NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump must answer questions under oath as part of New York state’s civil investigation into his business practices, a state appeals court ruled Thursday. .
A four-judge panel of the state trial court’s Appellate Division upheld Manhattan Judge Arthur Engoron’s Feb. 17 ruling imposing subpoenas for Trump and his two eldest children to testify in as part of Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation.
Trump had appealed, seeking to overturn the decision. His lawyers argued that ordering the Trumps to testify violated their constitutional rights because their answers could be used in a parallel criminal investigation.
“The existence of a criminal investigation does not preclude the civil discovery of related facts, during which a party may exercise the privilege against self-incrimination,” the four-judge panel wrote, citing the right of the fifth amendment against self-incrimination.
Messages seeking comment were left with the Trumps’ attorneys and James’ office. The Trumps could still appeal the decision to the state’s highest court, the Court of Appeals.
James, a Democrat, said her investigation uncovered evidence that Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, used “fraudulent or misleading” valuations of assets such as golf courses and skyscrapers to obtain loans and tax benefits.
Thursday’s ruling could spell a tough decision for Trump on whether he should answer questions or remain silent, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Anything Trump says in a civil deposition could be used against him in the criminal investigation overseen by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office.
At a hearing ahead of Engoron’s Feb. 17 ruling, Trump’s lawyers argued that having him sit for a civil deposition was an improper attempt to circumvent a state law barring prosecutors from calling anyone. one to testify before a criminal grand jury without granting him immunity.
A lawyer for the Attorney General’s office told Engoron that it was not unusual for civil and criminal investigations to be happening at the same time, and Engoron denied a request from lawyers asking the Trumps to put the civil investigation on hold until until the criminal case is over.
Last summer, spurred by evidence uncovered during James’ civil investigation, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office charged the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, with tax evasion, alleging that he had received more than $1.7 million in informal compensation. Weisselberg and company have pleaded not guilty.
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