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Trump Kept In Contempt Limbo, Will Testify In July

By Frank G. Runyeon · Jun 8, 2022, 9:51 PM EDT ·

New York - A New York state judge Wednesday kept Donald Trump in limbo, declining to fully purge his civil contempt because the ex-president had still failed to provide the attorney general's fraud investigators the required information about his policies for keeping or destroying business records.

The order came immediately after the former president, his son Donald Trump Jr. and daughter Ivanka Trump agreed to testify under oath and face questioning by New York Attorney General Letitia James' investigators after an appellate court rejected an attempt to block it. Depositions will start July 15 in the civil probe examining whether Trump fraudulently inflated the value of his assets, according to a stipulation.

After hearing afternoon arguments on the question of whether Trump had met all the requirements to finalize a conditional purge of his contempt, New York State Supreme Court Justice Arthur F. Engoron ruled that he had not done enough to provide his policies and practices related to document retention and destruction, ordering him to get affidavits from various department heads at the Trump Organization to back up his affidavit.

The judge did not retroactively reinstate a contempt fine, but instead extended a standing order conditionally purging the contempt order against Trump if he supplies the required information. Prosecutors say that information will factor in any future spoliation motion, which would seek to punish Trump for destroying evidence.

"I think leaving the contempt order in place is the simplest, most effective way to get the job done," Justice Engoron said. "I think it's very clear that the attorney general is entitled to these document retention and destruction policies and practices. So, the contempt order stays exactly the way it was yesterday."

The original contempt order "was necessary to get the respondents, in particular Mr. Trump, to comply with his obligations," the judge said, "because of what I consider to be some foot dragging or maybe some misunderstandings."

The judge directed Trump's attorney Alina Habba to gather affidavits from various Trump Organization department heads or corporate officers to swear to how they handled any documents he sent their way — which prosecutors say often featured Trump's handwritten approval or directions scrawled on them.

The attorney general had argued that Trump has repeatedly filed defective affidavits that lean on the work of others without providing the supporting evidence. In the latest back-and-forth, Trump filed an affidavit swearing that his executive assistants handled his document retention and destruction, prompting the judge to direct him to supply affidavits from them.

But when the attorney general recently deposed one such worker, Rhona Graff, she told investigators she knew of no document retention policy, according to transcript excerpts. Graff testified both that "I did not keep any of those documents" and that she did not copy or even see some documents before forwarding them along to legal, accounting, marketing, hotel or golf divisions. "Each department handled documents in their own way," she said, noting she did not know about their policies.

Based on that testimony, the judge granted the attorney general's request for each division's policy.

"There's no secret as to why we need that information," government counsel Andrew Amer said. "We have a very real concern here to be addressed at a later date about whether documents were properly maintained or whether they were destroyed and whether there were spoliation issues."

Habba protested vociferously that the judge's ruling was based "on who my client is." Echoing her befuddlement in past hearings, she also told the court, "I'm a little lost ... I just don't understand why we are still in contempt."

Habba vowed to get the latest set of affidavits in by next week.

James is examining whether the Trump Organization, the ex-president or his adult children broke the law by misrepresenting the value of the family business's assets on financial statements, loan applications and tax forms and misled others to get favorable loans, insurance coverage and tax breaks.

After a March 31 deadline passed for Trump to comply with a subpoena seeking documents in his personal possession, the court found him in civil contempt for failing to either turn over the records sought or provide an adequately detailed accounting of how he had searched for any relevant documents. Justice Engoron set a $10,000 daily fine to coerce compliance.

Trump's attorneys scrambled to escape the steadily mounting fine, filing a flurry of affidavits from attorneys and Trump himself. The judge spurned Trump's initial two-sentence affidavit, calling it "completely devoid of any useful detail." His attorneys' initial affidavits were dubbed "woefully inadequate."

Justice Engoron then commanded Trump to submit a new affidavit detailing where he kept his files, how he stored them, who had access to them, how long he retained them and "importantly, where he believes such files are currently located" in order to purge his contempt. After filing the second affidavit, the judge granted him a conditional contempt purge order if he paid the accrued fine.

On May 20, Trump paid the attorney general $110,000 and filed more information about his failed attempts to reach about a dozen former secretaries, filing an affidavit from one.

Justice Engoron said he appreciated the hard work from both sides even as he gave Trump more to do.

"Nothing would make me happier, professionally, than for the attorney general to say, 'We got it, we have it, thank you, judge,'" the judge said.

New York is represented by Kevin C. Wallace, Andrew Amer, Colleen K. Faherty, Alex Finkelstein, Wil Handley, Eric R. Haren, Louis M. Solomon, Austin Thompson and Stephanie Torre of the Office of the New York State Attorney General.

Trump is represented by Alina Habba and Michael T. Madaio of Habba Madaio & Associates LLP.

The case is New York v. The Trump Organization et al., case number 451685/2020, in the Supreme Court of the State of New York, County of New York.

--Editing by Michael Watanabe.

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