the Trump Organization.
The Trumps could ask the New York Court of Appeals to hear an appeal seeking to overturn Thursday’s ruling, but there is no automatic right to have that court, which the highest in the state, consider such an effort.
“Once again, the courts have ruled that Donald Trump must comply with our lawful investigation into his financial dealings,” James said in a statement on the appeals court ruling.
“We will continue to follow the facts of this case and ensure that no one can evade the law,” the attorney general said.
James’ office last Friday said that Trump had paid a $110,000 contempt of court fine imposed on him for failing to comply with a subpoena issued to him seeking documents she wanted to see as part of her probe. But Trump had failed to comply with all of the steps required by a trial court judge to lift that contempt of court, risking reinstatement of the $10,000-per-day fine originally set by the judge.
Alina Habba, a lawyer for Trump, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday’s order by the appeals panel.
The decision upholds a Feb. 28, 2022, ruling by Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron that ordered the Trumps to submit to depositions.
“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 at that time.
In its decision Thursday, the appeals panel said, “The existence of a criminal investigation does not preclude civil discovery of related facts.”
The ruling noted that the Trumps at the depositions could invoke their constitutional right against self-incrimination in refusing to answer questions.
The appeals panel also said that Engoron had “properly declined” a request from the Trump parties to hold “an evidentiary hearing on the scope and degree of” the coordination between James’ office and that of the Manhattan DA.
“The civil investigation was initiated in March 2019 after testimony before Congress by Michael Cohen, former Trump Organization senior executive and special counsel, in which Cohen alleged that
respondent The Trump Organization, Inc. had issued fraudulent financial statements,” the ruling noted.
“This sequence of events suggests that the investigation was lawfully initiated at its outset
and well founded, apart from any parallel criminal investigation undertaken by the District Attorney.”
And the panel said there was no justification toss the subpoenas based on the claim by the Republican Trump that the investigation by James, a Democrat, is motivated by political animus.
James “began its investigation after public testimony of a senior corporate insider and reviewed significant volumes of evidence before issuing the subpoenas, the ruling said.
“Appellants have not identified any similarly implicated corporation that was not investigated or any executives of such a corporation who were not deposed.”
“Therefore, appellants have failed to demonstrate that they were treated differently from any similarly situated persons.”