A New York state judge has held former United States President Donald Trump in contempt of court for not producing documents subpoenaed in a state probe of his business practices.
Trump lost a bid to quash a subpoena from New York Attorney General Letitia James then failed to produce all the documents by a court-ordered March 3 deadline, later extended to March 31 at his lawyers’ request.
Justice Arthur Engoron ruled on Monday that a contempt finding was appropriate because of what he called “repeated failures” to hand over materials and that it was not clear Trump had conducted a complete search for responsive documents.
“Mr. Trump … I know you take your business seriously, and I take mine seriously. I hereby hold you in civil contempt,” the judge said, although Trump himself was not in the New York state courtroom in Manhattan.
The attorney general’s office received “zero documents” from Trump by the end of March, Andrew Amer, special litigation counsel with James’s office, said on Monday in arguments before Engoron delivered his ruling.
“Donald Trump is not beyond the reach of this court’s authority,” Amer said in support of the contempt motion. “Mr Trump had his day in court challenging the subpoena, and he lost.”
James is investigating whether the Trump Organization, the former president’s family company based in New York City, misstated the values of its real estate properties to obtain favourable loans and tax deductions.
After the ruling, James called it “a major victory” and said “justice prevailed”.
“Our investigation into Donald Trump and the Trump Organization’s financial dealings will continue undeterred because no one is above the law,” James said on Twitter.
James has said her probe had found “significant evidence” suggesting that for more than 10 years the company’s financial statements “relied on misleading asset valuations and other misrepresentations to secure economic benefits”.
Trump and two of his adult children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr, have been subpoenaed and ordered to provide testimony to the attorney general. An appeal is pending for the testimony, but the former president agreed to comply with the subpoena’s document demands.
Kevin Wallace, a senior counsel in the attorney general’s office, said there were “significant gaps” in the Trump Organization’s compliance with the state’s document request.
“It’s been [like] pulling teeth to get documents” in some instances, Wallace added.
The state has asked that Trump be fined $10,000 a day, and perhaps more, until he complies.
Alina Habba, a lawyer for Trump and the company, said at Monday’s hearing that James’s investigation was a “fishing expedition” and that the Trump Organization was “right on schedule” with its production of documents.
“This is a political crusade,” Habba said. “The attorney general’s investigation has seemingly become aimless.”
The attorney general has questioned how the Trump Organization valued the Trump brand, as well as properties including golf clubs in New York and Scotland and Trump’s penthouse apartment in midtown Manhattan’s Trump Tower.
Trump, a Republican, denies wrongdoing and has called the investigation politically motivated. James is a Democrat.
In February, the accounting firm that had prepared Trump’s annual financial statements said the documents, used to secure lucrative loans and burnish Trump’s image as a wealthy businessman, “should no longer be relied upon”.
Mazars USA LLP advised the Trump Organization to inform anyone who had possession of the documents not to use them when assessing the financial health of the company and the former president.
Mazars also said it was cutting ties with Trump, its highest-profile client.
Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen had testified publicly before a congressional committee in 2019 that Trump devalued his assets in order to pay lower real estate taxes.