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Trump ordered to testify in probe by NY attorney general

The former president says he shouldn't have to testify, but a Manhattan judge ruled Thursday that it would have been "a blatant dereliction of duty" if New York's top prosecutor were to ignore Donald Trump's business dealings.

MANHATTAN — A New York judge compelled a subpoena by the state attorney general Thursday against former President Donald Trump and two of his children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka.

Judge Arthur Engoron released his 8-page order three hours after hearing oral arguments by videoconference. He says the one-term Republican president has until three weeks from today to sit for a deposition as part the New York attorney general’s civil investigation into his business practices.

During the two-hour conference call this morning, attorneys representing the Trumps insisted that New York Attorney General Letitia James is improperly conducting a civil investigation at the same time as a criminal probe. 

But Engoron wrote after the hearing: "This argument completely misses the mark. Neither OAG nor the Manhattan District Attorney's Office has subpoenaed the new Trump respondents to appear before a grand jury."

Elsewhere in the ruling, Engoron wrote: "For OAG not to have investigated the original respondents, and not to have subpoenaed the Trump Respondents, would have been a blatant dereliction of duty (and would have broken an oft-repeated campaign promise). Indeed, the impetus for the investigation was not personal animus, not racial or ethnic or other discrimination, not campaign promises, but was sworn congressional testimony by former Trump associate Michael Cohen that respondents were 'cooking the books.'"

Using quote marks for emphasis, Judge Engoron recalled that the former president's so-called "University" and "Foundation" were both previously investigated by James' predecessors at state Attorney General's Office, resulting in what Engoron called "significant settlements."

"A candidate for Attorney General would have been completely cognizant that, if elected, she would not be writing on a clean slate," Engoron wrote.

Trump’s latest court defeat comes one week after his former longtime accounting firm Mazars USA dropped him as client. New York Attorney General James preceded that move from Mazars meanwhile with an update about her civil investigation, saying she had 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. 

“Today, justice prevailed," Attorney General James said on Thursday afternoon. “No one will be permitted to stand in the way of the pursuit of justice, no matter how powerful they are. No one is above the law.” 

James on Thursday formally accepted the New York state Democratic Party’s nomination to run for a second term as state attorney general. 

Though ordered now to comply with the subpoenas, the Trumps can still invoke the Fifth Amendment to remain silent at any time in their depositions. 

Another of the Trump children, 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 younger Trump's unconstrained exercise of the protections of the Fifth Amendment was not lost on the court, with Engoron writing Thursday that the argument advanced now by his father and siblings "overlooks the salient fact that they have an absolute right to refuse to answer questions that they claim may incriminate them."

"Indeed respondent Eric Trump invoked his right against self-incrimination in response to more than 500 questions during his one-day deposition arising out of the instant proceeding," the judge added.

Attorneys for Trump and his adult children all argued on Thursday that invoking the Fifth Amendment in their civil depositions would allow prosecutors to draw “unfair adverse inferences” to be used against them in the pending criminal investigation. 

Several times at Thursday’s hearing, Judge Engoron noted “the law clearly allows” prosecutors to draw adverse inferences, as much as subpoena subjects may not like it. 

While the former president and his children have 21 days to sit for deposition, the order says Trump Sr. has 14 days to supply subpoenaed documents.

Habba scoffed at the ruling as indicative of " yet another politically motivated witch-hunt."

"Today’s decision confirmed what we’ve already known for some time - Donald J. Trump cannot get a fair ruling in the State of New York," she wrote in a statement. "The court clearly had its mind made up and had no interest in engaging in impartial discourse on this critically important issue."

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