NEW YORK (Reuters) – Lawyers for former President Donald Trump and two of his adult children accused New York’s attorney general on Thursday of doing an end run around their clients’ constitutional rights by demanding they testify in her civil probe into their family company’s business.
At a hearing, the Trumps’ lawyers accused state Attorney General Letitia James of trying to enforce subpoenas for their testimony in order to use what they say against them in a parallel criminal probe.
“They’re cherry-picking,” Donald Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba told Justice Arthur Engoron of the New York state court in Manhattan. “It is an improper runaround of the rules.”
Habba also accused James of “selective prosecution and prosecutorial misconduct that this country has never seen,” citing statements reflecting the Democratic attorney general’s “vile disdain” for Trump, a Republican.
“If he was not who he is, she would not be doing this,” Habba said. “This court can help stop this circus.”
Kevin Wallace, a lawyer from James’ office, rejected that characterization.
“They haven’t shown anything here that says it’s unfair,” Wallace said.
Wallace added that having parallel probes “isn’t all that extraordinary.”
Engoron appeared skeptical that James might be playing politics by targeting the former president.
“If Ms. James has an opinion against him,” the justice said, “he’s just a bad guy she should go after as the chief law enforcement officer of this state.”
James is seeking to force Trump, Donald Trump Jr and Ivanka Trump to testify under oath, after having said last month her nearly three-year probe into the Trump Organization had found significant evidence of possible fraud https://www.reuters.com/world/us/ny-attorney-general-details-possible-fraud-donald-trumps-family-business-2022-01-19.
She described what she called misleading statements about the values of the “Trump Brand” and six Trump properties, saying the company may have inflated real estate values to obtain bank loans and reduced them to lower tax bills.
The investigation partially overlaps a criminal inquiry now led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in which the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer pleaded not guilty last July to tax fraud charges.
James joined that probe last May.
Trump, who has not announced whether he will run again for president in 2024, has labeled James’ investigation a political “witch hunt https://www.reuters.com/world/us/trump-lawyers-seek-block-subpoenas-new-york-attorney-general-2022-02-01” and sued James to try to stop it.
IMMUNITY, OR NOTHING
Ron Fischetti, a criminal defense lawyer for Trump, said the former president would need immunity before testifying, avoiding any prospect he might invoke his right under the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.
“He gets immunity for what he says, or he says nothing,” Fischetti said.
Engoron asked multiple times why the Trumps could not simply refuse to testify.
Alan Futerfas, a lawyer for the Trump children, said this would let James make an “adverse inference” against them.
“She does not want to use the grand jury” to obtain testimony, Futerfas said. “I think she has to.”
The hearing follows last week’s decision by the Trump Organization’s longtime accounting firm Mazars USA to drop the company https://www.reuters.com/world/us/accounting-firm-says-it-can-no-longer-stand-behind-trump-organization-financial-2022-02-14 as a client, saying it could no longer stand behind a decade of financial statements.
Lawyers for Donald Trump have said he did not know enough to respond to allegations of inaccurate valuations, though Trump detailed some possible discrepancies in a five-page https://www.reuters.com/world/us/ny-attorney-general-fires-back-trumps-defense-financial-statements-2022-02-16statement on Tuesday.
The Trumps have not been accused of criminal wrongdoing.