Donald J. Trump suggested that he will face questioning by the New York attorney general’s office on Wednesday, a potentially crucial turning point in a long-running civil investigation into his business practices.
The stakes for Mr. Trump are uncommonly high. While he has sat for numerous depositions over the years, he fought for months to avoid such questioning, which could shape the outcome of the investigation into the former president and his family real estate business, the Trump Organization.
The questioning comes at a legally perilous moment for Mr. Trump. Two days ago, while he was at his golf club in New Jersey, the F.B.I. searched his Florida home as part of an investigation into sensitive material that Mr. Trump took when he left the White House.
He has denied wrongdoing and lashed out at the F.B.I. search as “an assault” that “could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries.” He has also called the investigation by the New York attorney general, Letitia James, a politically motivated witch hunt.
He repeated his criticism on his Truth Social account. “In New York City tonight. Seeing racist N.Y.S. Attorney General tomorrow, for a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. history!” he wrote. “My great company, and myself, are being attacked from all sides. Banana Republic!”
Understand the New York A.G.’s Trump Inquiry
Understand the New York A.G.’s Trump Inquiry
An empire under scrutiny. Letitia James, the New York State attorney general, is currently conducting a civil investigation into former President Donald J. Trump’s business practices. Here’s what to know:
Since March 2019, Ms. James’s lawyers, assembling an encyclopedic understanding of the Trump business, have scrutinized whether Mr. Trump and his company improperly inflated the value of his hotels, golf clubs and other assets.
Early this year, Ms. James said in a court filing that the company’s business practices were “fraudulent or misleading,” but added that her office needed to question Mr. Trump and two of his adult children to determine who was responsible for that conduct.
The questioning of Mr. Trump — which comes days after the attorney general’s office questioned Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. — likely represents the final stage of Ms. James’s investigation.
Because her investigation is civil, Ms. James can sue Mr. Trump but cannot file criminal charges. Still, the specter of criminal charges hangs over the case: The Manhattan district attorney’s office had been conducting a parallel criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump fraudulently inflated valuations of his properties.
And depending on Mr. Trump’s answers to questioning on Wednesday, it could breathe new life into that investigation, which lost momentum earlier this year.
Mr. Trump is also contending with a litany of other criminal investigations. Along with the F.B.I. search this week of Mar-a-Lago, his home and private club in Palm Beach, Fla., federal prosecutors are questioning witnesses about his involvement in efforts to reverse his election loss; a House committee held a series of hearings tying him more closely to the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol; and a district attorney in Georgia is investigating potential election interference on the part of Mr. Trump and his allies.
Ms. James’s inquiry could wrap up sooner than those investigations. Rather than file a lawsuit that would take years to resolve, she could first pursue settlement negotiations with the former president’s lawyers to obtain a swifter financial payout. But if she ultimately sues Mr. Trump — and if Ms. James prevails at trial — a judge could impose steep financial penalties on Mr. Trump and restrict his business operations in New York.
In seeking to fend off a lawsuit from Ms. James, Mr. Trump’s lawyers are likely to argue that valuing real estate is a subjective process, and that his company simply estimated the value of his properties, without intending to artificially inflate them. While Ms. James has contended in court papers that the Trump Organization provided bogus valuations to banks to secure favorable loans, Mr. Trump’s lawyers might argue that those were sophisticated financial institutions that turned a hefty profit from their dealings with Mr. Trump.
It is unclear whether Mr. Trump will raise that argument in his questioning.
The questioning represents the culmination of months of legal wrangling. In January, Mr. Trump asked a judge in New York to strike down a subpoena from Ms. James seeking his testimony and personal documents. The judge, Arthur F. Engoron, sided with Ms. James and ordered the Trumps to testify, a ruling that an appellate court upheld.
And at Ms. James’s request, Justice Engoron held Mr. Trump in contempt of court, finding that he had failed to comply with the terms of Ms. James’s subpoena seeking his documents. It was an embarrassing two-week episode that compelled Mr. Trump to pay a $110,000 penalty.
At an April court hearing for the contempt order, one of Ms. James’s lawyers, Kevin Wallace, indicated that the investigation was nearing its conclusion. Ms. James’s office, he said, would need to bring an “enforcement action” in the “near future.”
The lawsuit — or a settlement agreement — would be likely to accuse Mr. Trump and his company of fraudulently inflating the value of his golf clubs, hotels and other properties on his annual financial statements. Mr. Trump’s company provided the statements to banks in hopes of obtaining loans.
Ms. James revealed in a court filing this year that Mr. Trump’s longtime accounting firm, which compiled these statements, had cut ties with him. The firm, Mazars, essentially retracted nearly a decade’s worth of Mr. Trump’s financial statements.