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.
Trump arrived in a motorcade just before 9 a.m. to the Manhattan office of Attorney General Letitia James, declaring for more than an hour 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 everyone 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.”
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.
However, New York University law professor Stephen Gillers said he was surprised by Trump’s prior voting experience, given the legal time limit 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 undergone several depositions in dating 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 the opportunity 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.
Former President Donald Trump will be sworn in Wednesday in the New York attorney general’s long-running civil investigation as a real estate mogul, he confirmed in a post on his Truth Social account.
Messages seeking comment were referred to James’ office.
Wednesday’s events unfolded in a flurry of legal proceedings surrounding the former president. A few days ago, FBI agents raided his 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, led by James, includes allegations that Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, misled lenders and tax officials about the value of valuable properties such as golf courses and skyscrapers.
“My great company and I are being attacked from all sides,” Trump wrote earlier on Truth Social, the social media site he founded. “Banana Republic!”
In May, James’ office said it was nearing the end of an investigation against Trump, his company, or both. The Republican Depository is one of the few missing pieces.
Once the investigation is complete, 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 grown children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, have 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 they invoked the Fifth Amendment during their confessions. When Eric Trump, their brother, sat for a deposition at the same hearing in 2020, he appealed more than a fifth time, according to court documents.
James, a Democrat, said in court filings that his office had found “substantial” evidence that Trump’s company “used fraudulent or misleading property valuations to obtain numerous economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage and tax deductions.”
James accused the Trump Organization of overstating the value of its stock to lure lenders or misrepresenting what the land was worth to reduce its tax burden.
The firm overstated 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.
People generally do not have a constitutional right to avoid questioning in a civil case, but Trump’s legal team has fought an effort to question James for months, arguing that a parallel investigation by the district attorney created a risk that he 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 a new district attorney, Alvin Bragg, a Democrat, 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.
The district attorney’s investigation has already led to criminal charges against the Trump Organization and its longtime finance chief, Alan Weiselberg, who are accused of tax fraud related to fringe benefits offered by the company.
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 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
Investigations on Donald Trump: https://apnews.com/hub/donald-trump