New York Attorney General Letitia James, D, overnight gave us a significant glimpse of the hand she’s holding in her long-running investigation of former president Donald Trump, his family and their business practices.
In a lengthy 160-page filing arguing that Trump and two of his children should be deposed under oath, James says she has obtained “significant evidence” of fraud and spells out a number of investigative targets. She also points to testimony that includes key figures repeatedly invoking Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, and she links Trump, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. to relevant instances of allegedly deceiving lenders, insurers or tax authorities for financial benefit.
James’s effort focuses on allegedly misleading and incorrect information provided to banks and insurers regarding at least six Trump properties: his Seven Springs estate in Westchester County, N.Y.; his triplex in Trump Tower; his Scotland golf resort; his Westchester golf club; Trump Park Avenue in Manhattan; and his 40 Wall Street office building. Repeatedly, the stated offenses involved allegedly presenting the properties’ values in wildly different ways, depending upon who was asking.
Trump Organization attorney Alan Futerfas responded by saying the subpoenas violate the constitutional rights of the family and that James’s filing “never addresses the fundamental contentions of our motion to quash or stay the subpoenas.”
Here are some of the more notable sections of the filing.
Eric Trump and Weisselberg invoked the Fifth more than 500 times
James’s office noted that Eric Trump and Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg each invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 500 times.
Eric Trump did so during an Oct. 5, 2020, interview: “Eric Trump then invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in response to more than 500 questions over six hours.”
Weisselberg did so during a Sept. 24, 2020, interview: “At testimony held on September 24, 2020, after answering a number of preliminary questions, Allen Weisselberg invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination to more than 500 questions over five-and-a-half hours.”
James’s office argues that these instances show that key figures interviewed in her probe would be well-aware of potential criminal liability if they are deposed in her case. Weisselberg was indicted by the Manhattan district attorney in July, along with the Trump Organization.
While pleading the Fifth is not an admission of guilt, Donald Trump himself has suggested that innocent people don’t invoke the protection and called it “disgraceful” when associates of Hillary Clinton invoked it.
“The mob takes the Fifth,” Trump said. “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”
He added in a 2016 debate with Clinton: “When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the Fifth so they’re not prosecuted, when you have the man that set up the illegal server taking the Fifth, I think it’s disgraceful.”
Trump’s alleged involvement
While Weisselberg and the Trump Organization have been charged in a 15-year alleged tax scheme by the Manhattan district attorney, there has been some question as to whether the allegations would be tied directly to Trump or members of his family.
James’s filing sheds some light on this — particularly when it comes to Trump personally.
It says that Trump himself signed relevant documents on multiple occasions. In one case, he signed documents stating that his triplex apartment was about 11,000 square feet, the filing says, but Trump’s financial statements listed the property at 30,000 square feet, valuing it at more than $300 million.
The filing also says Weisselberg “testified that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump discussed valuations with him and that it was ‘certainly possible’ Mr. Trump reviewed the Statement of Financial Condition for a particular year before it was finalized.”
It says another Trump Organization executive also testified that he understood Trump would review the statements before they were finalized:
“Jeffrey McConney, Senior Vice President and Controller at the Trump Organization, appears to have been one of the principal participants in preparing the Statements of Financial Condition. When asked who reviewed these statements before they were finalized, he testified that his understanding was that ‘Allen Weisselberg I believe reviewed it with Mr. Trump,’ that ‘Allen spoke with Mr. Trump about something with the statement,’ and that ‘I guess we can assume’ that Mr. Trump approved the statements before their issuance.’ “
In another section, it says Trump personally intervened on the valuations of properties at his golf club in Los Angeles:
“On or about October 8, 2014, [outside tax counsel Sheri] Dillon and [appraiser Brian] Curry had a conference call with Mr. Trump to discuss the valuation of the lots. On the call, Mr. Trump claimed that the lots should be valued higher than previously sold lots in the Trump Golf LA project because they were in a ‘more prestigious’ zip code and could thus command a ‘zip code premium.’ Mr. Curry asked Ms. Dillon to confirm whether the lots were in a different zip code. Trump Organization in-house counsel concluded they were not.”
Linking his children
The filing links Trump’s children, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., to the properties at issue in perhaps less-direct ways.
It says Ivanka Trump rented an apartment at Trump Park Avenue with an option to buy for $8.5 million, but the property was valued at more than $20 million in financial statements for that year and the two following years:
“Ivanka Trump rented a penthouse unit in Trump Park Avenue starting in 2011. Ms. Trump’s rental agreement included an option to purchase the unit for $8,500,000. For the 2011 and 2012 Statements of Financial Condition, this unit was valued at $20,820,000 – approximately two and a half times as much as the option price, with no disclosure of the existence of the option. For the 2013 Statement of Financial Condition, the unit was valued at $25,000,000 – more than three times the option price, again, with no disclosure of the existence of the option.”
It also links Donald Trump Jr. to the properties at issue, saying there is evidence he “was consulted” on the Statements of Financial Condition:
“Evidence obtained by the Attorney General indicates that Donald Trump, Jr. was involved with certain Trump Organization properties that are valued on Mr. Trump’s Statement of Financial Condition, including 40 Wall Street, and was consulted in connection with the matters on the Statements of Financial Condition.”
In none of these cases are they linked directly to the allegedly misleading and incorrect information filed, but the argument is that they could at the very least provide insights on information offered for the properties involved.
“Donald Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump have all been closely involved in the transactions in question, so we won’t tolerate their attempts to evade testifying in this investigation,” James said in a statement Tuesday night.
‘It seems like they are hiding something’
The filing details an alleged effort by Trump to avoid putting things in writing.
It cites one witness self-described as a “direct representative of Donald Trump” for the Lower Hudson Valley who said he seldom corresponded in writing with Trump because Trump said he “did not want things put in writing in communications between us.”
It also describes a “junior appraiser” raising questions about why she could not communicate even about factual matters via email. Intriguingly, the appraiser wrote but never a sent a draft email stating that “it seems like they are hiding something”:
“The junior appraiser chafed under this instruction, writing to a Morgan Lewis associate who insisted on a phone call to discuss ‘factual changes’ that, ‘If it is indeed just a few factual changes, wouldn’t it be easier to just write them down and I can take care of it over the weekend? I understand the reluctance to put anything in writing, but since it’s something factual, it would not be seen as anything controversial or influencing us one way or the other.’ As she explained in an email that she drafted — but never sent — to the senior appraiser, ‘I am only resistant to this because it seems like they are hiding something and want to push me to ask about stuff that you were reluctant to change …’