NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump has invoked his Fifth Amendment Defense against self-incrimination when he testified under oath Wednesday in the New York attorney general’s long-running civil trial. In his business activities, the former president said in a statement.
About an hour after arriving at Attorney General Letitia James’ Manhattan office, Trump announced that he “refused to answer questions about the rights and privileges granted to every citizen under the United States Constitution.”
“I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking up the Fifth Amendment?’ Now I know the answer to that question,” the statement read. “When your family, your company and all the people in your orbit become the targets of a baseless politically motivated witch hunt backed by lawyers, attorneys and the fake news media, you have no choice.”
After more than six hours in the office building, Trump used the social media site he founded, Truth Social, to review the “very plush, beautiful and expensive” outfit and suggested the attorney general was wasting time instead of investigating him. Crime in New York.
But after leaving around 3:30 p.m., he described the meeting as “very professional” and added a plug to his “fantastic” company.
As Trump defended himself in written statements and on the rally stage, legal experts said it was dangerous to answer any questions he said could 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.
And if the attorney general’s investigation leads to a civil suit against Trump that goes to trial, jurors could say he invoked his defense against self-incrimination.
Stephen Gillers, a law professor at New York University, said it was surprising that Trump had done so, given his prior voting experience, a legal term for sworn testimony not given in court.
“Living with lawyers, avoiding lying, is something he’s proud of,” Gillers said. “Perhaps his advocates were afraid that his persuasion might affect him.”
Trump has been through several dating hiccups during his career as a real estate developer. He sometimes seemed to give answers: for example, he said last October that he was “happy to have a chance to tell my side” in a lawsuit filed by protesters. They say their security guard assaulted them outside Trump Tower in 2015.
However, Trump invoked the Fifth Amendment in 1990 to refuse to answer 97 questions on his divorce form.
Messages seeking comment were referred to James’ office.
Wednesday’s events unfolded two days after FBI agents raided Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. As part of an unrelated federal investigation into whether he took secret tapes when he left the White House.
New York’s investigation is being led by James, a Democrat, who has said in court filings that his office has found “significant” evidence that Trump’s company misled lenders and tax authorities about the value of valuable properties such as golf courses and skyscrapers.
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, according to James’ office.
Trump has denied the allegations, arguing that seeking better valuations is a common practice in the real estate industry. He accused James, who was black, of racism In proceeding with the investigation.
In May, James’ office said it was nearing the end of an investigation against Trump, his company, or both. The Republican deposition is one of the few missing pieces.
The attorney general may decide to bring a lawsuit against Trump or his company seeking financial penalties or a ban on engaging in certain types of business.
Trump’s two 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 is 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 at the same hearing in 2020, according to court documents.
People generally don’t have a constitutional right to avoid questions in a civil case, but Trump’s legal team has fought James’ attempt to question him for months, arguing that a parallel investigation by the district attorney created a risk Trump could face criminal charges. Attorneys in James’ office assisted in that criminal investigation.
Manhattan Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that James’ office had a “clear right” to question Trump and other executives at his company — although Trump also has the right to refuse to answer questions because of the criminal case.
That criminal investigation appeared to be moving toward possible criminal charges, but stalled after new District Attorney Alvin Bragg took office in January. A grand jury was impaneled after hearing testimony. The top prosecutor handling the investigation resigned as Prague raised questions internally about the credibility of the case.
Bragg 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, Alan Weiselberg.
Attorneys for Weiselberg and the company are scheduled to appear in court Friday to argue that the lawsuit should be dismissed.
Balsamo and Cisak reported from Washington. Associated Press reporters Jill Colvin and Jennifer Peltz in New York contributed to this report.
On Twitter, follow Michael Balsamo at twitter.com/mikebalsamo1 and Michael Sisak at twitter.com/mikesisak
Investigations on Donald Trump: https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump
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