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Trump is being held in contempt of court for failing to comply with subpoena

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

A New York judge has found former President Donald Trump in contempt of court for not complying with a subpoena for documents. The judge has ordered Trump to pay $10,000 a day every day until he turns over the records to New York's attorney general.

NPR's Ilya Marritz was in the courtroom today. Hey there, Ilya.

ILYA MARRITZ, BYLINE: Hi, Mary Louise.

KELLY: All right. So walk us through what happened. How did a judge come to find the former president in contempt?

MARRITZ: Well, the judge in the case is Arthur Engoron. And this morning he heard oral arguments both from Trump's lawyers and from lawyers for the state attorney general, Letitia James. James' team was arguing that Trump had failed to hand over documents demanded in a subpoena all the way back in December. And the judge was persuaded not only had they not handed over documents, Trump's legal team failed to show that they had even conducted a rigorous search.

The judge said he hoped a $10,000 a day penalty will, quote, "coerce compliance." And he closed by addressing the former president directly. He said, Mr. Trump, I know you take your business seriously. And I take mine seriously, he said.

KELLY: Do we know what these documents are? Are they pivotal here?

MARRITZ: Not precisely. So. A.G. James is doing a civil investigation of Trump business practices. Did he, in fact, inflate and deflate his assets and income and statements made to banks and other financial parties? Before she decides whether to file a suit, she needs to establish Trump's role himself - what he knew, what people were telling him. And that's why she specifically has subpoenaed documents in his personal possession. That's what this fight is over - not company documents but his documents. But we just don't know exactly what that might be.

KELLY: Yeah. All right. So what is Trump's lawyer saying?

MARRITZ: Her name is Alina Habba. And she says they did do a search, and it was thorough. And she said, look; my client famously does not email. He doesn't even have a personal computer. So it may seem strange, but it really isn't that he just doesn't have documents to share beyond 10 items that had already been handed over pursuant to an earlier subpoena.

KELLY: And I'm trying to think how unusual this is. I'm thinking of the many times Donald Trump has sued someone or been sued by someone. I can't think of a time when he was held in contempt before. Is that right?

MARRITZ: Yeah, me neither - certainly nothing recent. And it is remarkable. I spoke with Rebecca Roiphe, who's a professor at New York Law School who used to be a prosecutor here in New York. She said it's really rare that a document request gets escalated into a contempt filing. Usually both sides see an incentive to come to an agreement. But, of course, Donald Trump is no ordinary litigant.

REBECCA ROIPHE: His agenda in using the courts is never only legal. I mean, he has legal battles, and obviously he'd like to win those. But it's also just yet another front on which he fights his political and public relations war. So he's doing more than just trying to, you know, get the best outcome that he could possibly get.

KELLY: Yeah - both sides presumably going for the best outcome they can possibly get. What is the next move here?

MARRITZ: So the judge's written order will come out tomorrow, and that'll spell everything out a little more precisely. I did chat with Alina Habba, Trump's lawyer, in the hallway afterwards. She says if that order is crafted as she expects, she will have an opportunity to file an affidavit, basically saying, yes, we did an exhaustive search for documents. We looked here, here and here. We didn't find any that were responsive. And she's hopeful that she can resolve that contempt filing quickly that way. However, she has also said that she will appeal.

KELLY: NPR's Ilya Marritz, thank you.

MARRITZ: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.