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Trump Claims He Took the Fifth in a Civil Probe in New York!
Donald Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination as he testified under oath Wednesday in the New York attorney general’s long-running civil investigation into his business dealings, the former president said in a statement.
Trump arrived in a motorcade at the offices of Attorney General Letitia James in Manhattan just before 9 a.m. More than an hour later, he said that he “refused to answer the questions under the rights and privileges given to every citizen by the United States Constitution.”
“I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’ Now I know the answer to that question,” the statement said. “When your family, your company, and all the people in your orbit have become the targets of an unfounded politically motivated Witch Hunt supported by lawyers, prosecutors, and the Fake News Media, you have no choice.”
As vociferous as Trump has been in defending himself in written statements and on the rally stage, legal experts said answering questions in a deposition was risky because anything he said could potentially be used against him in a parallel criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney. The Fifth Amendment protects people from being compelled to be witnesses against themselves in a criminal case.
Still, New York University law professor Stephen Gillers said he was surprised, given Trump’s previous experience with depositions, a legal term for sworn testimony that’s not given in court.
“Jousting with lawyers at depositions, while avoiding lying, is something he’s proud of,” Gillers said. “Perhaps his lawyers feared that his impetuosity would imperil him.”
Trump has undergone many depositions, dating to his career as a real estate developer. He has sometimes seemed to relish giving answers: For example, he said he was “pleased to have had the opportunity to tell my side” last October in a lawsuit brought by protesters who say his security guard roughed them up outside Trump Tower in 2015.
But Trump used the Fifth Amendment to say that he didn’t have to answer 97 questions during a divorce deposition in 1990.
Things happened on Wednesday while there was a lot of legal action going on around the former president. Just a few days before, FBI agents searched his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as part of a separate federal investigation into whether he took classified records with him when he left the White House.
James is in charge of the New York investigation, which is looking into claims that Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, lied to lenders and tax officials about the value of valuable assets like golf courses and skyscrapers.
“My great company, and myself, are being attacked from all sides,” Trump wrote beforehand on Truth Social, the social media platform he founded. “Banana Republic!”
In May, James’ office said that it was nearing the end of an investigation against Trump, his company, or both. The Republican’s deposition was one of the few remaining missing pieces.
Once the investigation is over, the attorney general could decide to sue Trump or his company to get money back or even to stop them from doing certain kinds of business.
Two of Trump’s adult children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, testified in recent days, two people familiar with the matter said. The people were not authorized to speak publicly and did so on condition of anonymity. It’s unclear whether they invoked the Fifth Amendment during their depositions. When Eric Trump, their brother, sat for a deposition in the same investigation in 2020, he invoked the Fifth more than 500 times, according to court papers.
James, a Democrat, has said in court filings that her office has uncovered “significant” evidence that Trump’s company “used fraudulent or misleading asset valuations to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions.”
James says that the Trump Organization lied about how much its holdings were worth to impress lenders or to cut its tax bill.
The company even exaggerated the size of Trump’s Manhattan penthouse, saying it was nearly three times its actual size — a difference in value of about $200 million, James’ office said.
Trump has denied the accusations, saying that it is common in the real estate business to look for the best prices. He has also said that James, who is black, is being racist by looking into the case.
People don’t have a right under the Constitution to avoid being questioned in a civil lawsuit, but Trump’s lawyers fought James’ attempts to question him for months, saying that the district attorney’s parallel investigation made it possible that he could be charged with a crime. Lawyers in James’ office helped with the investigation of that crime.
Manhattan Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that James’ office had “the clear right” to question Trump and other principals in his company — though Trump also had a right to decline to answer questions because of the criminal case.
The criminal investigation seemed to be going in the right direction toward a possible indictment, but it stopped when a new district attorney, Democrat Alvin Bragg, took office in January. After hearing the evidence, a grand jury broke up. The top prosecutor who was in charge of the investigation quit after Bragg asked questions about how strong the case was.
The district attorney’s investigation has already led to criminal charges against the Trump Organization and Allen Weisselberg, the company’s longtime finance chief. They are accused of tax fraud related to the company’s extra benefits.
On Friday, Weisselberg and the company’s lawyers will be in court to argue that the case should be thrown out.
From Washington, Balsamo and Sisak sent in their reports. Jill Colvin in New York, who works for the Associated Press, helped with this story.
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