The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

New York attorney general files legal action against Trump Organization, revealing state investigation into the company’s financial dealings

Eric Trump, son of President Donald Trump, gives away a hat before he speaks at the Milwaukee Police Association Aug. 18.
Eric Trump, son of President Donald Trump, gives away a hat before he speaks at the Milwaukee Police Association Aug. 18. (Rick Wood/AP)
Placeholder while article actions load

The New York attorney general is investigating whether President Trump’s company misled lenders and taxing authorities by improperly inflating the value of his assets, according to a court filing on Monday.

The filing from Attorney General Letitia James (D) said that the Trump Organization has declined to hand over some documents that had been subpoenaed, and that the president’s son Eric has refused to be interviewed. James’s inquiry began 18 months ago, but James had not disclosed its focus or scope before Monday.

Eric Trump — now the day-to-day leader of his father’s company — agreed to an interview, and then canceled two days before, according to the filing. He has declined to set another date, citing “rights afforded to every individual under the Constitution” to justify refusing the subpoena for an interview, the attorney general said.

In addition, James said, Trump’s company has declined to produce any documentation to show it had paid the proper taxes when one of its lenders forgave more than $100 million of debt on the Trump hotel in Chicago.

The filing showed Trump’s company is now facing two advanced investigations into its finances in New York state — both focused on the years before he took office.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. (D) is separately looking into payoffs made in 2016 to women who alleged they had affairs with Trump — and Vance’s recent filings suggest that his probe may have expanded to cover other financial dealings at the company.

In Monday’s filing, James asked a New York state judge to order Eric Trump and the Trump Organization — which is based in New York — to comply with the subpoenas. James said this is a civil investigation, not a criminal one.

President Trump’s former personal lawyer Michael Cohen said Trump inflated his assets for insurance purposes during a House Oversight Committee hearing in 2019. (Video: Reuters)

“The Trump Organization has stalled, withheld documents, and instructed witnesses, including Eric Trump, to refuse to answer questions under oath,” James wrote on Twitter. “That’s why we filed a motion to compel the Trump Organization to comply with our lawful subpoenas for documents and testimony.”

James was elected to her post in 2018 and promised during her campaign to aggressively investigate Trump’s business and his administration. On Monday, Eric Trump responded to the filing by accusing James of politically motivated harassment, saying she had targeted the Trump Organization to punish its owner, the president. He suggested it was no accident James made the disclosure during the Republican National Convention.

“How could I ever possibly trust the legitimacy of a subpoena sent by someone who publicly campaigned on taking down my father and using her office to harass our family. She has called his presidency ‘illegitimate,’ ” Eric Trump said in a statement. “This type of targeting and harassment violates every ethical guideline of a prosecutor. It’s wrong.”

The attorney general’s office noted that it submitted the filing to the court on Friday but that it was only made public on Monday.

President Trump still owns his businesses, though he says he has given day-to-day control over to his adult sons. The White House did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for James declined to comment about Eric Trump’s statement.

Neither James’s nor Vance’s investigation seems close to a conclusion, with just two months to go before Election Day. Indeed, James’s filing on Monday said her office has not determined if any laws were broken.

But both investigations could prove significant headaches for Trump’s company — and for Trump himself, if he loses in November and returns to private life. The filing submitted Monday showed James’s investigators had already probed deeply into a company that has long resisted outside scrutiny.

As described in that filing, James’s investigation seemed to focus on two broad questions.

One related to Trump’s hotel in Chicago and the taxes Trump paid — or should have paid — related to the hotel. Trump’s company owed $150 million on a loan to the property by a company called Fortress Credit. But in 2012, the filing said, Fortress let Trump’s company pay off the loan for just $48 million — effectively forgiving more than $100 million in debt.

In many cases, tax experts have said, companies are required to treat this kind of forgiven debt as income and pay income taxes on it. But, in the filing, James said the Trump Organization did not provide documents showing it had done so. James’s office said it “has been unable to confirm that these sums were recognized as taxable income.”

That was the first time any investigative authority had announced an interest in Trump’s forgiven Chicago loan.

The second broad category of inquiry described in James’s filing focused on whether Trump manipulated the value of his assets to impress lenders, or to lower his taxes.

The filing said James’s office had begun its investigation in March 2019, a few months after James took office. The trigger was congressional testimony by Trump’s former fixer and attorney, Michael Cohen.

Cohen said then that Trump had used documents called “Statements of Financial Condition” — self-reported summaries of his wealth and debts — to mislead both lenders and insurers.

James’s investigation seemed to have broadened beyond that, to ask if Trump had also inflated his assets when seeking conservation easements — agreements not to develop parcels of land he owns. Those easements provide income tax breaks: The more development value a parcel had, the more valuable the tax break.

James’s filing mentioned three Trump properties. One was an estate Trump owns in suburban New York called Seven Springs.

Last year, The Washington Post reported that, in Trump’s 2011 “Statement of Financial Condition,” Trump had inflated the potential value of that estate by saying it was “zoned for nine luxurious homes.” The future sale value of those home lots pushed the overall value of the property to $261 million, Trump’s statement said — far more than the $20 million assessed by local authorities.

But local officials said Trump had never completed the process to get zoning approval for the homes. The homes were never built.

In addition, James’s filing said Trump’s company had also obtained a conservation easement on the Seven Springs property in 2015, saying it had lost $21.1 million in value by giving up development rights.

Part of Trump’s Seven Springs estate is located in the town of Bedford, N.Y., in Westchester County. Joel Sachs, the town attorney in Bedford, said the New York attorney general’s office several months ago subpoenaed the town for all its records pertaining to Seven Springs and the Trump Organization’s attempt to develop the land.

Investigators from the attorney general’s office visited Bedford, met with town officials and reviewed documents, including the Trump Organization’s application forms for the proposed development. The attorney general’s office also subpoenaed a town official whom Sachs declined to identify. In early July, the official gave a deposition to investigators for six or seven hours, which Sachs attended, he said. This was the “most knowledgeable” official about the Trump property, he said.

“The town of Bedford cooperated,” Sachs said. “We just felt we had the obligation to comply with the attorney general’s investigation.”

The filing also says investigators were interested in valuations of Trump’s golf course in Los Angeles — where in 2014 Trump obtained a conservation easement that he said lowered the property value by $25 million, the filing said. And they indicated interest in Trump’s office building at 40 Wall Street in Manhattan, though they did not say why.

In the filing, James also asks a judge to compel two of the Trump Organization’s outside attorneys, as well as an engineer Trump hired, to produce documents relevant to the investigation. One of those three, attorney Sheri Dillon, declined to comment on Monday. The other two did not respond to requests for comment on Monday.

This is not Trump’s first fight with a New York attorney general.

A previous attorney general, Eric Schneiderman, sued Trump’s business in 2013 for allegedly defrauding students at his Trump University. Later, Schneiderman’s successor, Barbara Underwood, sued Trump in 2018 for allegedly misusing donations to his nonprofit, the Donald J. Trump Foundation.

In both of those cases, President Trump said they were based on politics and not the law. He called Schneiderman — an elected Democrat, like James — a “lightweight hack” doing the bidding of President Obama. He also accused Underwood of playing politics, though she was not a politician when she was appointed to her office after Schneiderman resigned.

In both cases, however, the suits ended with Trump’s company paying: Trump’s university paid $25 million to settle a series of lawsuits, including Schneiderman’s. And in the Trump Foundation case, the attorney general’s suit ended with a state judge ordering Trump to pay $2 million in damages.

Rosalind S. Helderman contributed to this report.