Trump Family Gets Late Night Love Note From New York Attorney General
How was your night? Probably not as exciting as New York Attorney General Letitia James's evening, which was spent tweeting out details of her investigation into the Trump family business. Vanky, Deej, and Donald Sr. also had quite the night, but probably not in a YEEHAW fun way, because it was their dirty laundry being aired out on the New York State Supreme Court docket via a motion to compel testimony in the AG's investigation of their family business.
For three years, the Trump family has whined about New York prosecutors, including James and former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., who has now been replaced by Alvin Bragg.
"Harassment!" they howled, pointing out that they haven't been indicted yet, while conveniently omitting the fact that they dragged this thing out by steadfastly refusing to cooperate without a court order. Which is just stupid, since every time James has to get a judge to tell the Trumps to cough it up, she drops dozens of pages laying out their hinky finances. We only learned about this investigation in the first place because Eric Trump threw a hissyfit on "Hannity" and refused to testify, providing a golden opportunity for James to 'splain to the public why she's investigating the Trump Organization.
Justice Arthur Engoron ordered Eric Trump to testify back in the summer of 2020, so you'd think his family would realize that refusing the NYAG's request to come in for a little chat would only blow up in their faces. But you would be wrong, and if you would like to read 157 pages about their hinky property valuations and bad legal reasoning, have at it. Or there's a press release summarizing it, if you have something else to do with the next four hours of your life.
Most of it has been covered before, particularly the apparent shenanigans surrounding a conservation tax credit Trump took on a property in Westchester County, New York. According to James, the family business used this stratagem often, valuing the property as if they would be able to park many more expensive houses on it than the community would ever allow, and either using the inflated valuation to get a loan, as they allegedly did in Aberdeen, Scotland, or taking a tax write-off for "forbearing" to build on it, as they did in New York. They also appear to have run this play in Los Angeles, where the golf course was located on ground prone to landslides, so they "gave up" the right to develop and took a $25 million tax deduction for "leaving" it a course.
There are also dozens of embarrassing details, including the preposterous lies Trump told about the size of his New York apartment, which he described as 30,000 square feet, a figure that was only off by 19,004 square feet. And while it's merely idiotic to lie to Forbes, it's potentially illegal to lie to your lender. And yet, "The supporting data for Mr. Trump’s 2015 financial statement reported the value of Mr. Trump’s triplex apartment as $327 million, based on the apartment having 30,000 square feet of space multiplied by a certain price per square foot." In testimony, Trump's accountant Allen Weisselberg conceded that the bogus figure resulted in goosing Trump's reported net worth by “give or take” $200 million.
According to the filing, Trump had a nasty habit of padding his property valuations by adding in "brand value," even when the lender specifically said the brand metric was not to be included. Here's a fun little screenshot of Trump bragging that he hadn't included it. Spoiler Alert: ...
He really liked to use trick on golf courses, slapping a 30 percent premium on them because one time in 2013 he had a conversation with an "outside golf club professional" who told him that “Trump branded clubs are more valuable than most golf courses.” It should be noted that AG James tracked this golf guru down, and he said he never told Trump that "more valuable" equals a 30 percent bump.
On of the most embarrassing revelations is that Eric Trump and Allen Weisselberg asserted their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination. In fact, they asserted it A LOT — more than 500 times each during their respective six-hour depositions.
Despite the former president's insistence that only mobsters take the Fifth, there's nothing wrong with asserting the right against self-incrimination. It was undoubtedly the wisest course of action here for Trump and Weisselberg, as it will be for the rest of the goon squad. Nevertheless, it's important here for two reasons. First, In a criminal trial, the judge and jury can draw no inference from a defendant's invocation of his right against self-incrimination. But in a civil trial, the fact-finder may take a negative inference from refusal to answer questions.
Second, the Trumps argue that the subpoena should be quashed because it will force them to give Tish James information she will immediately turn over to DA Bragg, who will use it to prosecute them criminally. But this logic is massively undercut because Eric and Weisselberg already made liberal use of the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions. In plain English, they know how to shut up and not incriminate themselves, so the fear of self-incrimination can't be used as an excuse to avoid testimony.
"Given the public litigation between Mr. Trump and DANY, the public reporting on the DANY investigation and the multiple disclosures from OAG, there is no risk that any witness, much less these Respondents, would appear for civil testimony without being aware of the possibility of criminal liability," she counters in her motion. "In fact, as evidence of that knowledge, two Trump Organization witnesses invoked their Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination more than a year ago: Eric Trump and Allen Weisselberg."
The Trumps made some other New York-specific arguments about improper coordination between James and Bragg that transform her from just a mean lady who is BIASSSS against them to a criminal prosecutor using civil depositions to avoid a criminal grand jury. And maybe it will work, although Justice Engoron was pretty dismissive of Eric Trump's claim that he couldn't be deposed because MEAN TISH JAMES. Claims that their entire business was covered by attorney-client privilege fared little better.
And if this ploy doesn't work, then they're extra-screwed, because they let James make her case against them public, and they still will wind up having to answer her questions.
In the words of poet philosopher DJ Khaled, "Congratulations. You played yourself."
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Liz Dye lives in Baltimore with her wonderful husband and a houseful of teenagers. When she isn't being mad about a thing on the internet, she's hiding in plain sight in the carpool line. She's the one wearing yoga pants glaring at her phone.