A New York state civil investigation into former U.S. President Donald Trump’s business dealings has now expanded to include a criminal investigation, the state’s attorney general confirmed Tuesday.
“We have informed the Trump Organization that our investigation into the organization is no longer purely civil in nature,” a spokesperson for New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office said in a statement to Global News.
“We are now actively investigating the Trump Organization in a criminal capacity, along with the Manhattan DA.”
The office would not provide further comment on what the criminal investigation is based on, or what prompted the probe to expand.
Global News has reached out to the Trump Organization and the Manhattan District Attorney’s office for additional comment, but has not heard back.
In a lengthy statement Wednesday, Trump said he learned the news through media reports and blasted the investigation as politically motivated and “a continuation of the greatest political Witch Hunt in the history of the United States.”
“I have built a great company, employed thousands of people, and all I do is get unfairly attacked and abused by a corrupt political system,” he said, adding that James and other prosecutors should focus on rising crime in New York City instead.
James’ probe has occasionally overlapped with another civil investigation by Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance’s office, which has been underway since 2019.
The state attorney general’s inquiry, according to court filings, includes an examination of whether Trump or his businesses lied about the value of assets to gain favourable loan terms and tax benefits. Vance’s office has also looked into similar allegations.
Vance’s investigation also includes a look at hush-money payments paid to women on Trump’s behalf and the propriety of tax write-offs the Trump Organization claimed on millions of dollars in consulting fees it paid, including money that went to Trump’s daughter, Ivanka.
Trump’s former lawyer, Michael Cohen, was sentenced to three years in prison in part for facilitating those payments during the runup to the 2016 election.
Cohen has spoken publicly about how Trump had an alleged history of inflating the value of some assets to impress banks and business partners, but lowering that value for tax purposes.
In February, Vance’s office got its hands on eight years worth of Trump’s tax records, including final and draft versions of tax returns, source documents containing raw financial data and other financial records held by his accounting firm.
The tax returns came after a lengthy battle with the Trump Organization that eventually made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court on two separate occasions.
The court ultimately declined to step in to halt the turnover of the records to Vance’s team, which has been poring over the documents ever since with help from the attorney general’s office.
As part of her civil investigation, James’ office issued subpoenas to local governments in November 2019 for records pertaining to Trump’s estate north of Manhattan, Seven Springs, and a tax benefit Trump received for placing land there into a conservation trust.
James was also looking at similar issues relating to a Trump office building in New York City, a hotel in Chicago and a golf course near Los Angeles. Her office also won a series of court rulings forcing Trump’s company and a law firm it hired to turn over troves of records.
Vance’s investigation has also appeared to focus in recent weeks on the Trump Organization’s longtime finance chief, Allen Weisselberg.
His former daughter-in-law, Jen Weisselberg, has given investigators reams of documents as they look into how some Trump employees were compensated with apartments or school tuition. Weisselberg was subpoenaed in James’ civil investigation and testified twice in 2020.
Trump has frequently criticized the investigation as politically motivated. Both James and Vance are Democrats in a state where less than 40 per cent of residents voted for Trump in both the 2016 and 2020 elections.
Trump also refused to release his tax returns, both as a candidate and while president, repeatedly claiming that they were under audit.
Last year, a New York Times investigation citing partial tax records reported that Trump didn’t pay any federal income taxes in 10 of the previous 15 years through 2017, despite receiving US$427.4 million through 2018 from his reality television program and other endorsement and licensing deals.
Trump called the report “fake news,” as he did with any reporting on his financial situation or business dealings.
During his first debate with then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden in September, Trump claimed he has paid “millions of dollars” in taxes during his real estate career.
Yet he also claimed he was simply following the federal tax code that’s been in place for years, including under former president Barack Obama, with whom Biden served as vice president.
“I don’t want to pay taxes,” Trump said. “Before I came here, I was a private developer, I was a private business people. Like every other private person, unless they’re stupid, they go through the laws and that’s what it is.”
–With files from the Associated Press