Will Former President Donald Trump Testify in Tax Fraud Lawsuit?
A New York State appeals court ruled on Thursday, May 26th, that former President Donald Trump should respond to questions under oath in a civil inquiry into his business activities.
The appeals court unanimously rejected a request by former President Donald Trump and two of his adult children to be exempt from answering questions under oath by investigators for New York Attorney General Letitia James as part of her civil investigation into Trump Organization business practices.
The ruling marked Trump’s latest judicial setback in his efforts to stifle James’ investigation into charges that the Trump Organization improperly distorted the declared values of various real estate holdings for financial advantage. His son, Donald Trump Jr., and his daughter, Ivanka Trump are obligated to comply with subpoenas issued by Attorney General James seeking their evidence.
A four-judge majority in the state’s appeal division affirmed Manhattan Judge Arthur Engoron’s February 17 judgment compelling Trump and his two eldest children to provide deposition testimony in Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation.
Trump had filed an appeal, arguing that the decision should be overturned. His attorneys claimed that compelling the Trump family to testify would be a violation of their constitutional rights since their responses may be used in a separate criminal probe.
Referencing the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, the four-judge panel wrote, “The existence of a criminal investigation does not preclude civil discovery of related facts, at which a party may exercise the privilege against self-incrimination.”
The Trumps might still challenge the decision to the Court of Appeals, which is the state’s highest court.
James has stated that her inquiry has found evidence that Trump’s firm, the Trump Organization, used “fraudulent or misleading” appraisals of assets like golf courses and towers to get loans and tax benefits.
The decision on Thursday might force Donald Trump to choose between answering questions or remaining silent, claiming his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Anything Trump says in a civil deposition might be used against him in the Manhattan district attorney’s office’s criminal investigation.
“Once again, the courts have ruled that Donald Trump must comply with our lawful investigation into his financial dealings,” James noted in a brief statement regarding the appeals court decision.
“We will continue to follow the facts of this case and ensure that no one can evade the law,” she added.
Still on Tax Fraud Lawsuit….
On Friday, May 20th, James’ office stated Trump had paid $110,000 as court punishment for failing to comply with a subpoena given to him for records she needed as part of her investigation. However, Trump had failed to take all of the measures necessary by a trial court judge to have the contempt of court order lifted, risking the judge’s initial $10,000-per-day penalties being reinstated.
Trump’s attorneys claimed at a hearing before Manhattan Judge Engoron’s February 17th verdict that having him appear for a civil deposition is an illegal attempt to get around a state rule prohibiting prosecutors from inviting someone to testify before a criminal grand jury without providing them with immunity.
A lawyer with the attorney general’s office told Manhattan Judge Engoron that having civil and criminal investigations going on at the same time wasn’t unusual, and Engoron turned down a request from the Trump family’s lawyers to put the civil probe on hold until the criminal case was resolved.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office accused the Trump Organization and its longstanding finance head, Allen Weisselberg, of tax fraud last summer, based on information obtained in Attorney General James’ civil probe. Weisselberg allegedly received more than $1.7 million in off-the-books income. Weisselberg and his corporation have entered a not guilty plea.
Since James is a registered Democrat, Trump, a Republican, has alleged that James’ probe into possible tax evasion at the Trump Organization is motivated by politics and a “witch hunt.” James is an African American woman. The former president has accused her of being racist. “Our investigation will continue undeterred because no one is above the law,” said James.
Trump did not respond immediately on Thursday.
While his father was still in the White House, Eric Trump, the former president’s second son, testified in the probe in October 2020. The other three Trump children have battled subpoenas for testimonies as part of a refusal to cooperate that has resulted in a contempt punishment.
The order stated that James lawfully launched her inquiry in March 2019, after Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer, and fixer testified before Congress that the Trump Organization “had published falsified financial statements.”
Earlier this week, James said that she had subpoenaed Trump’s longtime aide, Rhona Graff, and planned to interrogate her under oath the following week. Allen Weisselberg, Trump’s longtime finance head, and the Trump Organization have both been charged with tax fraud in the New York criminal inquiry. They both entered not guilty pleas.