By MICHAEL BALSAMO, MICHAEL R. SISAK and MICHELLE L. PRICE
NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump invoked Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination while testifying under oath on Wednesday as part of the New York Attorney General’s long-running civil investigation into his business dealings, said the former president in a statement.
Trump arrived at the Manhattan offices of Attorney General Letitia James in a motorcade shortly before 9 a.m., before announcing more than an hour later that he “refused to answer questions about the rights and privileges granted to every citizen under the Constitution of 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 read. “When your family, your business and everyone in your orbit became the targets of a politically unfounded witch hunt backed by lawyers, prosecutors and the fake media, you have no choice.”
As vocal as Trump has been in defending himself in written statements and on the rally stage, legal experts said answering questions during a deposition was risky because anything he said could potentially be used against him in a parallel criminal investigation led by the Manhattan District Attorney. The Fifth Amendment protects people from being compelled to testify 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 is not delivered to court.
“Toying with lawyers during depositions, while avoiding lying, is something he’s proud of,” Gillers said. “Perhaps his lawyers feared his brashness would put him in jeopardy.”
Trump has undergone numerous depositions, dating back to his career as a real estate developer. He has sometimes seemed to enjoy giving answers: for example, he said he was “happy to have had the opportunity to speak my mind” last October in a lawsuit brought by protesters who say his agent security brutalized them outside Trump Tower in 2015.
However, Trump invoked the Fifth Amendment to refuse to answer 97 questions in a divorce deposition in 1990.
Messages seeking comment were left in James’ office.
Wednesday’s events unfolded as a flurry of legal activity surrounds the former president. Days earlier, FBI agents had searched his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as part of an independent federal investigation into whether he had taken classified files when he left the White House.
The New York investigation, led by James, involves allegations that Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, misled lenders and tax authorities about the value of valuable assets like golf courses and scratches. -sky.
“My great company, and I, are under attack from all sides,” Trump wrote beforehand on Truth Social, the social media platform he founded. “Banana Republic!”
In May, James’ office said it was nearing the end of an investigation into Trump, his company, or both. The Republican’s deposition was one of the few remaining missing pieces.
Once the investigation is complete, the attorney general could decide to file a lawsuit seeking financial sanctions against Trump or his company, or even a ban on involvement in certain types of businesses.
Two of Trump’s adult children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, have testified in recent days, two people familiar with the matter said. Individuals were not authorized to speak publicly and did so on condition of anonymity. It is 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 documents.
James, a Democrat, said in court papers that her office 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 alleges that the Trump Organization overstated the value of its holdings to impress lenders or misrepresented land values to reduce its tax burden.
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 allegations, saying seeking the best appraisals is standard practice in the real estate industry. He also accused James, who is black, of racism in pursuing the investigation.
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 prosecutor’s parallel investigation district created a risk that he could face criminal charges. Lawyers from James’ office participated in this criminal investigation.
Manhattan Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that James’s office had a “clear right” to question Trump and other executives at his company – although Trump also had the right to decline to answer questions due to the criminal case.
That criminal investigation 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 heard evidence was disbanded. The chief prosecutor handling the investigation resigned after Bragg raised internal questions about the viability of the case.
The district attorney’s investigation has already led to criminal charges against the Trump Organization and its longtime chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg, who are accused of tax evasion related to employee benefits offered by the company.
Weisselberg and the company’s attorneys are due in court on Friday to argue that the case should be dismissed.
Balsamo and Sisak reported from Washington. Associated Press reporter Jill Colvin in New York contributed to this report.
On Twitter, follow Michael Balsamo at twitter.com/mikebalsamo1 and Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak
Learn more about Donald Trump investigations: https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump