NEW YORK – Former President Donald Trump must answer questions under oath in a civil investigation in New York State about his business practices, a judge ruled Thursday.

Judge Arthur Engaran ordered Trump and his two older children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., to comply with subpoenas issued in December by the New York Attorney General’s Office by Leticia James.

Engaran said Trump and his two children must testify within 21 days.

Engaran issued the ruling after a two-hour hearing with attorneys for Trump and James’ office.

“Ultimately, the Attorney General begins an investigation into the entity, finds ample evidence of possible financial fraud and wants to interrogate several heads of entity under oath, including his namesake. She has a clear right to do so. so “. – wrote in his decision Engaron.

The ruling will almost certainly be appealed, but if it is upheld, it could force the former president to make a tough decision on whether to answer questions or remain silent, citing his Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.

James, a Democrat, said her investigation found evidence that Trump’s campaign used “fraudulent or deceptive” valuations of assets such as golf courses and skyscrapers to obtain loans and tax breaks.

Trump’s lawyers told Engoran during the hearing that his involvement in civil testimony now, while his campaign is also the subject of a parallel criminal investigation, is an improper attempt to circumvent state law that prohibits prosecutors from summoning anyone for testifying before the offender. Grand Jury without giving them immunity.

“If she wants to testify under oath from my client, he is entitled to immunity. He gets immunity for what he says or he doesn’t say anything, ”Trump’s criminal lawyer Ronald Fischetti said at a video conference hearing.

If Trump testified in a civil investigation, anything he says could 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 speech – something he has criticized others for in the past. But Fisheti said that if Trump does that, it could still hurt potential criminal defense.

“If he comes in and follows my advice, then you cannot answer these questions without … immunity, because it is required by law, and will adopt the Fifth Amendment, it will be on every front page of the world newspaper. And how do I choose a jury in that case? ” Said Fisheti.

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. “It’s unique that so many people are paying attention to the rather dry hearings on subpoenas. But the legal issues we’re dealing with here are pretty standard.”

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 completed, 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.” which causes an unfavorable conclusion in a civil lawsuit ”.

“How fair is that, your highness? We must stop one,” she said.

Alan Futterfas, a lawyer for Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., both of whom were leaders in their Trump Organization family, said during the trial that he had no reason to believe they were the subject of a district attorney’s criminal investigation.

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 ».

Hubba claimed at Thursday’s hearing that James’ investigation was “selective harassment” and that the attorney general was “involved in discrimination from the point of view” motivated by her political ambitions and contempt for the former Republican president, as evidenced by comments she made on for years about persecution. Trump.

“We have an extremely rare case where we can prove electoral prosecution because she has spoken out so much and used every opportunity to express her revenge against Donald Trump and his family to deprive him,” Hubba said. .

Wallace noted that the state attorney general’s office investigated Trump-related cases back in 2013, including an investigation into his charity and a real estate education program at Trump University that began long before James was elected.

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.

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.

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