Judge Holds Trump in Contempt Over Documents in New York A.G.’s Inquiry
Former President Donald J. Trump was ordered to turn over materials sought by Letitia James, the New York attorney general, and will be fined $10,000 per day until he does so.
By Jonah E. Bromwich, Ben Protess and William K. Rashbaum
A New York judge on Monday held Donald J. Trump in contempt of court for failing to turn over documents to the state’s attorney general, an extraordinary rebuke of the former president.
The judge, Arthur F. Engoron, ordered Mr. Trump to comply with a subpoena seeking records and assessed a fine of $10,000 per day until he satisfied the court’s requirements. In essence, the judge concluded that Mr. Trump had failed to cooperate with the attorney general, Letitia James, and follow the court’s orders.
“Mr. Trump: I know you take your business seriously, and I take mine seriously,” said Justice Engoron of State Supreme Court in Manhattan, before he held Mr. Trump in contempt and banged his gavel.
Lawyers for Mr. Trump had argued that they conducted a thorough search for the records being sought by investigators and found no new documents to provide. But Justice Engoron decided that the lawyers had not provided sufficient detail about how they searched.
The contempt order could be short-lived. If Alina Habba, one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, files a sworn statement detailing every step that was taken to locate potential documents, the judge might be satisfied, lawyers close to the case said. Ms. Habba said after the hearing ended that she intended to file such a statement, potentially by the end of the day.
Ms. Habba also said she intended to appeal the ruling.
“All documents responsive to the subpoena were produced to the attorney general months ago,” Ms. Habba said. “This does not even come close to meeting the standard on a motion for contempt.”
At the hearing, Justice Engoron objected to an earlier statement from Mr. Trump’s lawyers regarding their efforts to search for documents, calling it “woefully insufficient” and “boilerplate.”
It failed, he said, to outline “what, who, where, when and how any search was conducted.”
The ruling — and Justice Engoron’s comments — represent a significant victory for Ms. James, whose office is conducting a civil investigation into whether Mr. Trump falsely inflated the value of his assets in annual financial statements.
In January, Ms. James, a Democrat, said her office had concluded that the Trump Organization had engaged in “fraudulent or misleading” practices involving the statements. But she said she would continue to investigate before deciding whether to sue Mr. Trump or his company.
Although Ms. James does not have the authority to file criminal charges, her civil inquiry is running parallel to a criminal investigation led by the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin Bragg, who is examining some of the same conduct.
Ms. James’s office is participating in that separate investigation, which had appeared to be nearing an indictment of Mr. Trump earlier this year before Mr. Bragg raised concerns about prosecutors’ ability to prove their case. Mr. Bragg, also a Democrat, inherited the inquiry from his predecessor after taking office on Jan. 1.
The ruling on Monday presents a roadblock for Mr. Trump as he continues to battle the attorney general’s investigation. Ms. James has sought to question the former president and two of his children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., as part of her inquiry, and lawyers for the Trump family are seeking to block the questioning. (In the fall of 2020, Ms. James questioned another of Mr. Trump’s children, Eric Trump, as part of her investigation.)
In March, Justice Engoron sided with Ms. James, ordering Mr. Trump and his children to be deposed. Trump has appealed that ruling.
Understand the New York A.G.’s Trump Inquiry
An empire under scrutiny. Letitia James, the New York State attorney general, is currently conducting a civil investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s business practices. Here’s what to know:
The origins of the inquiry. The investigation started after Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, testified to Congress that Mr. Trump and his employees had manipulated his net worth to suit his interests.
The findings. Ms. James detailed in a recent filing what she said was a pattern by the Trump Organization to inflate the value of the company’s properties in documents filed with lenders, insurers and the Internal Revenue Service.
Mr. Trump’s lawsuit. In December, Mr. Trump sued Ms. James, seeking to halt the inquiry. The suit argues that the attorney general’s involvement in the inquiry is politically motivated.
Pushing back. Lawyers for the Trump family had sought to prevent Ms. James from obtaining documents as part of the inquiry and interviewing Mr. Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump under oath. But a State Supreme Court judge in Manhattan has rejected the efforts.
Contempt ruling. In an extraordinary rebuke of the former president, a judge held Mr. Trump in contempt of court for failing to turn over documents to Ms. James. Mr. Trump was ordered to comply with a subpoena seeking records and be fined $10,000 per day until he does so.
This month, lawyers from Ms. James’s office said that Mr. Trump had declined to turn over documents in response to eight separate requests, and called for him to be held in contempt and assessed a daily fine of $10,000 as long as he continued to not cooperate.
Mr. Trump’s lawyers had said the requests were “grossly overbroad,” and did not “adequately” describe the requested materials.
Ms. Habba said in a document filed with the court last week that Mr. Trump did not have any of the documents that Ms. James had requested, and that any such documents if they existed, would be in the possession of the Trump Organization.
She added that Ms. James had filed the motion for contempt without warning, “seemingly in an effort to turn this matter into a public spectacle.”
But lawyers for Ms. James’s office have said they believe that at least some of Mr. Trump’s documents have not been turned over. In one filing, her lawyers mentioned a filing cabinet at the company that contained the former president’s files and noted that he used Post-it notes to pass messages to employees.
According to Ms. James, Mr. Trump’s lawyer said that a file of Mr. Trump’s correspondence had not been searched, in part because the business had determined that Mr. Trump was not involved in preparing his own financial statements.
Ms. James called that assertion improbable and referred to a statement affixed to the financial statements that say: “Donald J. Trump is responsible for the preparation and fair presentation” of the valuations.
In a separate case in federal court, Mr. Trump sued Ms. James, seeking to halt her civil inquiry and have her removed from the Manhattan district attorney’s criminal investigation. That case is ongoing.