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New York judge holds Trump in contempt of court and fines him $10,000 per day

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Monday was a day of legal setbacks for former President Donald Trump. A judge in New York ruled that Trump is in contempt of court. And he's fining him $10,000 a day for not responding to a subpoena for business documents and information. The judge also decided that a former real estate broker for Trump must turn over all kinds of documents stemming from an investigation into his business empire by the New York attorney general. NPR's Andrea Bernstein was in the courthouse yesterday, and she joins us now. Good morning, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning, Rachel.

MARTIN: So $10,000 a day - a lot of money but maybe not so much if you have a business worth billions. How big a deal is this contempt charge for Donald Trump?

BERNSTEIN: Big. So this is a very attention-getting amount of money for Donald Trump. In the course of my reporting on Trump, I've read business contracts where he made sure his company was paid a cut of money for minibar items sold at hotels that licensed his names, like M&M's and peanuts. I've spoken to former employees who had to pony up for gifts they thought their boss had given them. So yes, $10,000 a day is big money even when your name is Donald Trump, and you're someone who famously never likes to lose. Now, Donald Trump and his company have denied any wrongdoing. And they've accused the New York attorney general, Democrat Letitia James, with being politically motivated. What's different now is that a judge, Judge Arthur Engoron of New York's Supreme Court, a neutral arbiter, has agreed with the attorney general's position that Trump is not being forthcoming. Trump's lawyer says she's appealing, so he likely won't have to start paying right away.

MARTIN: Andrea, how - I mean, how often does a contempt charge like this happen?

BERNSTEIN: So Donald Trump, as a businessman and as president, has a pretty consistent pattern of refusing to turn over documents and records, even when courts tell him to. But I've written a book about Trump's business. I've hosted two podcasts about him, and I can't think of any ruling like this one holding him in contempt for the practice of refusing to comply with a court. We also spoke to Rebecca Roiphe, a New York Law School professor and a former prosecutor, who told us it's very rare that a document request like this one results in a contempt citation.

REBECCA ROIPHE: And especially because, you know, this is really a losing claim. Like, why would you push it to the point where you got sanctioned?

BERNSTEIN: What she's saying is you might get a contempt citation, like, after a trial or if you're ordered to pay a fine. But most lawyers don't let it get to this so early in a case for among other reasons, because they don't want to antagonize a judge before an actual case has been filed. So this is really unusual.

MARTIN: So it's unusual in general for a contempt charge like this to happen. It's unusual for Donald Trump in particular. So how did it come to this?

BERNSTEIN: So this is the long-running investigation into whether the Trump Organization lied to tax authorities and to lenders about the value of its properties. And one of the things that came up in court yesterday is that Donald Trump has turned over no documents to the state attorney general, zero in response to a subpoena from last year and that the attorney general only has 10 documents of his that they got from his business. Trump's lawyer said the documents, text messages, Post-its, notes do not exist. But a judge told her that her filing saying that was, quote, "woefully inadequate."

MARTIN: Just real quick, Andrea, there was a second ruling yesterday involving the real estate brokerage. What can you tell us there?

BERNSTEIN: This what's so interesting. The brokerage is Cushman & Wakefield, a major firm. And an assistant attorney general stood up in court yesterday and said two appraisers who work for Cushman had, quote, "made misstatements at the Trump Organization's behest." Translation - they'd allegedly fudged property values so the Trump Organization could underpay taxes or lie to its lenders. Judge said that Cushman had to turn over documents, meaning there's more evidence to come in this investigation.

MARTIN: NPR's Andrea Bernstein in New York. Thank you, Andrea.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Bernstein