Trump loses bid to lift contempt charge despite swearing he can’t find subpoenaed documents
Former President Donald Trump looks on before speaking during a tour to an unfinished section of the border wall on June 30, 2021 in Pharr, Texas.
Brandon Bell | Getty Images
A New York judge Friday denied a request by lawyers for former President Donald Trump to lift a contempt of court finding despite the submission of new sworn affidavits from Trump and his attorneys that argue he has complied with a subpoena from the state attorney general.
Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron said that the new affidavits attesting to Trump’s and others’ inability to locate documents sought by Attorney General Letitia James were not sufficient to purge Trump of being held in contempt. And Engoron ordered Trump to submit a more detailed affidavit swearing to information related to the search for the requested documents.
In a letter to Engoron, lawyers for James said that he should not lift the contempt order, which has a $10,000-per-day fine against Trump attached to it, until more extensive searches for the documents are conducted than the ones Trump’s lawyers said had been done.
That search, the AG’s lawyers said, should include all of Trump’s mobile phones, Trump Tower in Manhattan, each of Trump’s properties where he maintains a “private residence” and “personal office,” off-site storage locations, and in “all electronic 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 lawyers “are insufficient in that they fail to specify who searched for each respective request, at what time, where, and using what search protocols.”
“Furthermore, Mr. Trump’s personal affidavit is completely devoid of any useful detail,” the judge wrote. “Notably, it fails to state where he kept his files, how his files were stored in the regular course of business, who had access to such files, what, if any, the retention policy was for such files, and, importantly, where he believes such files are currently located.”
Engoron’s ruling upholding his contempt order was issued at a hearing called on such short notice that it was not publicly announced by the court.
The hearing came four days after Engoron found Trump in contempt for failing to turn over documents to James by the March 31 deadline set by the judge for compliance to the subpoena.
James’ civil investigation is eyeing claims that the Trump Organization improperly manipulated the stated valuations of various real estate assets for financial gain.
Engoron on Tuesday ordered that Trump immediately begin paying a $10,000-per-day fine as a result of the contempt finding.
On Wednesday, Trump’s lawyers filed affidavits in court under seal from themselves and Trump, saying they had been unable to locate the documents James wants to see.
“In accordance and compliance with the [contempt] Order, it is respectfully requested that this Court purge the finding of civil contempt,” Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba wrote in that filing.
Engoron at a hearing Monday had questioned why Trump had not previously submitted an affidavit personally but instead relied on Habba to make the claim that he could not find the documents.
In his two-sentence affidavit signed in Palm Beach, Fla., Trump said that “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 there are any relevant records remaining, “I believe they would be in the possession of custody of the Trump Organization.”
That echoes what his lawyer Habba previously told Engoron.
Habba and another attorney from her firm, Michael Madaio, in separate affidavits filed Wednesday, said that after conducting a comprehensive search, they found that Trump did not possess any additional documents that could be provided in response to eight categories of records demanded in James’ subpoena.
“Respondent’s productions and responses to the Subpoena are complete and correct to the best of my knowledge and belief,” Habba wrote.
“No documents or information responsive to the Subpoena have been withheld from Respondent’s production and response.
Habba earlier this week appealed Engoron’s contempt finding. That appeal has yet to be heard.
Habba in an emailed statement said, “Today’s events have made it overwhelmingly clear that this case no longer has anything to do with the proper application of legal principles governing discovery disclosure.”
“The Court completely disregarded the detailed affidavits that demonstrate the meticulous efforts undertaken to effectuate this search,” Habba said. “This Court has improperly held my client in contempt for a violation that he did not commit solely because the [Office of the Attorney General] declared it ‘insufficient’ without any basis.”
“The tactics employed by this Court, including the dramatic pounding of the gavel, the statements directed to our client from the bench, and direct comments to the press have reduced this hearing to the likes of a public spectacle,” she said. “We will zealously prosecute our appeal of the Court’s improper application of both law and fact.”