NEW YORK — A New York judge said Wednesday he will lift the contempt of court order If the former president meets the conditions, including paying $110,000 in fines, he will be charged for failing to respond to a civil citation issued by the state attorney general.
Judge Arthur Engoron said he will lift his contempt ruling if Trump files additional documents by May 20, detailing efforts to search for the subpoenaed records and explaining his and his company’s document retention policies.
Engoron held Trump in contempt on April 25 and fined him $10,000 a day for failing to comply with a subpoena issued by New York Attorney General Letitia James as part of a lengthy investigation into Trump’s business practices.
James, a Democrat, has said her three-year investigation has uncovered evidence that the former president’s company misrepresented the value of assets such as skyscrapers and golf courses in financial statements for more than a decade.
Trump has denied the allegations and called the James investigation “racist” and a “witch hunt.” James is black.
Trump’s lawyers contend that James is using his civil investigation to gain access to information that could then be used against the former Republican president in a parallel criminal investigation being conducted by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, also a Democrat.
The legal battle between James and Trump also played out Wednesday before a state midlevel appeals court, which was hearing arguments in a related subpoena matter: Trump’s appeal of the judge’s Feb. 17 ruling requiring him to answer questions. under oath at the investigation.
Trump wants to avoid having to talk to investigators.
In a statement Wednesday, James praised Engoron’s handling of the contempt charge.
“For years, Mr. Trump and the Trump Organization have tried to thwart our legal investigation, but today’s decision makes it clear that no one can evade responsibility,” James said in a statement. “We will continue to enforce the law and seek answers as part of this investigation.”
A message seeking comment was left with Trump’s attorney.
Engoron ordered Trump to pay $110,000 because that’s the total amount of fines he’s racked up as of May 6, when Trump’s attorneys produced 66 pages of court documents detailing his and his attorneys’ efforts to locate the subpoenaed records.
The judge required a company hired by Trump to help with the search, HaystackID, to finish reviewing 17 boxes kept at an offsite storage facility and for that company to issue a report on its findings and turn over any relevant documents.
Engoron said it could reinstate the fine, retroactive to May 7, if the conditions it laid out are not met. He directed Trump to pay the money directly to James’ office and for the attorney general to hold the money in an escrow account while Trump’s legal team appeals the original contempt ruling.
James asked Engoron to hold Trump in contempt of court after he failed to produce any documents to meet a March 31 deadline to meet the terms of his subpoena. She sought out documents related to his annual financial statements, development projects, and even communications with Forbes magazine, where she sought to burnish his image as a wealthy businessman.
One of Trump’s attorneys, Alina Habba, said in a May 6 court filing that the former president fully responded to the subpoena and did not withhold any relevant documents. She said Trump’s team searched his offices and private rooms at his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, and his Florida residence, but found nothing relevant that hadn’t already been produced. Her file also detailed searches of other locations, including file cabinets and storage areas at the Trump Organization offices in New York.
In a separate affidavit included with the filing, Trump stated that there is no relevant document that has not yet been filed.
He added that he owns two cell phones: an iPhone for personal use that he presented in March to be searched as part of the subpoena, then presented again in May; as well as a second phone that she recently received and is only used for posting on Truth Social, the social network that started after her ban from Twitter, Facebook and other platforms.