Wed, Jan 26, 2022 10:39 PM
By MICHAEL R. SISAK, Associated Press
NEW YORK (AP) — New York’s attorney general wants to put a stop to former President Donald Trump's attempted end-run around a yearslong civil investigation into his business practices, asking a judge Wednesday to dismiss his lawsuit aimed at halting the probe.
Attorney General Letitia James argued in court papers that Trump's lawsuit, filed last month in federal court in upstate New York, is a sudden “collateral attack” on her investigation — designed in part to shield him from a recent subpoena.
James, a Democrat, said there was no legal basis for Trump's lawsuit and no evidence to support the Republican's claim that the probe is purely political. She also said there's no role for a federal court to intervene in an investigation that's been overseen in part by a state court judge.
In a statement responding to Wednesday’s court filing, Trump lawyer Alina Habba said, “Once again, Letitia James fails to address her egregious and unethical conduct in her weak response to our complaint.”
Before the subpoena, Trump and his company, the Trump Organization, complied with the investigation and never challenged the underlying legal basis for the investigation or the attorney general’s office’s legal authority to conduct it, James said in the court papers.
James called claims in the lawsuit that her investigation wasn't lawful or justified a “complete about-face,” after Trump previously agreed to turn over his 2014-2019 income tax returns to her office, while his company provided more than 900,000 documents and testimony from more than a dozen current and former employees.
Trump contends in the lawsuit that James' investigation into matters, including his company’s valuation of assets, violated his constitutional rights in a “thinly-veiled effort to publicly malign Trump and his associates.”
The lawsuit describes James as having “personal disdain” for Trump, pointing to numerous statements she’s made about him, including her boast that her office sued his administration 76 times and tweets during her 2018 campaign that she had her “eyes on Trump Tower” and that Trump was “running out of time.”
In fighting subpoenas James issued to Trump and his two eldest children, Trump’s lawyers have argued that any testimony they give in her civil investigation could be used against them in a parallel criminal investigation being overseen by the Manhattan district attorney's office.
Trump is seeking a permanent injunction barring James from investigating him and preventing her from being involved in any “civil or criminal” investigations against him and his company. Although the civil investigation is separate, James’ office has also been involved in the criminal probe.
Trump also wants a judge to declare that James violated his free speech and due process rights. A conference in the case is scheduled for March 21 in Albany before U.S. Magistrate Judge Christian F. Hummel.
In a state court filing last week seeking to force Trump, Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. to comply with subpoenas, James' office said it had uncovered evidence the Trump Organization used “fraudulent or misleading” valuations of its golf clubs, skyscrapers and other property to get loans and tax benefits.
James said her office hasn't decided whether to bring a lawsuit in connection with the allegations, but that investigators should be allowed to question Trump and his two eldest children under oath as part of the probe. A state court judge, Arthur Engoron, has scheduled arguments in the subpoena dispute for Feb. 17.
In Wednesday's court filing, James pushed back at Trump's contention that her investigation is political, saying her public statements also pertained to litigation her office brought on behalf of state residents, such as a lawsuit challenging his plans for the 2020 census and a lawsuit that led to the closure of Trump's charity over misspending concerns.
Allegations of political bias based on “snippets of press releases, tweets, and public appearances” are legally insufficient and ”do not support a plausible inference that the investigation lacks any objective, reasonable basis," James' office said in its motion to dismiss.
James announced a run for New York governor in late October but suspended her campaign in December, citing ongoing investigations in her decision to instead seek reelection as state attorney general.
Follow Michael Sisak on Twitter at twitter.com/mikesisak