Yesterday New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a motion to hold Donald Trump in contempt of court and fine him $10,000 a day for failing to comply with a discovery order.
It’s hardly surprising that the former president would seek to delay document production in the Attorney General’s (OAG) investigation of his business — after all, he’s sought to thwart investigators for four years. But the open defiance of a court order to which his own counsel already stipulated that he would comply is particularly brazen, even for Donald Trump.
On February 17, Justice Arthur Engoron ordered Trump and his family to sit for depositions and comply with the OAG subpoena for documents. The Trumps appealed the portion of the order dealing with testimony, but agreed to comply with the subpoena duces tecum. On March 3, Justice Engoron signed a stipulation and order instructing Trump to cough up the documents by March 31, a date his attorney Alan Futerfas appears to have agreed to in correspondence with the OAG.
But in the event, what they handed over was not documents, but more like a giant middle finger in the form of 16 pages of boilerplate objections to the document requests, and an affidavit of “compliance” saying that the requested information was in the custody of the Trump Organization, and so Trump bore no responsibility for turning it over.
“[T]o the best of his knowledge and belief, to the extent any such responsive documents exist they are in the possession, custody or control of the Trump Organization; therefore, in accordance with the instructions of the Subpoena, Respondent refers to documents that have been and/or will be produced by the Trump Organization,” attested attorney Michael Madaio, partner to the infamous Alina Habba.
How mad is the OAG, on a scale of 1-10? Probably like 11.
“This Court’s order was not an opening bid for a negotiation or an invitation for a new round of challenges to the subpoena. It was, rather, a court order entered after full briefing and argument during which Mr. Trump could have, but did not, raise any of the purported objections or assertions he has now raised,” AG James wrote.
“Mr. Trump’s purported ‘Response’ violates the Court’s order; it is not full compliance, or any degree of compliance, but simply more delay and obfuscation,” she continued. “Mr. Trump should now be held in civil contempt and fined in an amount sufficient to coerce his compliance with the Court’s order and compensate OAG for its fees and costs associated with this motion.”
Trump’s conduct here appears to be especially egregious because, although he suggests that it’s inappropriate for the OAG to ask him for documents in the custody of the Trump Org, which are covered by a separate discovery order, the document discovery company responsible for compiling those documents says that Trump and his longtime secretary Rhona Graff have not responded to requests for documents.
James describes the response “particularly contumacious” in that it “flies in the face of the parties’ negotiated understanding that Mr. Trump would independently produce his responsive documents before the Trump Organization completed its production.”
What she did not say was that Trump’s legal team seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth, with Alan Futerfas and Ronald Fischetti (AKA “team normal”) negotiating deals with the OAG, which Alina Habba and Michael Madaio (AKA “team wackadoodle”) then blow up in spectacularly bad faith fashion.
Although perhaps that’s what she meant when she said, “assurances from Mr. Trump’s counsel (without any apparent basis) that all responsive documents supposedly in Mr. Trump’s control are in the possession of the Trump Organization and will be included in the Trump Organization’s future productions is cold comfort, and certainly no substitute for Mr. Trump’s own compliance with OAG’s subpoena as compelled by the February 2022 Order.”
Justice Engoron appeared to be at the end of his tether in February, and it seems unlikely that these latest shenanigans will improve his mood.
Elizabeth Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.
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