Former President Donald Trump, center, stands next to daughter Ivanka and son Donald Trump Jr. at a news conference in the lobby of Trump Tower in New York on Jan. 11, 2017. (AP Photo / Evan Vucci)
Former President Donald Trump’s never-ending legal nightmare just got much worse. On Thursday, New York State Supreme Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that Trump and two of his adult children—Ivanka and Don Jr.—had to testify under oath in a civil fraud investigation into Trump’s family business. The ruling followed a fiery two-hour hearing Thursday morning in which Trump’s lawyers raised their voices and were told repeatedly by the clerk not to interrupt the judge.
Engoron gave Trump, Ivanka, and Don Jr. 21 days to appear for depositions, and 14 days to submit documents and information to officials in New York. The ruling represents the latest twist in a long-running legal battle between Trump and New York Attorney General Letitia James over his company’s business practices. James has claimed in court documents that Trump’s company made false representations about the valuations of various assets, and said his company engaged in “fraudulent or misleading” practices. Trump’s company has denied wrongdoing, and accused James of running a witch hunt.Trump’s team had attempted to persuade the judge to block Trump, Ivanka and Don Jr. from testifying by pointing to the parallel criminal investigation underway by prosecutors in Manhattan. Trump’s lawyers argued it would be unfair to Trump and his children to be forced to testify in a civil case, when their answers could potentially be used against them in a future criminal trial. But in a scorching eight-page ruling, Engoron dismantled Trump’s lawyers’ arguments. Given the evidence that James’ team has uncovered so far, failure to subpoena Trump and his children would have been “a blatant dereliction of duty,” he wrote in the court order. “This argument completely misses the mark,” he wrote.
When Trump and his children are deposed, “They will have the right to refuse to answer any questions that they claim might incriminate them, and that refusal may not be commented on or used against them in a criminal prosecution,” the judge wrote. “However, there is no unfairness in allowing the jurors in a civil case to know these refusals and to draw their own conclusions.” James hailed the decision as a massive victory. “Today, justice prevailed,” James said in a statement. “Donald J. Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump have been ordered by the court to comply with our lawful investigation into Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization’s financial dealings. 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.” Even before Engoron’s ruling, Trump’s lawyers signaled on Thursday morning that they would appeal any decision ordering Trump or his family members to testify. An appeal would be in keeping with Trump’s previous courtroom tactics, which have often successfully delayed investigators or adverse legal decisions for months or even years. Trump’s longtime accounting firm, Mazars, ended its working relationship with the ex-president and his company earlier this month, according to a letter that was made public this week. The company also said that a decade worth of Trump’s statements of financial condition “should no longer be relied upon.”One member of the Trump clan, Eric Trump, has already testified in James’ investigation. During his deposition, Eric used the Fifth Amendment to refuse to answer questions over 500 times, according to a filing made by James’ legal team. James’ investigation is civil in nature, meaning she can’t directly bring criminal charges. She can, however, file a lawsuit if she finds evidence of wrongdoing. She has not yet said whether she plans to bring one.