Manhattan judge keeps costly contempt-fine threat dangling over Donald Trump's head in NY probe.

Manhattan judge keeps costly contempt-fine threat dangling over Donald Trump's head in NY probe.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, left. Former president Donald Trump, right.Getty Images
  • Lawyers for Donald Trump and NY Attorney General Letitia James faced off in court Wednesday.
  • Trump had hoped a costly contempt-of-court ruling would be lifted permanently.

A Manhattan judge on Wednesday kept a costly contempt-of-court order dangling over the head of former President Donald Trump, saying it was the best way to ensure he fully complies with New York's ongoing inquiry into his hotel and golf resort business.

Wednesday's decision leaves open the possibility that a fine already totalling $110,000 could climb still higher. And it left a Trump lawyer complaining that the former president is being unfairly targeted "for who my client is."

"I just don't understand why we are still in contempt," Trump attorney Alina Habba complained during a sometimes heated virtual hearing before the judge presiding over NY Attorney General Letitia James' 3-year probe.

"In the final analysis, I just want to get this done," answered the judge, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron.

The AG has been laser-focused recently on understanding why so few of the computer-averse Trump's handwritten business directives — many scrawled in Sharpie on Post-it Notes affixed to hardcopy draft letters, contracts and appraisals — have so far been turned over to the probe.


Of 900,000 Trump Organization documents so far turned over, only ten can be categorized as these so-called Trump "custodial" documents, the AG has complained.

Trump had said in an affidavit that his executive assistants were responsible for preserving his paperwork, an assertion that sparked a search for a dozen of Trump's former assistants.

Then, on Friday, longtime executive assistant Rhona Graff testified under subpoena that there was, in fact, no centralized document preservation policy at the multi-billion-dollar business.

In this latest ruling, the judge gave Trump's side until Friday, June 17, to get sworn statements from officials in each of the Trump Organizations' departments.

These officials are to explain what happened to Trump's handwritten directives once they left his outbox and were hand-delivered by his assistants to the inboxes of its hotel, golf, marketing and legal divisions.


"This is the best way to do it," the judge said of leaving his contempt of court order in place while Trump's side jumps through these final hoops.

"And I think it's fair," the judge added. "I understand we have a slight difference of opinion."

"I just think the opinion is a lot based on who my client is," Habba shot back. "And that's concerning to me."

The judge had found Trump in contempt of court in April, setting a $10,000-a-day fine that rose to $110,000 before the judge stopped the clock in early May.

If Trump fails to fully comply with the judge's final demands, the fine could be reinstated retroactive to May 7, meaning the former president would be liable for some $300,000 in additional fines.


In papers filed in advance of Wednesday's hearing, Habba had said there were at least eight instances where documents bearing Trump's hand-written directives had indeed been turned over to the AG.

But just before Wednesday's hearing, the AG revealed what those eight Sharpie-marked documents actually were — and they were hardly evidentiary smoking guns.

They included Trump's initials on an invoice, a photograph of a Balducci's store and a rendering for 40 Wall Street showing the name "The Trump Building."

An early diagram of the residential "villas" at the Trump National Doral Miami golf resort showed Trump had used a black marker to switch the names for the "Jack Nicklaus" and "Phil Mickelson" residential villas there — with Trump giving legend Nicklaus the larger villa.

"Great," Trump also wrote, for no given reason, on a series of old news photos of golf bigs Arnold Palmer and Gary Players.


There was no explanation of how, if at all, these examples of Trump directives were responsive to any AG subpoena.