MANHATTAN (CN) — “He gets immunity for what he says, or he says nothing," criminal defense attorney Ron Fischetti implored a New York judge on Thursday morning, referring to his client, Donald Trump, the one-term Republican president.
During a two-hour-long conference of the Manhattan Supreme Court held remotely on Thursday morning, attorneys representing Donald Trump and two of his children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, insisted that New York Attorney General Letitia James is improperly conducting a civil investigation at the same time as a criminal probe.
“Once you use the word ‘criminal’, you’re in grand jury land,” said attorney Alan Futeras, who represents Don Jr. and Ivanka, repeatedly noting on Thursday that witnesses are offered immunity to testify before a grand jury.
New York offers what’s called grand jury transactional immunity to encourage witnesses to testify before the grand jury, protecting them from prosecution for any crime that is the subject of their grand jury testimony.
“Here we get transaction immunity,” Fischetti said on Thursday. “They want to ask him questions under oath? Fine, put him in a grand jury. Immunity, that’s what we’re entitled to, that’s what the constitution says we’re entitled to.
“They want to investigate? Investigate all they want, subpoena documents, subpoena witnesses, do whatever they want. If she wants sworn testimony from my client,” Fischetti continued, referring to Attorney General James, ”he’s entitled to immunity, that’s what the constitution and the state of New York says.
“He gets immunity for what he says, or he says nothing.”
The attorney representing Trump’s adult children similarly demanded grand jury immunity over civil depositions requested by the attorney general.
“Put ‘em before the grand jury, they’ll testify, they’ll have immunity, they won’t be able draw this unfair adverse inference that’d be grossly unfair,” Futerfas told Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron on Thursday morning. “They’ll get the information they want, but at least our clients will get immunity pursuant to the law and the constitution.”
Even if ordered to comply with the subpoenas, the Trumps would be free to invoke their Fifth Amendment right to remain silent at any time in a deposition.
Trump's son, Eric Trump did so hundreds of times, as did the Trump Organization's finance chief Allen Weisselberg, when they were questioned by investigators in 2020.
Last summer, spurred by evidence uncovered in James' civil investigation, the Manhattan district attorney's office charged Weisselberg and the Trump Organization with tax fraud, alleging he collected more than $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation. Weisselberg and the company have pleaded not guilty.
The oral arguments on Thursday come one week after Trump’s former longtime accounting firm Mazars USA dropped him as client.
Mazars' letter, made public in a court filing Monday, came just weeks after New York Attorney General James said her civil investigation uncovered evidence that Trump and his company used “fraudulent or misleading” valuations of its golf clubs, skyscrapers and other properties to get loans and tax benefits.
Futerfas several times asserted that Attorney General James has “crossed the rubicon into criminal law land” and using her office’s probe an "improper run-around" over the restraints of the criminal investigation process with grand jury procedures.
Futerfas noted that James was present in court last July after the indictment of Weisselberg and the Trump Corporation. "Why would she be there, in the courtroom, sitting right next to Vance?" he asked, noting she also spoke outside the courtroom.
Judge Ergonon pressed the lawyer on what the “practical harm” would be of the Trump’s invoking their Fifth Amendment rights in response to the attorney general’s subpoena, something that the judge noted “the law clearly allows.”