New York judge Arthur F. Engoron did today what many Americans have been doing since 2016 when he held disgraced former president Donald Trump in contempt.
Engoron’s ruling, however, was for contempt of court for failing to turn over documents to New York State Attorney General Letitia James in an extraordinary defeat for Trump.
Attorney General James had sought to have Trump — the defendant in a long-standing investigation of his financial and tax dealings that is probing the many irregularities in property values reported to tax authorities compared to what was reported to lenders seeking collateral on their loans to the Trump Organization — found in contempt for his refusal to provide subpoenaed documents to the state investigators.
Judge Engoron today agreed with the Attorney General’s assessment of the situation and ordered that Trump pay a fine of $10,000 per day until he submits the subpoenaed documents to the prosecutor’s office.
“Mr. Trump: I know you take your business seriously, and I take mine seriously,” Judge Engoron pointedly addressed the defendant as he announced his decision.
It may be premature to expect to see any incriminating documents suddenly appear in the laps of Attorney General James’ prosecution team, however.
A lawyer for Trump, Alina Habba, immediately announced that she planned to appeal the judge’s ruling, making any quick resolution to the dispute over access to the financial papers unlikely. Trump’s legal team has claimed that the attorney general’s document request was “grossly overbroad” and that prosecutors did a poor job of “adequately” defining exactly which documents were subject to the subpoena.
Last week, Habba told the court that Trump did not actually possess the requested documents, suggesting that they were all in the possession of the Trump Organization if they did indeed exist at all.
According to The New York Times, however:
“Lawyers for Ms. James’s office have said they believe that at least some of Mr. Trump’s documents have not been turned over. In one filing, her lawyers mentioned a filing cabinet at the company that contained the former president’s files, and noted that he used Post-it notes to pass messages to employees.”
Trump’s own attorneys argue that Trump’s files were not searched because The Trump Organization had decided that it wasn’t necessary because Trump was not involved in drafting his own financial statements. Attorney General James countered with the fact that the signed financial declarations include a very clear statement that “Donald J. Trump is responsible for the preparation and fair presentation” of the information included in them.
Whatever the final outcome of the case, it’s clear that today’s ruling by the New York judge was a major loss for Donald Trump. Expect new fundraising emails in your inboxes soon. That $10,000 per day adds up quickly, and Trump likely doesn’t want to use his own money to pay it.
Original reporting by Jonah E. Bromwich, Ben Protess, and at The New York Times.