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‘Trump has willfully disobeyed a lawful order of this court,’ New York judge says as $10,000 per-day fines start

Donald Trump, president and chief executive of Trump Organization Inc. and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, left, awards a $100,000 check to a veterans charity during a campaign event at the Orpheum Theater in Sioux City, Iowa, U.S., on Sunday, Jan. 31, 2016.
Luke Sharrett | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The check is due now, Mr. Ex-President.

A New York judge said that Donald Trump would have to start paying a fine of $10,000 per day on Tuesday after finding him in contempt of court for failing to comply with a state Attorney General’s Office subpoena for business-related documents.

“Mr. Trump has willfully disobeyed a lawful order of the Court,” Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron wrote in a three-page order Tuesday.

The written order came a day after Engoron held a hearing on the issue and orally ruled that Trump was in contempt of court.

Attorney General Letitia James is investigating the Trump Organization and Trump in connection with allegations that the company improperly manipulated the stated valuations of various real estate assets to gain more favorable financial terms for loans and insurance, and to lower their tax liabilities.

The Trump Organization denies any wrongdoing, and the Republican Trump himself has accused James, a Democrat, of a politically motivated witch hunt.

Engoron on Tuesday wrote that “each day that passes without compliance” by Trump with James’ subpoena “further prejudices” the attorney general’s civil investigation, “as the statute of limitations continue to run and may result in [James] being unable to pursue certain causes of action that [she] otherwise would.”

Former U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, U.S. February 26, 2022.
Octavio Jones | Reuters

The judge said Trump would have to pay $10,000 per day until he satisfies the judge that he has complied with the subpoena. The order left open the possibility that Trump could satisfy the subpoena by detailing in a sworn statement that he had conducted a thorough search for the records, which his lawyer has claimed he was unable to find.

Trump’s attorney Alina Habba said Monday that she will file an appeal of Engoron’s contempt-of-court finding against the former president and the related daily fine.

In February, Engoron had ordered Trump to produce certain documents sought by James through a subpoena.

James earlier this month asked the judge to hold Trump in contempt for failing to surrender those documents, and for instead waiting until the deadline for the order on March 31 to raise objections to the subpoena, and for claiming to the AG only then that Trump was unable to locate any of the documents.

Engoron, in his order Tuesday, wrote that Trump had waived his right “to raise boilerplate objections to the subpoena by not timely” making them known when he previously tried to get the judge to quash the subpoena.

“Having stipulated to produce all the documents by March 31, 2022, Mr. Trump may no longer challenge the validity of the subpoena,” Engoron wrote.

The judge also called “woefully inadequate” the claim by Trump’s lawyer Habba during Monday’s hearing that a search for the records had not turned up anything responsive to the subpoena.

Engoron said New York case law requires the person conducting such a search for records to reveal the “who,” “what,” “where,” “when,” and “how,” the search was performed.

“Mr. Trump has not refuted, with admissible evidence, [the Attorney General’s Office’s] detailed assertions that he failed to search numerous file cabinets in various locations,” Engoron wrote.

The affidavit that Habba gave Engoron about the search “provided the Court with no basis to find that the search has been a thorough one or that it had been conducted in a good faith effort to provide those necessary records to plaintiff,” the judge wrote.

“Not only did Mr. Trump fail to submit an affidavit himself, which this Court believes would have been the best practice … but the attorney affirmation submitted on behalf of Mr. Trump contained only conclusory statements, rather than details of a diligent search.”

On Monday, after finding Trump in contempt, Engoron ordered commercial real-estate services giant Cushman & Wakefield to comply with subpoenas issued by James’ office about its appraisals of several Trump Organization properties.

The attorney general said Cushman had “refused to comply with subpoenas for information related to its appraisals of three specific Trump-owned properties — the Seven Springs Estate, Trump National Golf Club, Los Angeles, and 40 Wall Street.”

“Cushman & Wakefield’s work for Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization is clearly relevant to our investigation, and we are pleased that has now been confirmed by the court,” James said in a statement Monday. “Our investigation will continue undeterred.

In its own statement Monday, Cushman & Wakefield said, ”While we acknowledge today’s ruling, any suggestion that Cushman & Wakefield has not responded in good faith to the Attorney General’s investigation continues to be fundamentally untrue.”

“We made it clear during the hearing that our firm has devoted significant time, resource and expense in our efforts to cooperate with the Attorney General’s investigation including sharing tens of thousands of items of information,” the company said. “Once again, Cushman & Wakefield affirms that we stand behind our appraisals and appraisers.”

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