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N.Y. Supreme Court justice orders the Trumps to testify under oath

New York Attorney General Letitia James acknowledges questions from journalists at a news conference on May 21, 2021, in New York.
Richard Drew
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AP
New York Attorney General Letitia James acknowledges questions from journalists at a news conference on May 21, 2021, in New York.

Updated February 17, 2022 at 9:16 PM ET

A New York state judge on Thursday ordered that former President Donald Trump and his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr. and eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, testify under oath within 21 days, rejecting arguments by attorneys for the Trumps who sought to block or stay subpoenas from New York state's attorney general, Letitia James.

The decision by Justice Arthur Engoron of the New York State Supreme Court came after two hours of at-times heated oral arguments in which the Trumps' attorneys argued that James' probe constituted selective enforcement and "viewpoint discrimination" and could improperly mix the findings of a civil investigation with a separate criminal case that James is also a party to.

"In the final analysis," Engoron wrote, "a State Attorney General commences investigating a business entity, uncovers copious evidence of possible financial fraud, and wants to question, under oath, several of the entities' principals, including its namesake. She has the clear right to do so."

The former president criticized James' investigation in a statement after the ruling.

"She is doing everything within their corrupt discretion to interfere with my business relationships, and with the political process," Trump said. "It is a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in history — and remember, I can't get a fair hearing in New York because of the hatred of me by Judges and the judiciary. It is not possible!"

James began her civil investigation of the Trump Organization in March 2019, a few weeks after former Trump Organization executive Michael Cohen testified before Congress that Donald Trump "would direct me to lie to further his business interests" and provided three years of financial statements to bolster his claim.

James' probe became publicly known in August 2020 when Eric Trump fought an effort to compel him to testify under oath, among other things, about the valuation of a tax break tied to a Trump-owned property north of New York City. Eric Trump eventually did testify over six hours, invoking his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination more than 500 times, according to James.

In December 2021, James sent subpoenas to Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, seeking sworn testimony from all three as well as documents from Donald Trump.

NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 22, 2017: The public entrance to Trump Tower is on Fifth Avenue in New York, New York. (Photo by Robert Alexander/Getty Images)
Robert Alexander / Getty Images
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Getty Images
The public entrance to Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in New York City in 2017.

The move was seen by many as an indication that James' investigation may be nearing its end, having already obtained hundreds of thousands of pages of documents from the Trump Organization, the company's former accounting firm and Deutsche Bank, a lender. James has not yet made a determination on whether to bring a suit.

Donald Trump Jr. is an executive vice president of the Trump Organization, and Ivanka Trump was an executive vice president before joining her father's administration.

The fight over the subpoenas quickly escalated. Donald Trump and the Trump Organization jointly sued James in federal court in late December, demanding that a judge block James' investigation.

In January, James said she had reached a preliminary finding that the Trump Organization "used fraudulent and misleading asset valuations to obtain economic benefits," and she spelled out some of the questionable behavior in a 115-page court filing. Among other things, James suggested that Donald Trump tripled the reported square footage of his own Trump Tower apartment in order to increase its reportable value by hundreds of millions of dollars.

The probe appears to reach back more than a decade, examining Trump business transactions in Britain, California and New York.

This month, Mazars USA, the longtime accounting firm for the Trump Organization, ended its relationship with the company and warned in a letter that financial statements from 2011 to 2020 "should no longer be relied upon."

James' investigation unfolded in parallel with a criminal probe by then-Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who was replaced in January by Alvin Bragg.

In July, a grand jury indicted the Trump Organization and its former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, alleging an elaborate scheme to avoid federal, state and local taxes. James has detailed attorneys from her office to work with the district attorney on his case, which may go to trial as soon as this summer.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ilya Marritz