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New York AG James says Trump's company misled banks, tax officials

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The New York attorney general's office says it has uncovered evidence of financial irregularities at former President Donald Trump's business. Attorney General Letitia James detailed the findings in a court document filed Tuesday night. Her office seeks to compel Trump to testify under oath, as well as two of his adult children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump.

NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas has been looking into this. Ryan, what does the New York attorney general allege in this filing from late last night?

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: Well, James alleges that Trump's business inflated the value of his properties and misstated his personal worth in representations made to lenders, insurance brokers and others. And the purpose of this, basically, the New York attorney general says, was to obtain financial benefits, such as loans, insurance coverage and tax deductions. The nearly 160-page filing was made in support of James' effort to see Trump and, as you said, his adult children, Ivanka and Don Jr., deposed under oath. James says in the filing that her office hasn't decided at this point whether to bring a civil lawsuit in connection with these allegations. But she says investigators need to question Trump and his eldest children as part of this probe.

MARTINEZ: Does the New York attorney general provide any examples of these alleged fraudulent sorts of financial representations?

LUCAS: She does. The filing cites several examples of Trump allegedly lending his signature to financial statements that inflated the worth of properties in the Trump Organization portfolio and the value of Trump's own fortune. And according to the papers, Trump's business also overstated the value of land donations made in New York and California on paperwork submitted to the IRS to justify several million dollars in tax deductions.

MARTINEZ: Has Donald Trump responded?

LUCAS: He hasn't said anything yet about this filing or the specific allegations that are in it. But Trump for a long time has maintained that this effort is politically motivated. His attorney has previously described James' investigation as a witch hunt and has said that the former president plans to fight this effort in court, as he has been doing.

MARTINEZ: And the New York attorney general's probe has been going on for a while, it seems. Catch us up on how we even got here.

LUCAS: Right. For the past few years now, James has been looking into whether Trump's companies routinely lied about the value of their properties, depending on whether they were seeking to lower their taxes or receive loans. We got a sense of the investigation in the fall of 2020, when James' office went to court to compel the testimony of Trump's son, Eric Trump, who is an executive at the Trump Organization, after Trump initially refused to show up for his deposition. Now, Eric Trump ultimately testified after a judge ordered him to do so. The filing that was filed late last night says that Eric Trump repeatedly invoked his Fifth Amendment rights. Investigators went back to court last summer when the Trump Organization once again had to be compelled to comply with investigators over a request to produce internal documents about appraisals, valuations, purchase records, stuff like that.

Now, prosecutors are looking to speak to the man at the top of the company - to Donald Trump. Typically, something like that is a last step in any legal investigation. This investigation by the New York attorney general, though, is different. It's separate and parallel to a criminal probe being led by the Manhattan district attorney. That investigation has led to charges against a pair of Trump business entities, as well as a chief financial officer for the Trump Organization. They have all pleaded not guilty. But as I said, in this investigation, the New York attorney general has yet to decide whether she will pursue a civil lawsuit.

MARTINEZ: All right. That's NPR justice correspondent Ryan Lucas.

Ryan, thanks a lot.

LUCAS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.