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Trump held in contempt, must pay $10,000 per day in civil probe

MANHATTAN — A judge ordered former President Donald Trump to pay $10,000 per day for failing to comply with the New York attorney general’s records requests in connection with a state investigation of the Trump real estate empire.

“Mr. Trump, I know you take your business seriously, and I take mine seriously,” Judge Arthur Engoron said in court Monday afternoon, addressing Trump directly at the end of a two-hour hearing. Engoron ordered Trump to comply with a subpoena for documents and to pay $10,000 per day in contempt until he fulfills his obligation to the state’s discovery demands.

New York Attorney General Letitia James quickly applauded the decision.

“Today, justice prevailed,” James said. “For years, Donald Trump has tried to evade the law and stop our lawful investigation into him and his company’s financial dealings. Today’s ruling makes clear: No one is above the law.”

Kevin Wallace with the New York attorney general’s office described his team’s frustration with efforts to collect documents from Trump. “It’s been pulling teeth to get documents,” Wallace told the court.

Judge Engoron said a physical copy of his ruling will be available Tuesday. Earlier in the hearing, he noted to Trump’s counsel: “I feel like there’s an 800-pound gorilla in the room. … Why don’t we have an affidavit from him?”

Monday’s order indicates that an affidavit is forthcoming. Engoron said Trump must attest to the specifics — “what, who, when and how” — of document production that he and his attorneys undertook in response to subpoenas issued to Trump in December 2021.

“Boilerplate doesn’t cut it,” the judge said.

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How quickly that affidavit materializes, however, is uncertain. “All documents responsive to the subpoena were produced to the attorney general months ago,” Trump’s personal attorney Alina Habba said in a statement after the hearing. “The only issue raised by the attorney general at today’s hearing was with an affidavit submitted which copied the form mandated by the attorney general. This does not even come close to meeting the standard on a motion for contempt and, thus, we intend to appeal.” 

Habba had claimed in a memo to the court last week that there were no documents remaining for Trump to produce.

The attorney general’s office has said it is still waiting on a pair of Trump’s cellphones for forensic imaging and digital searching, but Habba tried to assure the court today that Trump’s phones will yield nothing.  “As everybody famously knows,” she said, “President Trump does not email. He does not text message, and he has no work computer at home or anywhere else.” 

The explanation did not satisfy Andrew Amer with the state attorney general’s office.

“Maybe Mr. Trump didn’t use his phones to text, but how do we know that,” Amer asked. “We certainly know that he tweets.” 

Judge Engoron’s law clerk, Allison R. Greenfield, scolded Habba for an apparent inconsistency in her defense. “How can you affirm they’ve all been produced, but on the other end say they’ll be produced later?” she asked. 

“The problem is nothing is on the record,” Greenfield continued, signaling the judge’s ruling. “We wouldn’t have to be here today if you’d just provided an affidavit.”  

Later in the hearing, Judge Engoron pointed out: “There is a difference between saying something and saying something under oath.” 

Continuing to insist that Trump has been compliant with the subpoenas, Habba said the subpoena instructions contain an exemption stating that Trump “need not produce documents in the possession, custody or control of the Trump Organization, if such documents have previously been produced to this Office during the course of this investigation and you stipulate that the Trump Organization-produced documents can be used as if those documents were produced by you.”

Amer called Trump’s defense against the contempt motions “boilerplate” and “woefully inadequate.”

The attorney general’s office filed motions for contempt early this month after Trump missed a deadline to turn over documents to state investigators.

“This Court’s order was not an opening bid for a negotiation or an invitation for a new round of challenges to the subpoena. It was, rather, a court order entered after full briefing and argument during which Mr. Trump could have, but did not, raise any of the purported objections or assertions he has now raised,” the attorney general’s 26-page motion states.

Trump opted to lodge objections to the subpoena on March 31, which was the deadline for him to turn over documents.

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Josh Russell/Courthouse News Service

Protesters gathered outside of Manhattan Supreme Court on April 25, 2022, where lawyers for former president Donald Trump argued against a contempt motion from the New York attorney general for failing to produce documents in the state's civil probe of Trump's real estate business practices.