NEW YORK (REUTERS) – A New York judge ruled on Thursday (Feb 17) that former US president Donald Trump and two of his adult children must answer questions under oath in the state attorney-general’s civil probe into their family company’s business.
Justice Arthur Engoron of New York state court in Manhattan ruled in favour of Attorney-General Letitia James, who sought to enforce subpoenas to compel testimony by Trump, his son Donald Trump Jr and his daughter Ivanka Trump.
Engoron said James had “the clear right” to question the Trumps after having uncovered “copious evidence of possible financial fraud.”
Engoron directed the Trumps to submit to questioning within 21 days.
Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for the younger Trumps, declined to comment.
Lawyers for Donald Trump did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The decision followed a two-hour hearing in which the Trumps’ lawyers accused James of doing an end run around their clients’ constitutional rights by seeking testimony she could them use against them in a parallel criminal probe.
Donald Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba accused James of “selective prosecution and prosecutorial misconduct that this country has never seen,” citing statements reflecting the Democratic attorney general’s “vile disdain” for Trump.
“If he was not who he is, she would not be doing this,”Habba said. “This court can help stop this circus.”
Kevin Wallace, a lawyer from James’ office, rejected that characterisation.
“They haven’t shown anything here that says it’s unfair,” Wallace said.
Last month, James said her nearly three-year investigation into the Trump Organisation had uncovered significant evidence of possible fraud.
She described what she called misleading statements about the values of the “Trump Brand” and six Trump properties, saying the company may have inflated real estate values to obtain bank loans and reduced them to lower tax bills.
The investigation partially overlaps a criminal probe now led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in which the Trump Organisation and its longtime chief financial officer pleaded not guilty last July to tax fraud charges.
James joined that probe last May.
Trump, who has not announced whether he will run again for president in 2024, has called James’ investigation a political “witch hunt” and is suing to try to stop it.
The hearing followed last week’s decision by Trump’s longtime accounting firm Mazars USA to cut ties with him and the Trump Organisation, saying it could no longer stand behind a decade of financial statements.
Lawyers for Donald Trump have said he did not know enough to respond to allegations of inaccurate valuations, though Trump detailed some possible discrepancies in a five-page statement on Tuesday.
The Trumps have not been accused of criminal wrongdoing.
Washington DC’s attorney-general is separately suing the Trump Organisation and Trump’s inaugural committee over the alleged misuse of US$1.1 million of charitable funds. A Sept 26 trial date was set on Thursday.