Trump Takes Fifth in NY Civil Probe 08/11 06:21
Former President 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.
NEW YORK (AP) -- Former President 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
About an hour after arriving at Attorney General Letitia James' Manhattan
offices, Trump announced that he "declined to answer the questions under the
rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States
"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."
During more than six hours at the office building, Trump used Truth Social,
the social media platform he founded, to review the decor -- "very plush,
beautiful and expensive" -- and to suggest the attorney general was squandering
time investigating him instead of attending to crime in New York.
But after leaving around 3:30 p.m., he described the encounter as "very
professional" and added a plug for his "fantastic" company.
The questioning brought him face-to-face with an official he had called an
"out-of-control prosecutor" and a racist. James, a Democrat, is the first Black
person to hold her post.
James' office declined to detail the interview, beyond saying that she
personally took part in the deposition.
One of Trump's lawyers, Ronald Fischetti, told The New York Times the former
president answered one question, about his name, read a statement into the
record in which he questioned James' motives, then invoked the Fifth Amendment.
Trump then said "same answer" to every question he was asked over several
hours, Fischetti said.
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.
If the attorney general's investigation leads to a civil case against Trump
and it went to trial, jurors could be told he invoked his protection against
New York University law professor Stephen Gillers said he was surprised that
Trump had done so, given his 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.
However, Trump invoked the Fifth Amendment to refuse to answer 97 questions
in a 1990 divorce deposition.
Messages seeking comment were left with James' office.
Wednesday's events unfolded two days after FBI agents searched Trump's
Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as part of an unrelated federal probe into whether
he took classified records when he left the White House.
New York's investigation is led by James, who has said in court filings that
her office has uncovered "significant" evidence that Trump's company misled
lenders and tax authorities about the value of prized assets like golf courses
The company, the Trump Organization, 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 allegations, contending that seeking the best
valuations is a common practice in the real estate industry.
In May, James' office said that it was nearing the end of its investigation
against Trump. The Republican's deposition was one of the few remaining missing
The attorney general could decide to bring a lawsuit seeking financial
penalties against Trump or his company, or even a ban on them being involved in
certain types of businesses.
Two of Trump's adult children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, gave depositions 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 Ivanka Trump or Donald Trump Jr. invoked the Fifth
Amendment. Eric Trump, their brother, did so more than 500 times during a
deposition in the same investigation in 2020, according to court papers.
People generally don't have a constitutional right to avoid questions in a
civil lawsuit, but Trump's legal team fought James' attempt to question him for
months, arguing that the district attorney's parallel investigation created a
risk that Trump could face criminal charges. Lawyers in James' office have
assisted with that criminal investigation.
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.
That criminal probe had appeared to be progressing toward a possible
criminal indictment, but stalled after a new district attorney, Alvin Bragg, a
Democrat, took office in January. A grand jury that had been hearing evidence
disbanded. The top prosecutor who had been handling the probe resigned after
Bragg raised questions internally about the viability of the case.
Bragg has said his investigation is continuing.
The district attorney's investigation has already led to criminal charges
against the Trump Organization and its longtime finance chief, Allen
Weisselberg, who are accused of tax fraud related to fringe benefits offered by
Weisselberg and the company's lawyers are scheduled to be in court Friday to
argue that the case should be dismissed.