MICHAEL R. SISAK
NEW YORK (AP) – A judge has said he plans to rule Thursday afternoon in a fight between former President Donald Trump to avoid being questioned under oath in a New York investigation into his business practices.
New York Attorney General Leticia James is seeking execution of summons issued in December for Trump and his two older children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr.
James, a Democrat, said her civil investigation has found evidence that Trump’s campaign used “fraudulent or deceptive” valuations of assets such as golf clubs and skyscrapers to obtain loans and tax breaks.
Trump’s lawyers told Judge Arthur Engoran during the hearing that his involvement in civil testimony, while his campaign is also the subject of a parallel criminal investigation, is an illegal attempt to circumvent state law that prohibits prosecutors from summoning anyone to testify. before. criminal grand jury without giving them immunity.
“If she wants to testify from my client, he is entitled to immunity. He gets immunity for what he says or he doesn’t say anything, ”said Trump’s criminal lawyer Ronald Fischetti.
If Trump testifies in a civil investigation, anything he says can be used against him in a criminal investigation overseen by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
Trump could refer to his Fifth Amendment to remain silent in his remarks. But Fisheti said if he did, it could still hurt potential criminal defense.
“If he comes and follows my advice, then you cannot answer these questions without … immunity, because it is provided by law, and to adopt the Fifth Amendment, it will be on every front page of the world newspaper. And how can I choose a jury in that case? ” Said Fisheti.
James wants her investigators to be able to interrogate Trump and his two older children, both of whom were leaders of the Trump Organization.
Attorney General’s Office lawyer Kevin Wallace told the judge that it is not uncommon for civil and criminal investigations to be conducted simultaneously.
“Mr. Trump is a high-profile person, yes. It’s unique,” Wallace said. ».
Another of Trump’s sons, Eric Trump, and Trump’s chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg have previously testified in a civil investigation – and have invoked their rights to the Fifth Amendment hundreds of times when questioned by investigators in 2020.
Another Donald Trump lawyer, Alina Hubba, accused James of trying to use a civil investigation to gather evidence for a criminal investigation.
She said the civil investigation should be suspended until the criminal case is over, arguing that James’ office puts Trump “in a position where they either disclose evidence in a civil investigation or must invoke the constitutional right not to testify that causes an unfavorable conclusion in a civil lawsuit. “
“How fair is that, your honor? We have to stop one, ”she said.
Alan Futterfas, a lawyer for Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., said during the trial that he had no reason to believe that they were both under criminal investigation by the district attorney.
In a statement Tuesday, Trump spoke out against what he called a “fictitious investigation into a large company that did a spectacular job for New York and beyond,” and a racially motivated witch hunt like no other in the country. before ».
In a court statement this week, James included a letter from Trump’s longtime accounting firm advising him to no longer rely on the multi-year financial statements it prepared based on his company’s estimates, given questions about their accuracy.
Last summer, based on evidence found during James’ civil investigation, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office accused Weiselberg and the Trump Organization of tax fraud, claiming he had collected more than $ 1.7 million in compensation outside the report. Weiselberg and company pleaded not guilty.
In court documents before Thursday’s hearing, Trump’s lawyers wrote that James “relentlessly attacked” Trump, his family, company and associates “because of her hostility to his speech and political views.”
Earlier, Engaran sided with James on other issues related to the investigation, including forcing Eric Trump to testify after his lawyers abruptly canceled scheduled testimony.
Engaran immediately ruled on the matter and ordered Eric Trump to testify within 14 days.
Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak