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Judge orders Trump to be desposed in New York investigation

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Completely misses the mark. That's how a New York judge ruled on Thursday in response to arguments by lawyers for Donald, Don Jr. and Ivanka Trump. The Trumps are trying to avoid questions from the New York attorney general about alleged fraud at the Trump Organization. NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering this investigation. Andrea, this sounds like a legal smackdown of the Trump Organization. So is that the final word on this?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: So good morning. And probably not. Lawyers for the Trumps say they plan to appeal, which they can do. But the ruling wasn't a close call, which makes that route more complicated. Judge Arthur Engoron ruled within hours of a court hearing yesterday and just made mincemeat of the arguments that Trump's lawyers were making. The judge said that to, quote "not investigate, the Trumps would have been a blatant dereliction of duty by the attorney general" and that, as he said, their arguments completely missed the mark. What were those arguments? The Trump's lawyers said in court that they - it wasn't fair to ask them to testify under oath in a civil investigation when the New York attorney general is also involved in a criminal case, a separate investigation in New York.

MARTINEZ: All right, so assuming the Trumps do testify under oath, what are they going to be asked about?

BERNSTEIN: So if it goes forward now, they would have to, as written, be - submit to questioning under oath within three weeks. And we know from previous court filings that the attorney general is especially interested in the ways that Donald, Don Jr. and Ivanka Trump valued or overvalued their properties. One example she gave in court papers was that Trump had lied about the square footage and value of his apartment in Trump Tower, saying it was worth way more than it was and was bigger, too. Now, more seriously, Trump's accountants this week said that a decade's worth of financial statements could not be relied upon. The attorney general will certainly want to get to the bottom of why that is.

MARTINEZ: Do they have to answer?

BERNSTEIN: So no. And this is what the judge kept saying throughout yesterday's hearing. He said they can go to - be questioned. And then they have the right to take the Fifth Amendment, just like everybody does. And, in fact, Eric Trump, another child of Donald Trump's and a Trump Organization executive, already did that. And he took the Fifth Amendment or cited the Fifth Amendment 500 times. Now, the Trumps say this is unfair because that could be used against them in the civil case while there's an ongoing criminal case, but the judge said no, that is the law in a civil case, and it applies to everyone, Trumps included.

MARTINEZ: How are the Trumps reacting to this?

BERNSTEIN: So the Trump Organization issued a statement last night that the - saying the entire system is corrupt. Donald Trump himself issued a statement saying - all caps - there is no case. And Donald Trump's lawyer, Alina Habba, said, the abhorrent statements made by Letitia James - that's the New York attorney general - leave no doubt that this is yet another politically motivated witch hunt. However, the judge sort of pre-butted that in his ruling. He said that he had actually seen some of the evidence in the case in private in his chambers and that what he saw, quote, "undercut the notion that this case is based on personal animus, not facts and the law."

MARTINEZ: That's NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thanks a lot.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Great talking to you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CALM CHAPTER AND MINDLESS MEDITATION'S "SUNSET") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Andrea Bernstein