The New York attorney general can question Donald J. Trump and two of his adult children under oath as part of a civil inquiry into his business practices, a judge ruled on Thursday, rejecting the former president’s effort to block the interviews.
The inquiry by the attorney general, Letitia James, and a parallel criminal investigation led by the Manhattan district attorney are examining whether Mr. Trump improperly inflated the value of his assets to receive favorable loans.
Lawyers for the Trump family had sought to prohibit Ms. James, a Democrat, from interviewing Mr. Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump. They had argued that she was politically biased against Mr. Trump and was inappropriately using her civil inquiry to aid the district attorney’s criminal investigation, which she is also participating in.
But the judge, Arthur F. Engoron, wrote that “this argument completely misses the mark.”
He ruled in favor of Ms. James’s lawyers, who had asked that the former president and the two adult children be interviewed in the next three weeks. The order also requires that the former president provide the attorney general with documents she sought in her subpoena.
“Today, justice prevailed,” Ms. James said in a statement, adding, “No one is above the law.” The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The ruling does not mean that Ms. James will automatically receive the answers she is seeking. Mr. Trump and his children can invoke their constitutional right to not incriminate themselves, as Mr. Trump’s other adult son, Eric Trump, did when questioned by the attorney general’s office in October 2020. The Trump family can also appeal the decision.
The judge’s decision followed a fiery virtual hearing in State Supreme Court on Thursday, during which lawyers for Mr. Trump and the attorney general made their cases. Several times, Mr. Trump’s lawyers became so heated that Judge Engoron and his law clerk had to call for a timeout — raising their hands in the shape of a “T,” a gesture more often seen at a sporting event than in a courtroom.
Although Ms. James had signaled in court papers that she had amassed significant evidence against Mr. Trump’s family business — she has accused the Trump Organization of engaging in “fraudulent or misleading” practices — she has said that she needs to question Mr. Trump and his children before determining her next move.
Mr. Trump and his children sought to block the questioning, and Ms. James responded in a court filing last month, arguing that there was “heightened need” for testimony from the three family members. She said that by questioning them, she would be able to determine who was responsible for the misstatements and omissions that the organization made in its financial documents.
Because Ms. James’s inquiry is civil, she cannot bring criminal charges. If she finds evidence of criminal wrongdoing, she can file a lawsuit against Mr. Trump, his organization or others involved in the business. In last month’s filing, Ms. James said that her lawyers had not yet reached a final decision on a lawsuit but argued that “the grounds for conducting the investigation are beyond reproach.”
If Trump takes the Fifth, it can be used against him in the civil case being developed by the New York Attorney General.— Renato Mariotti (@renato_mariotti) February 17, 2022
If Trump doesn’t take the Fifth, the Manhattan DA can use his words against him.
He’s between a rock and a hard place. https://t.co/Qk9hIghhLu