Donald Trump and two of his children must answer questions under oath in New York state's civil investigation into his business practices, a judge has ruled.
Judge Arthur Engoron ordered the former US president and his two eldest children, Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr, to comply with subpoenas issued in December by New York Attorney General Letitia James.
At the start of the year, Mr Trump and the two children - both executives at the Trump Organization - refused to show up to scheduled depositions. They are now ordered to do so within 21 days.
Attorney General James’s investigation uncovered evidence Mr Trump used "fraudulent or misleading" valuations of assets to get loans and tax benefits.
Court documents detailed how the company allegedly faked the value of at least six properties, including Mr Trump’s skyscraper at 40 Wall Street in Manhattan, as well as his golf clubs in the New York suburbs and Scotland.
Mr Trump is facing an onslaught of local criminal and civil investigations seeking to hold him accountable now that he is no longer shielded by the near-total executive power of the presidency. Thursday’s decision is one of the biggest blows yet in his bid to dodge the legal action.
"In the final analysis, a State Attorney General commences investigating a business entity, uncovers copious evidence of possible financial fraud, and wants to question, under oath, several of the entities' principals, including its namesake. She has the clear right to do so." Judge Engoron wrote in his decision.
Alina Habba, the 75-year-old businessman’s lawyer, accused Ms James of "selective prosecution and prosecutorial misconduct that this country has never seen," citing statements reflecting the Democratic attorney general's "vile disdain" for Trump.
"If he was not who he is, she would not be doing this," Ms Habba said. "This court can help stop this circus."
The ruling is almost certain to be appealed, but if upheld it could force the former president into a tough decision about whether to answer questions, or stay silent, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination.
Another Trump son, Eric Trump, and the Trump Organization’s finance chief Allen Weisselberg, have previously sat for depositions in the civil investigation - and invoked their Fifth Amendment rights hundreds of times when they were questioned by investigators in 2020.
Mr Trump's lawyers told Judge Engoron during the hearing that having him sit for a civil deposition now, while his company is also the subject of a parallel criminal investigation, is an improper attempt to get around a state law barring prosecutors from calling someone to testify before a criminal grand jury without giving them immunity.
If Mr Trump were to testify in the civil probe, anything he says could be used against him in the criminal investigation being overseen by the Manhattan district attorney's office.