A Manhattan judge refused to formally purge a contempt order against Donald Trump on Wednesday, following months of bitter wrangling over the adequacy of the former president’s compliance with the New York attorney general’s subpoenas in a fraud investigation.
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron indicated that he did not want matters to escalate to that point.
“It’s not my goal, my role to hold people in contempt,” Engoron declared at the start of Wednesday’s proceedings.
However, the judge ultimately elected to leave his order in place more than a month later, finding that Trump still hasn’t produced crucial documents to which New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) was entitled.
“I think leaving the contempt order in place is the simplest and most effective way to get this done,” Engoron ruled at the end of the proceedings. “I think it’s very clear that the AG is entitled to these document retention polices and production orders.”
Separately on Wednesday, Trump reached an agreement with James setting a deposition date for Friday, July 15, if the New York Court of Appeals does not intervene in the former president’s appeal.
The former president, his son Donald Trump Jr., and his daughter Ivanka Trump agreed in a stipulation that they would take the hot seat on that day and conclude the following week.
For years, James has been investigating whether the Trump Organization impermissibly inflated or deflated assets for tax benefits. The probe was sparked by Michael Cohen’s 2019 congressional testimony that his old boss was cooking the books. The attorney general previously deposed Eric Trump, who answered more than 500 questions by asserting his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
Judge Engoron has ruled repeatedly against Trump, whose lawyers wanted to avoid his deposition by pointing to a Catch-22. If the former president pleaded the Fifth, it could shield him from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s (D) parallel criminal investigation, in which James has assisted. But those answers could be used against him should James ultimately bring a civil case. The New York Court of Appeals will supply the state judiciary’s final answer on that question.
The judge’s contempt order imposed a $10,000-per-day penalty for allegedly failing to comply with James’ subpoenas, but Engoron allowed Trump to cap the fine at $110,000 if complied with multiple conditions, including detailed affidavits from his lawyers attesting to the adequacy of the search. It’s not immediately clear if the ruling will push the top possible penalty higher.
Trump’s attorney Alina Habba claims that her client has fulfilled every obligation—and then some. She said that Trump has produced 6 million pages of documents and retained the services of Haystack, a Republican Party-affiliated eDiscovery firm.
“I have had 138 pages of affidavits per your honor’s request since this contempt hearing,” Habba noted.
The former president himself signed an affidavit, which she said “was not misleading.”
In May, Engoron was dissatisfied with the adequacy of Trump’s attestations, ordering the production of so-called “Jackson affidavits,” which must contain more detail about the searches and policies related to the destruction and retention of files.
Audibly frustrated, Habba did not hold back on her criticism of the court. She previously calling the contempt order decision “inappropriate” and labeling the fine “crazy,” and she once complained about Engoron’s “dramatic” pounding of the gavel during his initial ruling.
“I can tell you that my affidavit in the normal world would have been sufficient, but it’s not the normal world,” Habba said.
Claiming that the attorney general’s office would never be satisfied, Habba exclaimed: “We’re being held at gunpoint, it feels like.”
Engoron and his clerk Allison Greenfield pressed Habba about the Trump Organization’s document retention and destruction policies, noting that the company has a legal obligation to have them. Assistant Attorney General Andrew Amer argued that Trump still has not produced them.
[Images via Drew Angerer/Getty Images, Nicholas Kamm/AFP/Getty Images]
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