A New York judge ordered former President Donald Trump to immediately pay the $110,000 he owes for refusing to turn over evidence to the state’s attorney general in an ongoing investigation, but the judge also offered to no longer hold Trump “in contempt of court” if there can be assertions about how his family company retains and destroys records.
“I want the fine paid,” Justice Arthur F. Engoron said, warning that he would immediately sanction the former president again if additional documents don’t get turned over.
Because so many electronic devices and paperwork are missing, his executive assistant at the Trump Organization now needs to submit a sworn statement explaining how the company retains and destroys records. The judge also wants to hear an update about the ongoing evidence collection efforts by the third-party company he felt compelled to assign as a result of the two-year refusal by the Trump Organization to turn over records demanded by New York AG Letitia James.
The $110,000 will be held in escrow, pending other matters in the legal fight between the AG’s office and the Trump Organization. Trump has been racking up $10,000 a day for refusing to turn over evidence.
At Wednesday’s virtual court hearing, lawyers for Trump sparred with attorneys at the AG’s office over whether investigators are getting the evidence they need to make a final decision about suing the company for business and tax fraud.
The state AG's office has been investigating the corporation for years and is poised to take action that could bar the company from operating. The investigation is heating up in what could be its closing chapter, and the real estate giant Cushman & Wakefield is now under scrutiny for allegedly helping the firm inflate property values.
Although the probe is a civil matter, investigators are simultaneously running a parallel criminal investigation with the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office that has already led to tax fraud indictments against the firm and its now-former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg.
Andrew Amer, an attorney at the AG’s office, noted that investigators are still missing a ton of evidence they expected. For example, Trump regularly communicates with assistants by handing them Post-It notes but investigators haven’t found any.
“We haven't seen any documents that have Post-Its on them,” he said. “You can't say you're complying with the subpoena.”
Meanwhile, Trump attorney Alina Habba argued that investigators keep asking for more records and additional assurances.
“This isn't a dive into anything the president has ever done. This is a narrow scope the office of the attorney general is investigating,” she said. “It kind of feels like the ball keeps moving and expanding and changing. Everything that you asked for we did. We've complied.”
Donald Trump’s legal team asserted in court filings last week that they had looked through desks, drawers, and file cabinets at the former president’s Mar-a-Lago club in South Florida, his New Jersey golf club at Bedminster, and his New York City headquarters at Trump Tower.
In an affidavit Trump personally signed on May 6, he explained that he couldn’t turn over potentially key evidence of his business dealings on all cell phones he’s used since 2010 because at least three of them have disappeared. Gone are two flip phones, a Trump Organization phone he got in 2015, and a Samsung smartphone.
“I took the Samsung with me to the White House and it was taken from me at some point while I was president,” he swore. “I do not have the Samsung in my possession and I do not know its current whereabouts.”
During Wednesday’s court hearing, Engoron took issue with one statement in that sworn statement that pertained to Trump’s use of technology. Trump affirmed that "it has been my customary practice to not communicate via e-mail, text message, or other digital means of communication,” but the judge pointed out how that sentence was wrong.
“You can't make a statement that doesn't stand on its own. When he says he doesn't use means of electronic communications… we all know he uses it. 80 million people were on his Twitter feed,” he said. “A sentence has to be true. That sentence is just not true... it just stood out like a sore thumb. 'No I don't.' Yes you do!”
Habba pushed back that her client’s past activity on Twitter shouldn’t count as it was already public. And she explained that a new phone he just recently got solely to post on his own new social media platform, the Orwellianly titled Truth Social, wouldn’t have any relevant material.