Donald Trump has been found in contempt of court for failing to turn over documents to the New York attorney-general as she probes financial dealings by the former president and his business.
Trump was ordered on Monday by Judge Arthur Engoron to pay $10,000 a day until he complies with a previous ruling ordering him to hand over documents requested by Letitia James, New York attorney-general.
“Mr Trump, I know you take your business seriously, and I take mine seriously,” Judge Engoron said, according to media reports. He ordered Trump to either hand over the requested records or provide sworn assurances that they do not exist.
The ruling is a potentially costly rebuke for Trump in what has been a grinding legal fight with James, whose office has been conducting a civil investigation of his financial dealings and those of the Trump Organization.
In a related decision, the judge also granted the attorney-general’s motion to compel Cushman & Wakefield, the real estate services company that audited several Trump properties, to hand over relevant documents by May 27.
“Today, justice prevailed,” James said in a statement. “For years, Donald Trump has tried to evade the law and stop our lawful investigation into him and his company’s financial dealings. Today’s ruling makes clear: No one is above the law.”
In January, James said her office had found “significant evidence” that Trump and the Trump Organization had fraudulently inflated the value of their assets to banks, insurers and financial institutions in order to secure financing and tax benefits.
James claimed in that filing that the former president, who is known to eschew email, sometimes communicated with employees by handwritten Post-it notes. She complained that his company was refusing to hand these over, as well as other records kept in company filing cabinets.
She issued subpoenas to Trump as well as two of his adult children, Donald Jr and Ivanka. The Trumps tried, unsuccessfully, to quash the subpoenas, arguing they were being unfairly targeted and that the attorney-general’s subpoena was a ploy to extract information that could later be used against the family in the parallel criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney. Engoron overruled those objections and ordered them to comply.
The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment. One of Trump’s lawyers, Alina Habba, on Monday said the former president would appeal against the contempt order.
Trump has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and described the investigation as a Democrat-led political “witch-hunt” as he considers another potential run for the presidency in 2024.
Manhattan prosecutors last year charged Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer, with tax fraud. But they have struggled to persuade Weisselberg, one of the family’s most loyal lieutenants, to co-operate with the probe. He has pleaded not guilty.
In February there were signs that the criminal probe had stalled when two senior prosecutors resigned after complaining that the new Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, did not support their push for criminal charges. Bragg, who took office in January, has insisted that his investigation is continuing.
James’s civil probe, meanwhile, appears to be the more urgent legal threat facing the former president.
It is focusing on whether the Trump Organization inflated the value of certain real estate assets in order to secure financing — at a time when many lenders had avoided it — while minimising the value of the assets for tax and insurance purposes.
James commenced her investigation in 2019 after Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, told Congress the Trump Organization routinely misrepresented the value of its assets to banks, insurers and other financial institutions.
“It was my experience that Mr Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed among the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes,” Cohen told a congressional committee at the time.