Fri, May 13, 2022 3:07 PM
By MICHAEL R. SISAK, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — As a federal judge weighs Donald Trump’s lawsuit seeking to halt a civil investigation into his business practices, a lawyer for the New York attorney general’s office said Friday that evidence found throughout the three-year probe could support legal action against the former president, his company, or both.
The lawyer, Andrew Amer, said at a hearing in Trump's lawsuit against Attorney General Letitia James that “there’s clearly been a substantial amount of evidence amassed that could support the filing of an enforcement proceeding," although a final determination on filing such an action has not been made.
Amer, a special litigation counsel in James’ office, said the office is “nearing the end” of the civil investigation, which James has said uncovered evidence Trump’s company misstated the value of assets like skyscrapers and golf courses on financial statements for more than a decade.
James could decide to bring a lawsuit and seek financial penalties against Trump or his company, or even a ban on them being involved in certain types of businesses, as happened in January when a judge barred ex-drug company CEO Martin Shkreli from the pharmaceutical industry for life.
Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has said that a parallel criminal investigation into Trump is continuing, although the term of a grand jury hearing evidence in that matter expired last month.
Mark Pomerantz, who was leading the criminal probe, said in a February resignation letter that he believed there was “evidence sufficient to establish Mr. Trump’s guilt beyond a reasonable doubt" for falsifying financial statements.
Trump has denied wrongdoing. His lawyers contend James is using her civil investigation to gain access to information that could then be used against him in the criminal matter.
Trump's lawyer, seeking to halt the civil investigation, argued at Friday's hearing that James' probe is a politically motivated fishing expedition and that by targeting him, she is violating Trump's constitutional right to equal protection under the law.
Trump, a Republican, is seeking an injunction to stop the civil investigation. James, a Democrat, has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit. U.S. District Judge Brenda Sannes said she would consider both requests and deliver a decision in writing. She did not give a timetable for a ruling.
Sannes listened to arguments from Amer and Trump lawyer Alina Habba for about an hour via video and asked probing questions about recent legal battles over subpoenas for Trump's testimony and evidence, and the role of federal courts intervening in a state matter.
Trump sued James in federal court in upstate New York in December after her office issued subpoenas requiring him and his two eldest children — Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. — to answer questions under oath. A state appeals court heard arguments Wednesday as the Trumps seek to reverse a lower-court judge's ruling enforcing the subpoenas.
Habba argued at Friday’s hearing that James was investigating Trump to make good on promises she made during her campaign for attorney general in 2018, using the office to harass him and his company with myriad subpoenas and evidence requests.
“We’ve produced millions and millions and millions of pages” of evidence, Habba told Sannes. “We keep getting subpoenas. They keep looking for things. If they don’t find it, they look again.”
Amer countered that the investigation is on solid legal ground, noting that the state judge overseeing legal fights over subpoenas issued by the attorney general’s office has found there is a “sufficient basis for continuing its investigation."
James' office started investigating Trump in 2019 after his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen told Congress that Trump had a history of misrepresenting the value of assets to gain favorable loan terms and tax benefits. Amer said the probe, now “nearly concluded,” has uncovered ample evidence that could support a civil enforcement action.
All of that, Amer said, “really shuts the door on any argument” by Trump's lawyers that the attorney general's office was proceeding in bad faith.
Habba also took issue with the way the investigation and state court battles over subpoenas for Trump’s business records and testimony unfolded, telling Sannes: “We are sitting with our hands tied. We are simply dodging subpoenas at this point."
James' office and Trump's lawyers have made several agreements extending the deadline for a potential decision, writing in one court filing that doing so “is in their mutual benefit and interest.” One agreement posted to the state court docket set an April 30 deadline, but Habba said Trump's lawyers recently agreed to another extension.
Trump's appeals could further delay the end of the probe. The mid-level state appeals court that heard arguments Wednesday in Trump's testimony fight isn't expected to take up his appeal of a recent contempt-of-court finding until the fall.
Judge Arthur Engoron agreed Wednesday to lift the contempt finding and a $10,000-a-day fine for being slow to respond to James' subpoena for documents and other evidence if Trump meets certain conditions by May 20. Those include paying $110,000 in fines racked up so far, and submitting paperwork detailing efforts to search for the subpoenaed records and explaining his and his company’s document retention policies.
Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak