Trump loses bid to lift contempt charge despite swearing he can’t find subpoenaed documents

Trump loses bid to lift contempt charge despite swearing he can't find subpoenaed documents

Former President Donald Trump looks on before speaking at a tour of an unfinished section of the border wall in Pharr, Texas on June 30, 2021.

Brandon Bell | Getty Images

A New York judge on Friday denied a request by attorneys for former President Donald Trump to set aside a contempt of court ruling, despite Trump and his attorneys filing new affidavits alleging he complied with a subpoena from the attorney general.

Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron said the new affidavits testifying to Trump’s and others’ inability to locate the documents sought by Attorney General Letitia James were insufficient to clear Trump of the contempt. And Engoron ordered Trump to issue a more detailed affidavit summoning information related to the search for the requested documents.

In a letter to Engoron, attorneys for James said he should not lift the contempt order, which carries a $10,000-a-day fine against Trump, until more extensive searches are conducted on the documents than Trump’s attorneys said were done.

That search, AG lawyers said, was intended to include all of Trump’s cellphones, Trump Tower in Manhattan, every Trump estate where he maintains a “private residence” and “personal office,” off-site storage locations, and “all electronic equipment.” include devices issued by the Trump Organization to Trump’s executive assistants.

Engoron effectively agreed, writing in an order later Friday that the affidavits filed by Trump and his attorneys “are inadequate in that they do not identify who searched for each request, when, where, and using what search protocols.” “.

“Moreover, Mr. Trump’s personal affidavit is entirely devoid of useful detail,” the judge wrote. “Specifically, it does not specify where he kept his files, how his files were kept in the ordinary course of business, who had access to such files, what retention policy for such files, if any, and, importantly, where he believes he is.” such files currently reside.”

Engoron’s ruling to uphold his contempt order was entered at a hearing convened at such short notice that it was not publicly announced by the court.

The hearing came four days after Engoron condemned Trump in contempt for failing to turn over documents to James by the March 31 deadline set by the judge for subpoena compliance.

James’ civil investigation is investigating allegations that the Trump Organization improperly manipulated reported valuations of various real estate assets for financial gain.

Engoron on Tuesday ordered Trump to immediately begin paying a $10,000-a-day fine based on the contempt finding.

CNBC Policy

Read more about CNBC’s political coverage:

On Wednesday, Trump’s attorneys in court, under seal, filed affidavits from himself and Trump saying they could not find the documents James wants to see.

“In accordance with and in compliance with the [contempt] “Order, it is respectfully requested that this court remove the civil contempt finding,” Trump’s attorney Alina Habba wrote in that filing.

At a hearing Monday, Engoron questioned why Trump had not previously personally provided an affidavit, instead relying on Habba to make the claim that he could not locate the documents.

In his two-sentence affidavit, signed in Palm Beach, Fla., Trump said, “To the best of my knowledge, I do not have any of the documents requested in the subpoena…in my personal possession.”

Trump added that if relevant records still existed, “I believe they would be held by the Trump Organization.”

This is in line with what his lawyer Habba previously told Engoron.

Habba and another attorney for her firm, Michael Madaio, said in separate affidavits filed Wednesday that after an extensive search they found Trump had no additional documents that could be produced in response to eight categories of records included in James’ subpoena.

“To the best of our knowledge and belief, Respondent’s information and responses to the subpoena are complete and accurate,” Habba wrote.

“No documents or information responsive to the subpoena were withheld from the Defendant’s submission and response.

Habba appealed Engoron’s contempt earlier this week. This appeal has yet to be heard.

Habba said in an emailed statement, “Today’s events have made it overwhelmingly clear that this case is no longer related to the proper application of discovery disclosure principles.”

“The court completely disregarded the detailed affidavits demonstrating the painstaking efforts that went into conducting this search,” Habba said. “This court unduly contempted my client for an offense that he did not commit solely because of that [Office of the Attorney General] declared ‘inadequate’ without any basis.”

“The tactics used by this court, including the dramatic gavel banging, testimonies made to our client by the bank and direct comments to the press, have made this hearing a public spectacle,” she said. “We will eagerly pursue our appeal against the court’s improper application of law and fact.”