Former US President Donald Trump must answer questions under oath as part of the New York Attorney General’s civil investigation into his business practices, a state appeals court ruled on Thursday, rejecting his argument that he would be excused from testifying because his answers could be used in a parallel criminal investigation. .
A four-judge panel of the state trial court’s Appellate Division upheld Judge Arthur Engoron’s Feb. 17 ruling, which imposed subpoenas demanding that Trump and his two eldest children — Ivanka and Donald Jr. – is testifying by deposition before the New York State Attorney General. The Letitia James Investigation.
“The existence of a criminal investigation does not preclude the civil discovery of related facts, during which a party may exercise the privilege against self-incrimination,” the appeals panel wrote, citing the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution and other legal protections for witnesses.
The Trumps’ lawyers agreed in March that they would sit for depositions within 14 days of an appeals committee decision upholding Engoron’s decision. They could also appeal the decision to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, indefinitely delaying the case and the Trumps’ potential testimony.
A message seeking comment was left for the Trumps’ attorneys.
‘No one is above the law’
James welcomed the decision, which came just two weeks after the appeals committee heard oral arguments in the case. She tweeted that her investigation “will continue undeterred as no one is above the law”.
“Once again, the courts have ruled that Donald Trump must comply with our legal investigation into his financial dealings,” James said in a statement. “We will continue to follow the facts of this case and ensure that no one can escape the law.”
James said his investigation uncovered evidence that Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, used “fraudulent or misleading” valuations of assets such as golf courses and skyscrapers to obtain loans and benefits tax. Both Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. have been executives of the Trump Organization and are among their father’s most trusted allies.
The appeals panel, in its ruling, described the investigation as focusing on whether the Trumps “committed persistent fraud in their financial practices and disclosures.”
Trump, a Republican, denies the allegations and said James’ investigation was part of a politically motivated “witch hunt”.
In appealing Engoron’s subpoena decision, his lawyers argued that James, a Democrat, was engaging in “selective prosecutions”. The appeals panel rejected that, saying the investigation had a solid legal basis and the Trumps had shown no evidence that they or their company were ‘treated differently’ from other companies under review. similar.
A Trump lawyer, Alan Futerfas, told the appeals committee during oral arguments on May 11 that James appeared to be using civil subpoenas to circumvent a New York law that requires immunity for people testifying before a criminal grand jury. .
Judith Vale, arguing on behalf of James’ office, countered that there was ample evidence from the civil investigation to support the subpoenas for the Trumps’ testimony.
She also cited legal precedent allowing the attorney general’s office to do so, and said the Trumps could still invoke their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination — as Trump’s son Eric did. hundreds of times during a deposition in 2020.
Appeals Court Judge Rolando T. Acosta appeared to agree with that position, foreshadowing Thursday’s decision as he questioned Futerfas from the bench.
Anything Trump says in a civil deposition in James’ investigation could be used against him in the criminal investigation overseen by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.
Last summer, spurred by evidence uncovered by James’s office, the prosecutor’s office charged the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, with tax evasion, alleging he collected more than US$1.7 million in informal compensation. Weisselberg and company have pleaded not guilty.
Thursday’s appeals court ruling was the latest in a flurry of legal activity involving Trump and the attorney general’s investigation in recent weeks.
Trump last week paid US$110,000 in fines and met several other conditions as he sought to end a contempt order issued by Engoron on April 25 after he was slow to respond to another James’ subpoena requesting documents and other evidence.
On Monday, James’ office said it had subpoenaed longtime Trump executive aide Rhona Graff and planned to question her under oath next week as part of the investigation.
Meanwhile, a federal judge in New York is expected to soon rule on a lawsuit Trump filed against James in December in a bid to close his investigation. Trump’s lawyers want an injunction to stop the investigation. James’ office seeks to dismiss the lawsuit.