NEW YORK – New York's attorney general is asking a state appeals court to uphold a lower court ruling requiring former President Donald Trump to answer questions under oath after a civil investigation into his business practices uncovered evidence that he may have misstated the value of assets like golf courses and skyscrapers on financial statements for more than a decade.
In papers filed late Monday, Attorney General Letitia James' office said it has every right to question Trump, who is appealing the lower court ruling, as it seeks to determine whether the misrepresented values shown to lenders, taxing authorities and other business interests constituted fraud and, if so, who committed that fraud.
James is also seeking to uphold a ruling forcing Trump's two eldest children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., to testify. Both of them have been executives at their father's company, the Trump Organization.
“The evidence collected to date suggests that financial statements, tax submissions, loan guarantees, and other documents contain material misstatements and omissions,” James’ office said in court papers. “These misrepresentations appear to have been aimed at portraying Mr. Trump’s net worth and liquidity as higher than the true facts warranted, to secure economic benefits to which Mr. Trump might not otherwise have been entitled.”
Trump’s lawyers argued in appeal papers filed March 21 that the lower court judge, Arthur Engoron, failed to properly weigh constitutional and ethical concerns about James' investigation.
In its response, James' office rejected the Trumps' arguments that the attorney general, a Democrat, had a political vendetta against Trump, a Republican, or that requiring the Trumps to testify under oath would violate their constitutional rights because their answers could be used against them in a parallel criminal investigation.
While upholding the subpoenas would require the Trumps to sit for questioning, they can't be forced to provide information that could be used against them in a future criminal case, James' office said, and are free to exercise their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination — as another Trump son, Eric Trump, did more than 500 times during a 2020 deposition in the civil investigation.
Lawyers for the Trumps want the appellate division of the state’s trial court to overturn Engoron’s Feb. 17 ruling and invalidate James’ subpoenas seeking their testimony. The Trumps and James' office have agreed to pause enforcement of the subpoenas during the appeals process. Court papers indicate the appellate court will likely hear arguments in May or June.
On Monday, in a related matter, Engoron ordered weekly progress reports from an digital forensics company that the Trump Organization hired to provide evidence to James’ office, which had raised concerns that the process was playing out slower than expected. The company must turn over all requested evidence by April 22, the judge said.
Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak