By Karen Freifeld and Luc Cohen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -A New York judge expressed surprise on Friday that Donald Trump, a man he described as perhaps the world’s most famous real estate developer, was unable to provide any documents sought in a probe of the Trump Organization, his family company.
Justice Arthur Engoron in New York state court in Manhattan said at a virtual hearing that he would go on holding the former U.S. president in contempt of court and fine him $10,000 a day despite a request from Trump’s lawyer to lift both orders.
“He’s Donald Trump, the most famous real estate developer in the world, arguably,” the judge said. “I am surprised he doesn’t seem to have any documents; they’re all with the organization.”
On Monday, Engoron issued the orders over Trump’s failure to comply with New York Attorney General Letitia James’ subpoena for documents. On Wednesday, Trump signed an affidavit saying he did not believe he had any relevant documents and, if there were any documents, the Trump Organization would have them.
On Friday, Engoron, who read Trump’s affidavit at the hearing, said the document bore “his inimitable signature” in what appeared to be a Sharpie. But he said that it lacked useful detail about where Trump kept his records.
In order to purge the contempt finding, Trump would have to submit an affidavit swearing to where his files were located, how they were stored, and who had access to them, as well as state whether he turned over his personal electronic devices for searching and imaging, the judge said later in a written order.
At the hearing, Engoron homed in on the small pieces of paper with an adhesive strip on one side that Trump is known for using. “He’s famous for post-its,” the judge said. “When he wants something done, he puts a post-it on something. I don’t think we’ve received any post-its.”
Trump Organization general counsel Alan Garten testified as part of the attorney general’s probe that Trump used post-it notes to communicate with employees, court records show.
But Trump lawyer Alina Habba said Trump does not have any post-its.
“You can fine us for 10 months but you’re not going to get any more documents from Donald Trump,” Habba said. “He doesn’t have the documents that you want.”
James says her probe has already turned up evidence that the Trump Organization – which manages hotels, golf courses and other real estate around the world – has given banks and tax authorities misleading financing information in order to obtain financial benefits such as favorable loans and tax breaks.
Engoron said he would consider Habba’s request to terminate the fine. “But if you don’t hear from me, the clock is still ticking,” he said.
A Republican, Trump denies wrongdoing and calls the probe politically motivated. James is a Democrat. Habba said on Friday that she would continue appealing against both the contempt order and the fine following Engoron’s oral ruling.
(Reporting by Karen Freifeld and Luc Cohen in New York; Editing by Howard Goller and Daniel Wallis)