Trump testimony expected soon in New York civil inquiry

NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump is expected to be questioned under oath in the coming days as part of the New York attorney general’s lengthy investigation into his connections as a real estate mogul.

The deposition could be a critical moment in the investigation into allegations that the Republican billionaire’s company, the Trump Organization, misled banks and tax authorities about the value of valuable assets like golf courses and skyscrapers. sky.

New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office said in May that it was nearing the end of its investigation and that investigators had amassed substantial evidence that could warrant legal action against Trump, his company, or both. .

Trump’s deposition — a legal term for sworn testimony that is not given in court — is one of the few missing exhibits, the attorney general’s office said.

Two of the former president’s adult children – Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump – have been interviewed as part of the investigation in recent days, two people familiar with the matter said. The individuals were not authorized to speak publicly about the investigation and did so on condition of anonymity.

The Trumps’ testimony was originally scheduled for last month but was delayed after the July 14 deaths of the former president’s ex-wife, Ivana Trump, Ivanka’s mother, Donald Jr. and another son, Eric Trump.

Eric Trump sat for deposition in 2020. Donald Trump Jr.’s testimony last week was first reported by The New York Times.

Messages seeking comment were left in James’s office and the Trumps’ attorneys. They declined to comment or did not respond.

James, a Democrat, said in court papers that her office uncovered “significant” evidence that Trump’s company “used fraudulent or misleading asset valuations to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage and tax deductions”.

James alleges the Trump Organization overstated the value of its holdings to impress lenders or misrepresented what the land was worth to reduce its tax burden, pointing to annual financial statements given to banks to secure favorable loan terms and magazines to justify Trump’s place among the countries of the world. billionaires.

The company even exaggerated the size of Trump’s Manhattan penthouse, saying it was nearly three times its actual size – a difference in value of about $200 million, James’ office said.

Trump denied the allegations, explaining that seeking the best appraisals is standard practice in the real estate industry. He says James’ investigation is part of a politically motivated “witch hunt” and that his office is “doing everything in its corrupt discretion to interfere with my business dealings and with the political process”.

“THERE IS NO CASE!” Trump said in a February statement, after Manhattan Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that James’ office had a “clear right” to question Trump and other directors of his company.

As James considered suing Trump or his company, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office has long been conducting a parallel criminal investigation.

That investigation appeared to be progressing toward a possible criminal charge, but slowed after a new prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, took office in January.

A grand jury that had heard evidence was disbanded. The chief prosecutor handling the investigation resigned after Bragg raised internal questions about the viability of the case.

Bragg said his investigation is continuing, which means Trump could invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions from James’s investigators.

According to the subpoenas, Trump was to appear in person at the attorney general’s office, located in a Manhattan office tower that doubled as the headquarters of fictional conglomerate Waystar Royco on HBO’s “Succession.”

As vocal as Trump has been in defending himself in written statements and on the rally stage, legal experts say the same strategy could backfire on him in a deposition because anything he says could potentially be used against him or his business as part of the criminal investigation. No former president has even been charged with a crime.

In fighting to block the subpoenas, the Trumps’ lawyers argued that New York authorities were using the civil investigation to obtain information for the criminal investigation and that the depositions were a ploy to avoid calling them before a court. criminal grand jury, where state law requires that they be given immunity.

Last summer, spurred by evidence uncovered by James’s office, Manhattan prosecutors charged the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, with tax evasion. Prosecutors said Weisselberg collected more than $1.7 million in unofficial compensation. Weisselberg and company have pleaded not guilty.

Weisselberg and Eric Trump each invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 500 times when questioned by James’ attorneys in separate depositions in 2020, court documents show.

The former president could choose to do the same, but it’s likely “he’ll claim to lack knowledge on many issues,” said New York University law professor Stephen Gillers.

This strategy “may actually be quite believable because we know he’s not a green-visored guy, but a big-picture guy,” Gillers said. “So he will answer general questions and those answers will be general enough to keep him out of trouble, or so his lawyers hope.”

“On the other hand, his impetuosity makes him a lawyer’s nightmare and his overconfidence risks leading him astray. Whoever questions him will encourage him,” added the professor.

Once his investigation is complete, James may decide to take legal action and seek financial sanctions against Trump or his company, or even a ban on involvement in certain types of businesses.

___

Associated Press reporter Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.

___

Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak

Comments are closed.