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New York attorney general seeks Trump’s deposition as part of civil fraud investigation

Former president Donald J. Trump leaves Trump Tower in New York on Oct. 18.
Former president Donald J. Trump leaves Trump Tower in New York on Oct. 18. (Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

New York Attorney General Letitia James is seeking a deposition from former president Donald Trump early next year as part of her investigation into potential fraud inside the Trump Organization, according to people familiar with the matter.

James has requested to take his testimony on Jan. 7 at her New York office as part of a civil investigation into whether Trump’s company committed financial fraud in the valuations of properties to different entities, according to the people, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is ongoing.

One of the people familiar with the investigation said James is examining whether widespread fraud “permeated the Trump Organization.”

In a statement, the Trump Organization decried the move as politically motivated.

The Post’s David Fahrenthold explained what we knew on July 1, 2021, about the charges against the Trump Organization and its CFO, Allen Weisselberg. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: John Taggart/The Washington Post)

“This is another political witch-hunt,” the statement said. “The only focus of the New York AG is to investigate Trump, all for her own political ambitions. ... This political prosecution is illegal, unethical and is a travesty to our great state and legal system.”

Ronald Fischetti, an attorney who has been representing Trump in investigations into his New York financial practices, said Trump would fight the request in court.

“What she has been doing, Letitia James, is working with the district attorney’s office, working hand-in-hand with Vance,” he said, referring to Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. (D), who has an ongoing criminal probe of the company. “This is an opportunity for them to get Donald Trump’s testimony under oath and then turn it over to the district attorney’s office.”

Fabien Levy, a spokesman for James, declined to comment. Danny Frost, a spokesman for Vance’s office, said the deposition demand is not part of the criminal investigation.

The deposition marks an escalation in the probe of the former president’s company and a critical moment for James (D). While the attorney general had declared a run for governor, she said on Thursday that she’s suspending her campaign.

Both the attorney general and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office are scrutinizing whether Trump’s company broke the law by providing low values to property tax officers, while using high ones to garner tax breaks or impress lenders, as The Washington Post previously reported.

James has said she is considering filing a lawsuit over the matter, and Manhattan prosecutors have convened a new grand jury to consider potential criminal charges related to the company’s financial practices, according to the people familiar with the investigations.

N.Y. prosecutors set sights on new Trump target: Widely different valuations on the same properties

Trump has not been personally accused of wrongdoing. He has previously attacked James and her probe into his businesses as a “witch hunt” being driven by a prominent New York Democrat who has promised to use her perch to investigate him and his company.

Privately, the former president has regularly expressed frustration about the investigation, according to people close to him who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations.

If Trump refuses to appear for the deposition, James and her office could take him to court and try to force him to comply.

Last year, James’s investigators subpoenaed the former president’s son Eric Trump — a longtime executive at the Trump Organization — seeking to depose him as part of the same investigation. Eric Trump initially refused to comply, with his lawyers citing “those rights afforded to every individual under the Constitution,” according to a legal filing from James’s office.

He later agreed to comply and was questioned in October 2020.

Earlier this fall, the former president sat for a 4½ -hour deposition in another case. In that lawsuit, he was questioned by lawyers for a group of protesters who have sued him, alleging that Trump’s security guards assaulted them in 2015.

Before taking office, Trump sat for numerous depositions as part of civil litigation, at times forced to acknowledged facts that he had previously denied.

“He can’t be scripted, and he’s injudicious, and he often doesn’t understand that the process is about events and facts, rather than being performance art,” said Tim O’Brien, a Trump biographer who battled him in a lawsuit. In the 2007 deposition taken for that suit, Trump was confronted by O’Brien’s lawyers with 30 false statements or misstatements.

In their inquiries, New York prosecutors are examining financial statements related to several of Trump’s properties, including his California golf club, for which he valued the same parcel of land at $900,000 and $25 million depending on the intended audience, and an estate in suburban New York, for which Trump’s valuations ranged from $56 million to $291 million. The valuations were all given in the five years before Trump won the presidency.

Appraisers have said it is highly unusual for a company to provide such widely different valuations of the same properties at the same time.

Prosecutors appear to have dug deeply into these properties, according to court papers and people familiar with the investigation. They have compiled reams of emails, planning documents and financial data, even seeking the initiation fees Trump charged golf club members as far back as a decade ago. In Los Angeles, they have asked for geology reports on the rock layers under Trump’s course, where the value was affected by a history of landslides.

Earlier this year, in a joint investigation with Vance, James charged Allen Weisselberg, chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, and two Trump corporate entities with tax crimes.

In that case, prosecutors alleged that Weisselberg had hidden some of his own compensation — and the compensation of other Trump executives — from tax authorities to lower the taxes they owed. Prosecutors alleged that Weisselberg had avoided paying more than $900,000 over 15 years.

Weisselberg and the Trump companies all pleaded not guilty. The former president was not accused of any wrongdoing in that case.

Shayna Jacobs in New York contributed to this report.

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