Former President Donald Trump and two of his children filed an appeal in their fight against the New York attorney general’s attempt to depose them as part of a civil investigation into the Trump Organization, saying a lower court erred by denying the Trumps’ request to quash their subpoenas for testimony.
In their appeal filed Monday, Trump and his children Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. argued that if New York Attorney General Letitia James wants their testimony, she should bring them before a state grand jury investigating the Trump Organization, where witnesses receive transactional immunity for their testimony in New York.
The Trumps’ attorneys wrote that if the attorney general’s office is allowed to depose their clients, the state’s constitutional and statutory protections can easily be “eviscerated if the same agency involved in the criminal investigation simply opens up a ‘civil’ investigation into the very same matters.”
“The question is whether the (Office of the Attorney General) can use the office subpoenas to avoid the grand jury process and compel testimony from those whom it does not wish to grant immunity,” the appeal states.
A state judge ruled against the Trumps’ request in February, saying they could invoke their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination and refuse to answer questions, which Eric Trump did during his 2020 deposition. Attorneys for the Trump family argued that a jury could draw an “adverse inference” if the Trumps opted not to answer questions in depositions.
New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron had ordered the Trumps to sit for depositions by March 10, but the former President and his children reached a deal to delay those appearances until after an appeal is decided.
James said in court filings in January that her office’s civil investigation had uncovered significant evidence that the Trump Organization used “fraudulent or misleading asset valuations to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage and tax deductions” and that financial statements had numerous “misleading statements and omissions.”
A parallel criminal investigation conducted by the Manhattan district attorney’s office has been looking into the former President and his business and whether they misled lenders, insurers and others by providing false or misleading financial statements about property values. But the investigation has reached an impasse, and two top attorneys resigned earlier this month after Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg said he was not prepared to authorize an indictment against the former President, CNN previously reported.
The Trumps’ attorneys wrote that it is “undisputed” that the criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney’s office targets the valuations and appraisals of Trump’s properties in financial statements to taxing authorities and financial institutions, just as the attorney general’s investigation does. The Trumps’ attorneys cited a filing from the attorney general’s office in January where it writes that “coordination between parallel civil and criminal proceedings is standard procedure.”
In their appeal, the Trumps’ attorneys also ask the appellate court to reverse Engoron’s decision and allow there to be a hearing on the “scope and extent of coordination” between the Manhattan district attorney’s office and the attorney general’s office. The Trumps’ attorneys want to ask whether two attorneys from James’ office are providing information or reporting back to the attorney general’s office. The Trumps also want to ask whether the attorney general’s office is providing all of the information it has collected to the district attorney’s office, and whether it would immediately provide subpoenaed testimony to the district attorney’s office, among other questions.
In a statement shortly after the appeal was filed, James said her office will continue to follow the facts.
“Donald J. Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump were ordered by a judge to comply with our investigation into Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization’s financial dealings,” James said. “Despite continuous efforts to impede this investigation, no one can stop our pursuit of justice, no matter how powerful they are.”
Attorneys for the Trumps again outlined public statements made by James about Donald Trump in their appeal, calling them “an extraordinary and unprecedented barrage of inappropriate public statements” since she ran for office in 2018, threatening to investigate and prosecute Trump and those close to him. The appeal argues that Engoron’s decision did not address James’ comments, saying they reveal “extraordinary animus” on James’ part and cannot be ignored.