As part of her investigation into suspected fraud inside the Trump Organization, New York Attorney General Letitia James is requesting a deposition from former President Donald Trump early next year.
According to the people who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation is ongoing, James has requested to testify on Jan. 7 at her New York office as part of a civil investigation into whether Trump’s company committed financial fraud in the valuations of properties to different entities.
According to one source familiar with the inquiry, James is looking into whether widespread fraud “permeated the Trump Organization.”
The Trump Organization condemned the action as politically motivated in a statement.
“This is another political witch-hunt,” the statement said. “The only focus of the New York AG is to investigate Trump, all for her own political ambitions. … This political prosecution is illegal, unethical and is a travesty to our great state and legal system.”
Ronald Fischetti, an attorney who has represented Trump in inquiries of his financial operations in New York, said Trump would oppose the request in court.
“What she has been doing, Letitia James, is working with the district attorney’s office, working hand-in-hand with Vance,” he said, referring to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. (D), who has an ongoing criminal probe of the company. “This is an opportunity for them to get Donald Trump’s testimony under oath and then turn it over to the district attorney’s office.”
A representative for James, Fabien Levy, refused to comment. According to Danny Frost, a spokesperson for Vance’s office, the deposition demand is unrelated to the criminal inquiry.
The deposition is a significant step forward in the investigation against the former president’s organization, as well as a watershed moment for James. While the attorney general had announced her intention to run for governor, she said on Thursday that she is suspending her candidacy.
Both the attorney general’s office and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office are investigating whether Trump’s firm violated the law by presenting low values to property tax officers while using high values to get tax benefits or impress lenders.
According to persons familiar with the investigations, James has indicated that she is contemplating bringing a lawsuit, and Manhattan prosecutors have summoned a new grand jury to explore possible criminal charges connected to the company’s financial operations.
Trump has not been accused of any misconduct. He has previously referred to James and her investigation into his enterprises as a “witch hunt” orchestrated by a prominent New York Democrat who has threatened to use her position to examine him and his firm.
According to those close to him who spoke on the condition of anonymity to reveal private talks, the former president has often voiced dissatisfaction over the inquiry in private.
If Trump does not come for the deposition, James and her team may take him to court to compel him to cooperate.
Last year, James’ investigators filed a subpoena on the former president’s son, Eric Trump, a longtime executive at the Trump Organization, in order to depose him as part of the same probe. According to a court filing from James’ office, Eric Trump first refused to cooperate, claiming “those rights afforded to every individual under the Constitution.”
He eventually decided to cooperate and will be questioned in October 2020.
Earlier last October, the former president testified for 412 hours in another case. In that litigation, he was questioned by attorneys for a group of demonstrators who had filed a lawsuit against him, saying that Trump’s security guards had beaten them in 2015.
Prior to assuming office, Trump took multiple depositions as part of legal action, and was sometimes compelled to admit truths he had previously denied.
“He can’t be scripted, and he’s injudicious, and he often doesn’t understand that the process is about events and facts, rather than being performance art,” said Tim O’Brien, a Trump biographer who sued him. O’Brien’s attorneys challenged Trump with 30 false claims or misstatements during the 2007 deposition for that complaint.
New York prosecutors are looking into financial statements for several of Trump’s properties, including his California golf club, where he valued the same parcel of land at $900,000 and $25 million depending on the intended audience, and an estate in suburban New York, where Trump’s valuations ranged from $56 million to $291 million. All of the assessments were made in the five years before Trump’s election.
According to appraisers, it is quite rare for a firm to produce such drastically disparate appraisals of the same assets at the same time.
According to court documents and sources familiar with the case, prosecutors seem to have probed deep into these homes. They’ve gathered reams of emails, planning papers, and financial data, and they’re even looking for the initiation fees Trump paid golf club members a decade ago. They have requested geology assessments on the geological strata under Trump’s course in Los Angeles, where the value has been impacted by a history of landslides.
Earlier this year, in a joint investigation with Vance, James accused Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s top financial officer, and two Trump business companies with tax evasion.
Prosecutors in that case said that Weisselberg withheld part of his own income — as well as the compensation of other Trump officials — from tax authorities in order to reduce the taxes they owed. Prosecutors said that Weisselberg evaded paying more than $900,000 in fines over a 15-year period.
Weisselberg and the Trump organizations have all pled not guilty. In the case, the former president was not accused of any misconduct.