WASHINGTON - Former President Donald Trump's legal troubles intensified Wednesday, as the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that he cannot use executive privilege to shield hundreds of pages of documents related to the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol from a congressional committee empaneled to investigate its causes.
The ruling, which was released by the court early Wednesday evening, came less than a day after the New York attorney general moved to compel Trump and two of his children to testify and produce documents in a fraud investigation.
The ruling by the Supreme Court upheld a lower court ruling that denied Trump's claim that executive privilege protected more than 700 pages of White House documents currently held by the National Archives.
According to a filing produced by the archives, the trove of documents includes presidential diaries, logs of White House visitors, a draft executive order on election integrity, handwritten notes from then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows, and briefing material produced for former White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany.
The select committee is investigating the attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob intent on disrupting the counting of the electoral votes from the 2020 presidential election. The committee is investigating whether and to what degree Trump himself was responsible for instigating the attack, which was tied to his false claim that the election was stolen from him.
The former president has also been criticized for being slow to call for the rioters to disperse, and members of his administration have been blamed for waiting too long to send National Guard troops to aid officers of the Capitol Police and the Washington, D.C., Metropolitan Police Department.
The documents now available to the select committee may shed light on the thinking of the former president and his aides during the attack and in the hours that followed.
New York AG alleges fraud
In a court filing late Tuesday, attorneys in the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a 115-page filing with the New York Supreme Court requesting a ruling that Trump and two of his children, Donald J. Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump, be required to deliver sworn testimony about how the Trump Organization reported the value of its various assets when dealing with financial institutions, tax authorities and other third parties.
The state's contention is that the Trump Organization systematically misstated the value of its various assets in different official documents, for example, by lowering their estimates when calculating its tax bill and overstating them when seeking loans from banks.
New York state law allows the attorney general to bring a fraud proceeding "[w]henever any person shall engage in repeated fraudulent or illegal acts or otherwise." In the filing, the office says it uncovered, "separate and distinct fraudulent or illegal acts which affected more than one individual."
The Trump Organization, which owns numerous golf resorts, apartment and office buildings, and other real estate, has been fighting the investigation in court. Last month, Trump filed a lawsuit against James, claiming that her investigation of his company is a form of political harassment. James, a Democrat, was elected to her position after a campaign in which she promised to pursue legal action against Trump and his company.
In a statement, Alan Futerfas, an attorney representing Donald J. Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, said, 'In 160 pages of legal briefing, the Attorney General's Office deliberately fails to address Ms. James's repeated threats to target the Trump family and her assertions about her criminal investigation - all which are the essence of our motion to quash the subpoenas or stay them.'
For her part, James has characterized Trump's resistance as an effort to delay the inevitable.
"For more than two years, the Trump Organization has used delay tactics and litigation in an attempt to thwart a legitimate investigation into its financial dealings," James said in a statement issued Tuesday night.
"Thus far in our investigation, we have uncovered significant evidence that suggests Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization falsely and fraudulently valued multiple assets and misrepresented those values to financial institutions for economic benefit," James said. "The Trumps must comply with our lawful subpoenas for documents and testimony because no one in this country can pick and choose if and how the law applies to them. We will not be deterred in our efforts to continue this investigation and ensure that no one is above the law."
The filing from the attorney general's office lists multiple instances in which the Trump Organization provided information to counterparties in different transactions that does not square with other sources of data. It also notes that despite testimony from the company's chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, that Trump kept paper records of his financial dealings in his Manhattan office, none of those documents have been produced to investigators.
Miriam Baer, the centennial professor of law at Brooklyn Law School, said the filing from the attorney general's office is more detailed than might have been necessary to persuade a court to compel testimony from the former president. Baer said that suggests that James meant for it to draw attention not just from the court but from the media.
"It's a very well-laid-out filing. It's very straightforward and it's quite rational," Baer told VOA. "This is how you get a court to issue some sort of ruling that's going to force compliance with a subpoena. So it's both a necessary filing and also, in some ways, it's doing a lot more work for the attorney general, in the sense that it's obviously speaking to other audiences."
"I would be surprised if [James] loses this motion," Danya Perry, a founding partner of the law firm Perry Guha and a former New York deputy attorney general and federal prosecutor, told VOA. "It's a strong, strong case that she's put forward."
Perry said that even if a judge compels testimony, the attorney general may not gain much from it. Weisselberg and Eric Trump, another of Trump's children, were deposed in the case, and each invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination more than 500 times.
However, Perry said, James makes a strong case for compelling the Trump Organization to turn over any documents related to the case.