NEW YORK (AP) – Former President Donald Trump must be sworn in to answer questions from a New York State investigation into 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.

Trump and his two children are due to testify within 21 days, Engaran said after a two-hour hearing with attorneys for Trump and James’ office.

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

The eight-page ruling will almost certainly be appealed, but if it persists, 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-blame – which he has criticized others for in the past.

Requests for comment were left for Trump’s lawyers and spokespersons.

In a statement, James said: “No one will be allowed to interfere with justice, no matter how strong they are. No one is above the law. “

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

Trump’s lawyers told Engaron 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 to testify. before a 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, ”Trump’s criminal lawyer Ronald Fischetti said at a video conference hearing.

Anything Trump says in his civil testimony could be used against him in a criminal investigation overseen by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. If Trump would refer to the Fifth Amendment, Fischetti said it could still damage potential criminal defenses.

“It will be on every front page of the world’s newspaper,” Fischeti said. “How can I choose a jury in such a case?”

Attorney General’s Office lawyer Kevin Wallace told Engoron that it is unusual for civil and criminal investigations to be conducted simultaneously. The judge rejected the lawyers’ request to suspend the civil investigation until the criminal case is completed.

“Mr. Trump is a high-profile person, yes. It’s unique,” Wallace said. ».

In a previous legal dispute that arose as a result of James’ investigation, Engaran ordered another of Trump’s sons, Eric Trump, to testify in 2020 after his lawyers abruptly canceled a planned testimony. Eric Trump referred to the Fifth Amendment hundreds of times in his interviews. The same thing was done by the financial head of the Trump Organization, Alain Weiselberg, when he was interrogated by James’ lawyers.

Alan Futterfas, a lawyer for Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr., both of whom were heads of his family’s business, said at the hearing that he had no reason to believe they were the subject of a district attorney’s criminal investigation.

Trump did not immediately comment on the ruling. In a statement Tuesday, he opposed 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 never seen before.” the country before ”.

At Thursday’s hearing, Trump’s attorney, Alina Hubba, accused James of “electoral persecution” and said the attorney general was “involved in discriminatory views,” motivated by his political ambitions and contempt for the former Republican president, as evidenced by comments she made. for years about having to go after Trump.

“We have an extremely rare case where we can prove electoral prosecution because she has spoken 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’s Attorney General’s Office investigated Trump-related cases back in 2013, long before James was elected, including an investigation into his charity and Trump University curriculum.

Engaran said the thousands of pages of evidence he had reviewed in the case showed that there were sufficient grounds to continue the investigation, and undermined “the notion that this ongoing investigation is based on personal hostility rather than facts and law.”

This week, Engaran also grabbed a revelation that Trump’s longtime accounting firm had sent a letter advising him not to rely on the multi-year financial statements she prepared based on his company’s estimates, given questions about their accuracy.

Engaran described the letter as a “red flag warning about the unreliability of Trump’s financial statements” and criticized Trump’s campaign for its approval in the media that because the accounting firm did not come to a conclusion, there were significant discrepancies in the documents. , James’ investigation should be closed. This statement, he wrote, “is as daring as it is absurd.”

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 a separate ruling Thursday, a judge ordered Weiselberg to take part in a limited deposit in Washington, D.C., in a lawsuit by Attorney General Carl Racine accusing Trump’s inaugural committee of seriously exceeding spending at the Trump Hotel Trump.


Associated Press reporter Jill Colvin of New York contributed to this report.


Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak

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