Trump court defeat: What happens next after ex-president and children ordered to testify in fraud case?

New York Supreme Court judge sides with state attorney general Letitia James

Joe Sommerlad
Friday 18 February 2022 21:02 GMT
Donald Trump and his children
Donald Trump and his children (AP)

A judge in New York has ruled that former US president Donald Trump and his children Donald Trump Jr and Ivanka Trump must comply with subpoenas and testify in a fraud investigation being conducted by the office of state attorney general Letitia James into Trump Organisation business practises.

Ms James is examining accusations that the Trumps issued “fraudulent or misleading” financial statements that misrepresented the value of the company’s assets to secure favourable loans and reduce its tax burden.

The ruling by New York Supreme Court judge Arthur Engoron, following a two-hour hearing on Thursday, means the trio must sit for depositions with investigators within the next three weeks and saw him dismiss the Trump camp’s efforts to halt Ms James’s investigation by insisting that sitting for testimony threatened to undermine their constitutional rights.

That argument “completely misses the mark”, Judge Engoron wrote in his ruling, pointing out that the Trumps have the right to follow Eric Trump’s recent example and refuse to answer specific questions in the civil probe in accordance with the safeguards against self-incrimination provided by the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution.

Judge Engoron also rubbished the idea that the James investigation was being pursued because of her own political bias and that it is now moot anyway given that the Trump Organization’s long-time accountancy firm, Mazars USA, recently said that the last 10 years of financial statements it had prepared were unreliable.

He likened that second objection to the logic on show in the writings of Lewis Carroll and Geroge Orwell and branded the position “as audacious as it is preposterous”.

The judge gave the Trumps 21 days to sit for the depositions and 14 days to hand over certain documents and records demanded by Ms James.

“In the final analysis, a state attorney general commences investigating a business entity, uncovers copious evidence of possible financial fraud, and wants to question, under oath, several of the entities’ principles, including its namesake,” Judge Engoron wrote. “She has the clear right to do so.”

So what happens next?

Elie Honig, senior legal analyst for CNN, laid out the likely next steps in a post on Twitter, suggesting that, firstly, the Trump camp can be relied upon to appeal the decision.

If that motion is successful, Mr Trump and his children will not have to testify under oath but, if it fails, they will.

Should that happen, all three can be expected to plead the Fifth, as Judge Engoron anticipated in his ruling, permitting them to leave uncomfortable questions unanswered in order to avoid incriminating themselves.

Ronald Fischetti and Alan Futerfas, attorneys for Mr Trump and his children respectively, have already both indicated that appealing is precisely what they intend to do.

“We lost before we argued,” Mr Fischetti told CNN. “I told my client that so I had no hope whatsoever that this judge would give us the relief that we wanted.”

He also argued that forcing the former president to plead the Fifth would land him on the frontpage of every newspaper and news website worldwide, potentially prejudicing the potential jury pool in the event that a future criminal case was brought against him.

Bemoaning the outcome in a statement from his Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, Mr Trump accused his hometown and its top prosecutor of “doing everything within their corrupt discretion to interfere with my business relationships and with the political process”.

He called the ruling “a continuation of the greatest witch-hunt in history and remember, I can’t get a fair hearing in New York because of the hatred of me by judges and the judiciary. It is not possible”.

Enjoying the news rather more was Mr Trump’s estranged former fixer Michael Cohen, who told The Guardian: “Let’s not forget Trump’s declaration that only guilty people plead the Fifth. I wonder if that applies to him and his children as and when they remain silent.”

Ms James, meanwhile, was triumphant, commenting: “No one will be permitted to stand in the way of the pursuit of justice, no matter how powerful they are. No one is above the law.”

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