Judge clears Trump of contempt in New York fraud investigation

Mark Humphrey / AP
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A New York judge ruled Wednesday that Donald Trump is no longer in contempt for failing to turn over documents demanded in a subpoena by the state's attorney general.

The former president's April 25 contempt finding came after he contested a December subpoena seeking records related to his personal finances and the financing of several properties. Trump claimed he had no material that was responsive to the subpoena, leading to demands by the judge and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James that his attorneys provide detailed explanations of how they conducted their search.

"Although we are pleased that the court has lifted the contempt finding, we maintain that it was wholly unwarranted and improper in the first place," Alina Habba, an attorney for Trump, said in a text message. "We will push ahead with our appeal to secure justice for our client."

Trump was fined $10,000 per day through May 6, when his attorneys first filed explanations of their attempts to search for subpoenaed documents. In the weeks since, the judge and the attorney general have demanded affidavits from two dozen Trump Organization employees and attorneys in an effort to learn how Donald Trump's eponymous company has for a decade apparently kept nearly no records on the personal finances of its namesake.

Nearly all the employees who filed affidavits described a company that has few concrete policies related to the destruction and retention of documents related to Trump's personal finances, leaving such decisions to individuals, or in certain cases, their department heads.

Those statements largely mirrored what Trump said in his own affidavit, that "it has been my customary practice to delegate document handling and retention responsibilities to my executive assistants."

Executive assistants who filed affidavits said they didn't follow any set policies. One longtime former assistant, Rhona Graff, said in a May 31 deposition that she often left such decisions up to other people. In affidavits filed June 17, the heads of several departments said that while they had internal document retention policies, they did not have any policies specific to documents related to Trump himself.

Habba noted in a June 8 letter to the court that "a vast number" of documents showing Trump's "handwritten notes" had been turned over by the Trump Organization. Habba's letter was accompanied by eight exhibits that include several photos of the golf legend Gary Player, on which Trump had written "Great," as well as several legal and design documents in which he wrote "OK." There was also a note from his daughter on a planning document related to a Trump property in Doral, Florida.

An exhibit filed yesterday in the NY AG's Trump investigation shows a note from Ivanka to her father, on a Trump Doral planning doc."Dad-See assigned lodge/villa names.-Ivanka"(the lodges are named for famous golfers) pic.twitter.com/bW1CT7m62U

— Graham Kates (@GrahamKates) June 9, 2022

In a filing June 21, an attorney for James' office said it supported lifting the contempt finding, not because it was happy with the explanations it received, but "because it is not apparent what else, if anything, [Trump] and his counsel can be ordered to do."

The attorney, Andrew Amer, indicated that Trump will be asked about company records during a court-ordered sworn deposition scheduled for mid-July. Trump and two of his children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, recently lost two appeals seeking to block the depositions.

"We have every expectation that [Trump] will be examined under oath next month and will advise the Court promptly if new information regarding Respondent's documents is gleaned from that testimony," Amer wrote, adding that he is still concerned about "the apparent absence in the productions of documents one would expect to see from Mr. Trump relating to his Statements of Financial Condition."

James' office has since 2019 been conducting a wide-ranging civil fraud investigation into Trump and his company, and has said its investigation has collected evidence "showing that Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization used fraudulent and misleading financial statements to obtain economic benefit."

Amer and his colleagues have said in multiple recent hearings that the investigation is nearing its conclusion.

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