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Donald Trump, Ivanka and Don Jr. must testify in Letitia James’ probe: judge

Donald Trump and his kids Ivanka and Donald Jr. must testify in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ investigation into the Trump Organization’s business dealings, a Manhattan judge ruled Thursday. The Trump family trio has been fighting to quash the subpoenas for their sworn testimony, arguing that James’ office is targeting the former president for “selective prosecution” for political reasons and to bolster her career. Trump’s camp says the AG’s office will use the depositions from the family members to aid a parallel criminal investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office in conjunction with the AG’s Office, rather than calling the family members before a grand jury — which would give them immunity from civil claims involving the same facts. “Let’s say your clients are compelled … to appear for a deposition,” Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron asked the lawyers for the Trumps during a virtual hearing Thursday. “Can’t they refuse to answer?” “Isn’t that what Eric Trump did 500 times? Why can’t your clients protect themselves by refusing to answer questions?” Engoron said, referring to Eric Trump having already been deposed in the case. But lawyers for the Trumps responded that a judge or jury could then draw an “adverse inference” at trial against them for choosing not to answer questions. Ronald Fischetti, a criminal defense lawyer for Donald Trump, responded, “If he takes the Fifth, how am I going to pick a jury if it’s all over town?” “You can’t put your civil hat on and then put your criminal district attorney hat on when it suits you,” Trump’s civil lawyer Alina Habba said. “The civil and criminal actions involve the same subject material,” Habba said. “You’re putting my client in a position where they disclose evidence in a civil investigation or they have to invoke their rights and have an adverse inference. How is that fair, your honor?” Habba also claimed that James has been selectively prosecuting Donald Trump and brought up statements that she made during her election campaign about how she planned to investigate and prosecute the 45th president. “For someone who has such vile disdain for a man, she has used his name to become an attorney general,” Habba said, arguing that James’ conduct is improper. Engoron responded, “What evidence is there that the attorney general is going after this citizen because of his political affiliation rather than she … questions his financial practices?” see also Habba responded that the timeline of James’ statements about probing Trump serve as proof since they range from before she was AG and continue now as she runs for re-election. Kevin Wallace, a lawyer with the AG’s office, called Donald Trump a “recidivist” in arguing that James didn’t target him for political reasons but rather because she had good cause given that prior AGs had cases against Trump University and the Trump Foundation going back to 2013. Engoron also pointed out the “800-pound gorilla in the room” — whether Donald Trump should get special treatment as a former president. “I’m basically trying not to do anything differently. He’s a citizen, he’s a respondent,” the judge said. James’ office opened the investigation in 2019 following congressional testimony from Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s former personal lawyer, that Trump exaggerated his company’s assets on annual financial statements to get better loan terms and for tax purposes. The AG then opened a civil case against the company and Eric Trump, arguing that they were stonewalling her probe.

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