NEW YORK — A state judge on Wednesday ordered Eric Trump to be deposed no later than Oct. 7 in the New York attorney general's examination of the Trump Organization's financial practices, rejecting a protest by President Trump's son, who has said he is too busy to meet with investigators until after November's election.
The ruling was handed down by New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron after nearly two hours of arguments in a lawsuit brought by state investigators conducting the civil investigation.
The president’s company is managed now by his two sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., both of whom have taken active roles in their father’s reelection efforts. An attorney for Eric Trump said during Wednesday’s hearing that the president’s son travels nearly seven days a week to make campaign-related appearances.
“This court finds that application unpersuasive,” Engoron said, referring to Eric Trump’s stated need to put off an interview until mid-November. He added that he felt Eric Trump’s attorney had cited no legal authority to support a bid to delay the deposition.
“Neither petitioner nor this court is bound by timeliness of the national election,” the judge said.
The judge also ordered that the Trump Organization and related business entities that were withholding documents and claiming attorney-client privilege proceed with producing records to the attorney general.
The lawsuit was filed in August by New York Attorney General Letitia James (D), after lawyers in her office said they had hit a roadblock with attorneys for the Trump Organization and other potential witnesses in their pursuit of testimony and documents.
The probe is a civil matter, not a criminal one. James’s office has said the Trump Organization potentially misled lenders and duped tax authorities. The state attorney general’s office began investigating the company last year after the president’s former personal attorney Michael Cohen, a former executive with the company, gave Congress copies of financial statements from 2011 to 2013.
Cohen testified in 2019 that the statements demonstrated how President Trump inflated the value of his assets for loan applications and for insurance purposes. His properties were undervalued, however, to reduce taxes, Cohen alleged.
Cohen served time in federal prison for lying to Congress and tax evasion and in connection with payments he made during the 2016 presidential campaign to two women alleging affairs with Trump several years ago. The president has denied their claims.
A lawyer for Eric Trump did not respond to requests for comment Wednesday. It is unclear whether he will appeal the judge’s order.
The state attorney general’s investigation centers on a number of Trump properties, including 212 acres in suburban Westchester County where Trump failed to develop a golf course. Officials have said they are looking at potential abuse of the conservation easement program, a voluntarily system through which private property owners can obtain conservation-site status in exchange for a promise to limit development on protected land. Conservation easements can be controversial — sometimes seen as easy tax loopholes for the wealthy.
Attorneys representing the Trumps and officials at the company had cooperated with the probe to an extent, providing documents and making witnesses available for interviews, but later began holding back, according to the lawsuit.
Eric Trump had agreed to an interview but canceled two days before his July appointment, according to James’s lawsuit. A letter from his attorney said that “we cannot allow the requested interview to go forward,” according to an account of the events by investigators. The lawyers also cited “rights afforded to every individual under the Constitution” in resisting efforts to reschedule the meeting.
Matthew Colangelo, an attorney from James’s office, argued at the virtual court hearing that there was more than enough evidence of potential wrongdoing to serve as a basis for the Trump side to have to cooperate fully. But lawyers for the company played down the issues raised by Colangelo, insisting that regular business was being conducted when Trump Organization officials spoke to property appraisers and when other discussions under review were had.
James signaled in a statement Wednesday afternoon that her team was going to promptly push for the records and testimony the judge granted. The office will “immediately move to ensure that Donald Trump and the Trump Organization comply with the court’s order and submit financial records related to our investigation,” she said.
Eric Trump, she added, “will no longer be able to delay his interview and will be sitting down with investigators in my office.”
James suggested the Trump side had been trying to “dictate how or when our investigation will proceed or set the parameters of a lawful investigation.”
James, elected in 2018, made a campaign promise to hold President Trump and his Manhattan-based business accountable.
Late Wednesday, Eric Trump attacked James on Twitter. Her “targeting of my family violates every ethical rule she was elected to protect,” he wrote, posting a collection of clips from James on the campaign trail promising to go after Trump and his company. “Last month alone there were over 240 shootings in NYC, yet the NYAG’s sole focus is an anti-Trump fishing expedition that she promised during her campaign.”
“New York is so lost,” he added.
Trump and his company also face a criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr. (D), who is looking into the payments Cohen made to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Vance’s office also is evaluating broader allegations of wrongdoing at the Trump Organization.