Make Eric Trump testify

Todd Kaminsky

Originally published in NY Daily News

New York State’s attorney general Letitia James spent the last 18 months investigating a massive organization that owns billions of dollars in property and other assets, which she believes may have used various financial tricks to help a very wealthy family avoid taxes. To follow the evidence where it led, she followed a well-worn path by issuing subpoenas to the family for basic information through company records and depositions.

They refused to comply and have stonewalled at every turn.

As a former federal prosecutor, I can tell you that that is an unusual response. Normally in this situation, the subject of such a large investigation cooperates in order to avoid charges, and at the very least tries to avoid the appearance of obstructing the legal process.

But not so in this case. Why? Because the family at the center of the inquiry is the Trumps of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.

Trump Organization Vice President Eric Trump, the president’s son, refuses to be deposed and dismissed the investigation as a political witch hunt. Notably, he sought to avoid the deposition by asserting his “constitutional rights,” without elaborating.

This is a thinly disguised act of obstruction meant to both undercut the investigation and avoid embarrassment. If he shows the books to the attorney general and answers her questions, he may not like the results. If he explicitly takes the Fifth Amendment, he would be publicly suggesting he could incriminate himself.

Clearly there is more to this case then we’ve seen so far.

The evidence is compelling and worthy of a thorough fact-finding investigation. The attorney general’s staff reported in detailed public documents that the Trump Organization overstated its assets to get loans and tax considerations. At the same time, the Trumps may have also claimed significant hits to their income, resulting in lower taxes.

So which is it? Worth more or worth less? The attorney general is empowered by the people of New York to review evidence and let us know what really happened.

Every New Yorker should be offended by this arrogant above-the-law approach to the justice system. Whether or not the attorney general’s case results in punitive action, the concerns it raises are credible. The office’s investigators and prosecutors have made a good-faith effort to get to the facts — something an innocent party should want to do as well. Now it is time for the court to stop the game-playing and order the Trumps to comply.

The president may want to hollow out my old agency, the U.S. Department of Justice, but we absolutely cannot allow his family to defang our own judicial system, which acts solely on behalf of our state and New Yorkers.

New York taxpayers have a right to know if they were stolen from. Every day I get calls from my constituents, terrified that the virus will start spreading again, that their kids will not be able to get a decent education and that their taxes may go up even though the economy is tanking.

Maybe the Trumps do not think that the New York attorney general or a court deserve their respect and compliance. But I know for damn sure that the people of New York, who have been through hell and are facing calamity, do.

So not only should the court force the Trumps to show their cards, but the people of our state should be rooting for Letitia James and her team and dismissing the Trumps’ tactics as nonsense.

A legal system that does not have special rules for the rich and well-connected is the bedrock of our democracy. And, hey, maybe some of that tax revenue we so desperately need is waiting at the end of this case if the facts support that result. Regardless, subpoenas are not party invitations. so it’s time the Trumps played by New York rules like everybody else.

Kaminsky is a former federal prosecutor who represents parts of Nassau County in the state Senate.