World

Trump, his children subpoenaed by New York attorney general in family business investigation

New York's attorney general has issued subpoenas to former U.S. president Donald Trump and his two eldest children in connection with an ongoing civil investigation into the family's business practices, according to a court filing Monday.

Attorney General Letitia James seeking testimony, documents from family

New York's attorney general has issued subpoenas to former U.S. president Donald Trump and his two eldest children — Ivanka and Donald Jr. — in connection with an ongoing civil investigation into the family's business practices, according to a court filing made public on Monday. (Evan Vucci/The Associated Press)

The office of New York's attorney general confirmed for the first time Monday that it had subpoenaed former U.S. president Donald Trump and his two eldest children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., demanding their testimony in an investigation into the family's business practices.

In a court filing, lawyers for Attorney General Letitia James said they are seeking the Trumps' testimony and documents as part of a years-long civil probe involving matters including "the valuation of properties owned or controlled" by Trump and his company.

Monday's filing was the first public disclosure that investigators scrutinizing the former president's dealings were also seeking information from Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., both trusted allies of their father who've been executives in his family's Trump Organization.

Last month, it was reported that James' office had requested Trump sit for a deposition.

James, a Democrat, has spent more than two years looking at whether the Trump Organization misled banks or tax officials about the value of assets — inflating them to gain favourable loan terms or minimizing them to reap tax savings.

New York State Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a news conference in New York City in August 2021. (Ted Shaffrey/The Associated Press)

The Trumps have indicated they will fight the subpoenas and are expected to file court papers through their lawyers seeking to have them thrown out. A similar legal fight played out last year after James' office subpoenaed the testimony of another Trump son, Eric Trump.

Trump sued James in federal court last month, seeking to put an end to her investigation. Trump, in the lawsuit, claimed that James had violated his constitutional rights in a "thinly-veiled effort to publicly malign Trump and his associates."

A state court judge who handled past disputes arising from the probe agreed Monday to entertain arguments over the subpoenas, which also seek documents from the Trumps in addition to their testimony.

Messages seeking comment were left Monday with the Trumps' lawyers and the Trump Organization. A message seeking comment was also left with the attorney general's office.

Heated legal battle

In the past, the Republican ex-president has decried James' investigation as part of a "witch hunt" along with a parallel criminal probe being run by the Manhattan district attorney's office.

James' office went to court last year to enforce a subpoena on Eric Trump, a Trump Organization executive, and a judge forced him to testify after his lawyers abruptly cancelled a previously scheduled deposition.

The same judge, Arthur Engoron, has ruled in the past to enforce subpoenas stemming from the Trump probe, including forcing Trump's company and a law firm it hired to turn over troves of records related to a Trump-owned estate north of Manhattan.

Eric Trump speaks at a rally in Washington in January 2021. (Jacquelyn Martin/The Associated Press)

Although the civil investigation is separate from the district attorney's criminal investigation, James' office has been involved in both.

Last year, former district attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. gained access to the longtime real estate mogul's tax records after a multiyear fight that twice went to the U.S. Supreme Court. He also brought tax fraud charges in July against the Trump Organization and its longtime CFO Allen Weisselberg.

Before he left office last week, Vance convened a new grand jury to hear evidence as he weighed whether to seek more indictments in the investigation, but left the decision on additional charges to his successor, Alvin Bragg. The new district attorney has said he'll be directly involved in the Trump matter while also retaining the two veteran prosecutors who led the case under Vance.

Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., former Manhattan district attorney, is shown in May 2018. (Frank Franklin II/The Associated Press)

Weisselberg pleaded not guilty to charges alleging he and the company evaded taxes on lucrative fringe benefits paid to executives.

It is rare for law enforcement agencies to issue a civil subpoena for testimony from a person who is also the subject of a related criminal investigation.

That's partly because the person under criminal investigation could simply cite their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent. It is unlikely that Trump's lawyers would allow him to be deposed unless they were sure his testimony couldn't be used against him in a criminal case.

Both investigations are at least partly related to allegations made in news reports and by Trump's former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, that Trump had a history of misrepresenting the value of assets.

James' office issued subpoenas to local governments as part of the civil probe for records pertaining to Seven Springs, Trump's estate north of Manhattan, and a tax benefit Trump received for placing land into a conservation trust. Vance later issued subpoenas seeking many of the same records.

James' office has also been looking at similar issues relating to a Trump office building in New York City, a hotel in Chicago and a golf course near Los Angeles.

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