Donald Trump has appealed a New York judge’s decision to hold the former president in contempt of court and fine him $10,000 per day for failing to comply with a subpoena for evidence in the state attorney general’s civil investigation into his business dealings.
Trump’s lawyer, Alina Habba, filed a notice of appeal Wednesday with the appellate division of the state’s trial court – the second time in two months that Trump has sought to overturn Manhattan Judge Arthur Engoron’s ruling against him in a subpoena matter.
In court papers, Habba questioned the legal basis for Engoron’s contempt ruling Monday, arguing that Trump had responded properly to the subpoena and that Attorney General Letitia James’ office failed to show his conduct “was calculated to defeat, impair, impede, or prejudice” its investigation.
James’ office refused to engage in “good-faith discussions” before seeking to have Trump fined, Habba argued. In a statement after the ruling Monday, Habba said: “All documents responsive to the subpoena were produced to the attorney general months ago.”
In a statement Wednesday, James said Engoron’s order was clear on Trump being in contempt of court.
“We’ve seen this playbook before, and it has never stopped our investigation of Mr. Trump and his organization,” James said. “This time is no different.”
In another subpoena fight, Trump is challenging Engoron’s Feb. 17 ruling requiring that he answer questions under oath. James has said that the probe uncovered evidence that Trump may have misstated the value of assets like skyscrapers and golf courses for more than a decade. Oral arguments in that appeal are scheduled for May 11.
Along with its subpoena for Trump’s testimony, James’ office issued a subpoena for numerous documents, including paperwork and communications pertaining to his financial statements, financing and debt for a Chicago hotel project and development plans for his Seven Springs Estate north of New York City, and even communications with Forbes magazine, where he sought to burnish his image as a wealthy businessman.
James, a Democrat, asked Engoron to hold Trump in contempt after he failed to produce any documents by a March 31 court deadline. In his ruling, Engoron said that Trump and his lawyers not only failed to meet the deadline, but also failed to document the steps they had taken to search for the documents.
Instead, “Trump produced 16 pages of boilerplate objections and a four-page affirmation by counsel that states, summarily, that Mr. Trump was unable to locate any responsive documents in his custody,” Engoron said in a written version of his ruling. “The affirmation fails to identify what search methods were employed, where they were employed, by whom they were employed, and where such searches took place.”
Habba, arguing at a hearing Monday, insisted that she went to great lengths to comply with the subpoena, even travelling to Trump’s home in Florida to ask him specifically whether he had in his possession any documents that would be responsive to the demand.
Habba noted that Trump does not send emails or text messages and has no work computer “at home or anywhere else.” She described the search for documents as “diligent,” but Engoron took issue with the lack of detail in her written response to the subpoena and questioned why it didn’t include an affidavit from Trump himself.
“You can’t just stand here and say I searched this and that,” Engoron said.
Trump, a Republican, is suing James in federal court in an effort to stop her investigation. He recently labeled her an “operative for the Democrat Party” and said her investigation and a parallel criminal probe overseen by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, another Democrat, are “a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt of all time.”
Bragg said this month that the three-year-old criminal investigation he inherited in January from his predecessor, Cyrus Vance Jr., is continuing “without fear or favour” despite a recent shakeup in the probe’s leadership. Trump’s lawyers contend that James is using her civil investigation to gain access to information that could then be used against him in the criminal probe.
So far, the district attorney’s investigation has resulted only in tax fraud charges against Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, and its longtime finance chief Allen Weisselberg relating to lucrative fringe benefits such as rent, car payments and school tuition. The company and Weisselberg have pleaded not guilty.
James’ investigation is covering much of the same ground, focusing in part on what the attorney general said is a pattern of misleading banks and tax authorities about the value of his properties.
Assistant Attorney General Andrew Amer told Engoron that the probe was being hampered “because we don’t have evidence from the person at the top of this organization.” He said the failure to turn documents over in response to the subpoena was “effectively Mr. Trump thumbing his nose at this court’s order.”
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