President Donald Trump’s son Eric has until Oct. 7 to speak to New York investigators probing his family’s business practices, a judge ruled Wednesday, rejecting his lawyers’ contention that his “extreme travel schedule” on the campaign trail warranted a delay until after the November election.
State Judge Arthur Engoron said Eric Trump, an executive at the family's Trump Organization, had no legal basis to postpone a subpoena seeking his deposition testimony under oath, concluding that neither the probe nor the court were “bound by the timelines of the national election."
New York Attorney General Letitia James went to court to enforce the subpoena after Eric Trump’s lawyers abruptly canceled a July interview with investigators looking into whether the Trump Organization lied about the value of its assets in order to get loans or tax benefits. The investigation is civil, not criminal, in nature and investigators have yet to determine whether any law was broken.
James, a Democrat, said Wednesday's ruling "makes clear that no one is above the law, not even an organization or an individual with the name Trump.”
A message seeking comment was left with Eric Trump’s lawyer, Alan Futerfas.
In a court filing last week, Eric Trump’s lawyers said he was willing to comply with the subpoena, but could do so only after the Nov. 3 election. In addition to scheduling conflicts related to his father’s reelection campaign, they said they wanted “to avoid the use of his deposition attendance for political purposes.”
Futerfas told Engoron they were “happy for him to sit down and be deposed” but needed more time to review with him thousands of pages of documents sought by James' office. Any deposition would happen out of public view and would likely remain confidential because of the ongoing investigation.
“As the world knows, there’s an election going on in about four weeks in this country, maybe five weeks,” Futerfas told Engoron. “Eric Trump is a vital and integral part of that, and he’s traveling just about seven days a week.”
Matthew Colangelo, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office, countered that Eric Trump’s lawyers were seeking a delay “simply on the grounds of personal inconvenience to the witness” rather than any legal grounds. He argued that courts have found a compliance deadline of just five days is reasonable.
Eric Trump’s lawyers had proposed four dates for him to testify, the earliest being Nov. 19. They argued that would've been just after James' office finished interviewing other witnesses in the investigation. Eric Trump switched lawyers in mid-July, Futerfas said, contributing to the need for a delay.
Eric Trump did not participate in Wednesday's hearing, which was held via Skype. Eric, the third of Trump’s five children, was scheduled to appear Wednesday at a campaign event in Glendale, Arizona, called “Evangelicals for Trump: Praise, Prayer, and Patriotism.”
James sought judicial intervention to compel Eric Trump and other business associates to testify and turn over documents as part of an investigation into whether the family’s company, the Trump Organization, lied about the value of assets including a suburban New York City estate.
James launched the investigation last year after President Trump's longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen told Congress that the president had repeatedly inflated the value of his assets to obtain more favorable terms for loans and insurance coverage.
James’ investigators are looking at how the Trump Organization and its agents assessed the value of Seven Springs, a 212-acre (86-hectare) estate north of Manhattan that President Trump purchased in 1995 with the intention of turning it into a golf club.
After that project failed to progress, the elder Trump granted an easement over 158 acres (60 hectares) to a conservation land trust in 2016 to qualify for an income tax deduction. James’ office said a professional appraisal at the time determined Seven Springs was worth $56.5 million prior to the donation and that the land being conserved in exchange for the tax deduction was worth $21.1 million, it said.
Cohen told Congress that when Trump was trying to buy the NFL's Buffalo Bills in 2014, he provided financial statements to Deutsche Bank saying Seven Springs was worth $291 million as of 2012.
The attorney general’s office is also looking at a conservation easement donated over part of the Trump National Golf Club property near Los Angeles in exchange for a tax deduction in 2014, and the handling of tax issues related to more than $100 million of debt from the Trump International Hotel and Tower Chicago that was forgiven between 2010 and 2012.
Investigators said they have not been able to confirm whether any of that forgiven debt was recognized as taxable income, according to the court filings.
President Trump last year dismissed various probes into his pre-White House dealings, accusing James and New York’s Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of “harassing all of my New York businesses in search of anything at all they can find to make me look as bad as possible.”
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