MANHATTAN (CN) — New York Attorney General Letitia James seeks to question Donald Trump under oath as part of an ongoing investigation into the former president’s business dealings.
The probe has been proceeding for more than two years, as James’ office digs into whether the Trump Organization lied about the value of its assets to secure loans and tax benefits.
A particular focus is the organization’s Seven Springs estate, valuations of which were used to claim a $21.1 million tax deduction “for donating a conservation easement on the property in tax year 2015," according to an August 2020 memorandum.
The Washington Post broke the news of the subpoena Thursday, saying James is asking Trump to sit for a deposition at her office on January 7 as part of an inquiry that could result in civil charges against Trump.
Trump attorney Ronald P. Fischetti told The New York Times he would ask a judge to put a stop to the subpoena. Even if the subpoena is allowed, Trump could refuse to sit for a deposition, or could attend and refuse to answer questions, invoking his Fifth Amendment right.
Prosecutors already have Trump’s tax records in hand in a parallel criminal investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., working in tandem with James’ office. The records were turned over in February, days after the Supreme Court refused to block a subpoena.
Grand jury secrecy rules ensure that the financial records obtained by Vance’s office cannot be made public.
Elements of the subpoena that are known include that it asked Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, to produce the final versions of Trump's tax returns, along with draft versions of those returns, and "any and all statements of financial condition, annual statements, periodic financial reports, and independent auditors' reports" held by the company.
Attorney Tristan Snell speculated on social media that the announcement is related to another by James on Thursday, that she is suspending her run for governor next year.
“My bet: Tish determined she couldn’t prosecute Trump and run for governor at the same time,” Snell, a former assistant attorney general in New York who led the state’s civil prosecution of Trump University tweeted. “She’s all in on prosecuting Donald Trump and the Trump Organization.”
James had been a top contender in the race, expected to duke it out with the incumbent Governor Kathy Hochul, who took office after Andrew Cuomo resigned in August. It was James’ investigation into sexual harassment claims against Cuomo, and a lack of support from his fellow Democrats, that ultimately led to his decision to step down.
Hochul said at a press conference Thursday that she supports James remaining as the state’s top prosecutor.
“The attorney general called me this morning,” Hochul said. “I respect her tremendously, I look forward to having her on the ticket as we head into the general election together.
“All I want to say,” she added, “is this is a bad day for Donald Trump and the NRA.”
In an interview with Courthouse News, Snell said the subpoena suggests a strong case against Trump is building — the AG’s office probably has “90 to 99%” of what they need to file a suit against him.
Unlike criminal indictments, which can be “bare bones,” the bulk of the civil case against Trump will be evident when James files it, which could be as soon as this winter, Snell said.
The civil suit also seems to be more advanced at this point.
“People have been sleeping on the civil case,” he said. “I think a lot of people forgot that it existed until today.”
If Trump is called to testify, it would likely be more of a nice-to-have than an essential piece of the attorney general’s case.
“I view Trump’s testimony as icing,” Snell said. “My hunch is they probably don’t need it.”
James’ office declined to comment on the investigation. Two attorneys for Trump did not respond to separate requests for comment. Trump previously called the civil and criminal investigations a “witch hunt.”
Before James’ short-lived gubernatorial run, Vance announced earlier this year that he would not run for reelection. Alvin Bragg, a former federal prosecutor, will take over the office in 2022.
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