Former President Donald Trump, as well as his children Ivanka and Donald Jr., must sit for depositions in the New York attorney general’s civil investigation of their business practices, a New York judge ruled Thursday.
New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron also rejected an attempt to freeze the work of Attorney General Letitia James, who is investigating whether Trump misled lenders, insurers or others in his family business’ financial statements.
On several occasions throughout a two-hour hearing Thursday morning and in his ruling, the judge expressed skepticism toward the Trumps’ arguments that sitting for testimony in the civil investigation would undermine their constitutional rights.
That argument “completely misses the mark,” Engoron wrote in the order issued Thursday afternoon. He noted that the Trumps have the right to refuse to answer specific questions in the civil probe, as Eric Trump did when he sat for a deposition in the investigation.
Engoron also excoriated the Trump Organization for claiming that James’ investigation is now moot because the former President’s longtime accounting firm, MazarsUSA, recently determined that the last 10 years of financial statements it prepared were unreliable.
“The idea that an accounting firm’s announcement that no one should rely on a decade’s worth of financial statements it issued based on the numbers submitted by an entity somehow exonerates that entity and renders an investigation into its past practices as moot is reminiscent of Lewis Carroll (‘When I use a word, Humpty Dumpty said … it means just what I chose it to mean – neither more nor less’); George Orwell (‘War is peace, freedom is slavery, ignorance is strength’): and ‘alternative facts,’” Engoron wrote.
“To proclaim that that Mazars’ red-flag warning that the Trump financial statements are unreliable suddenly renders the OAG’s longstanding investigation moot is as audacious as it is preposterous,” the judge added.
The ruling is the latest in a string of of legal defeats suffered by the former President, as he seeks to fend off investigations and lawsuits entangling his business. The Trump Organization was recently reinstated as a defendant in a case brought by the DC Attorney General Karl Racine, who is alleging the funds for Trump’s 2017 inauguration were misused. In the DC case, a judge ruled Thursday that former Trump Org. Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg will have to sit for a deposition by Racine’s lawyers.
In the New York case, Engoron ordered the Trumps to sit for depositions within 21 days of his order, and the judge gave the former President 14 days comply with the attorney general’s demands for certain documents and records.
“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,” Engoron wrote. “She has the clear right to do so.”
Ronald Fischetti, attorney for former President Donald Trump, told CNN after the ruling came down that he will appeal the decision and seek a stay of the order.
“We lost before we argued,” said Fischetti. “I told my client that so I had no hope whatsoever that this judge would give us the relief that we wanted.”
The lawyer for Trump’s children, Alan Futerfas, noted to CNN comments he made during Thursday’s hearing signaling they were likely appeal an unfavorable ruling.
In a statement after the ruling, James said that “justice prevailed.”
“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,” she said.
During Thursday’s hearing, Engoron asked why the Trumps couldn’t just invoke the Fifth Amendment’s protections against self-incrimination and refuse to answer specific questions.
“Can’t they refuse to answer? Isn’t that what Eric Trump did 500 times?” the judge said, referring to a deposition that Trump’s son already gave in the investigation.
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In their efforts to quash the subpoenas, the Trumps’ lawyers argued that if James wants their testimony, she should bring them before a grand jury where they could be granted immunity.
The lawyers pointed to a separate criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney that is underway, and they emphasized the coordination between that office and James’s office.
Fischetti, who is representing Trump in the district attorney’s criminal investigation, argued that if the former President was forced to invoke the Fifth Amendment, it would be on the front page of every newspaper and would taint the jury pool if a criminal case was brought against Trump.
The former President also had filed a request to freeze James’ investigation altogether, saying she’s engaged in a political and selective prosecution and is improperly biased against him.
The judge was skeptical of those arguments as well, pushing back on claims from Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba that the attorney general was discriminating against Trump on the basis of his political views.
Habba at one point said the attorney general’s office should be asked whether it intends to investigate Hillary Clinton for supposedly spying on Trump Tower – a reference to a recent legal filing in special counsel John Durham’s investigation that has been mischaracterized by conservative media.
The judge however did note that James has made sensational public comments as both a candidate and in office, vowing to investigate Trump.
“It’s arguably a circus that she’s done,” the judge said.
This story has been updated with additional details.
CNN’s Sonnet Swire contributed to this report.