Donald Trump invokes Fifth Amendment rights and refuses to answer questions from New York Attorney General

“Under the advice of my attorney and for all of the above reasons, I have declined to answer questions about the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the Constitution of the United States,” Trump said in a statement. .

Trump was to be deposed by attorneys from the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James in a more than three-year civil investigation into whether the Trump Organization misled lenders, insurers and authorities taxes by providing them with misleading financial statements.

Trump said in a post on Truth Social earlier Wednesday morning that he would “see ‘James’ for the continuation of the greatest witch hunt in US history! My big business and I are under attack from all sides. The Banana Republic!”

Some Trump advisers had advocated that the former president answer questions since he had previously testified under oath about his financials, while others cautioned him against answering any questions because of the potential legal risk he faces. could face, people familiar with the matter told Les Actualites. The Manhattan District Attorney has a separate criminal investigation underway into the Trump Organization.

Another consideration that had been discussed, people familiar say, is the political implications of not answering questions as Trump is expected to announce he will run for president in 2024. During the campaign in 2016, Trump suggested that not answering questions was a sign of guilt. During a campaign stop in Iowa in 2016, Trump said, “If you’re innocent, why are you accepting the Fifth Amendment?”

In his statement Wednesday, Trump said, “Now I know the answer to that question” and denounced James’ investigation. The former president and the Trump Organization have previously denied any wrongdoing.

“When your family, your business and everyone in your orbit has become the targets of an unfounded and politically motivated witch hunt backed by lawyers, prosecutors and the fake media, you have no choice,” a said the former president.

The Fifth Amendment ensures that an individual cannot be compelled by the government to provide information that could be incriminating against him or her. When an individual refuses to answer a question by “taking the Fifth”, he invokes this right. This is not an admission of guilt.

“No person shall be compelled in a criminal case to testify against himself,” states the Fifth Amendment.

In a statement, the attorney general’s office confirmed that Trump had taken the Fifth and said it would continue its investigation.

“While we are not commenting on specific details, we can confirm that today our office conducted a deposition of former President Donald Trump,” the office said. “Attorney General Letitia James took part in the deposition during which Mr. Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Attorney General James will pursue the facts and the law wherever they may lead. Our investigation is continuing.”

The mood was tense at the start of the deposition, but then became cordial and professional, Trump attorney Ronald Fischetti told Les Actualites. Fischetti was present with co-attorney Alina Habba, a New Jersey-based attorney who has taken over many of Trump’s ongoing lawsuits.

James, a Democrat, attended the first half of the deposition and gave a standard statement on sworn testimony.

Initially, Fischetti explained that Trump wanted to testify “very badly,” but that the former president had accepted his advice not to answer questions.

Under oath, Trump confirmed he wanted to testify but would not answer questions, citing his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Much of his statement used language similar to the public statement he released earlier on Wednesday, referring to a “witch hunt” and FBI search of his home in Mar-a-Lago.

New York Assistant Attorney General Kevin Wallace confronted Trump, flanked by 10 assistant attorneys general who handed him notes during the interview. The questions related to appraisals placed on various Trump properties that were included in the financial statements, according to Fischetti.

Questioned during the roughly four-hour deposition — not counting breaks — Trump repeatedly repeated “the same answer” when he declined to answer in pleading the Fifth.

James left on lunch break and Trump shook her hand as she left. At the end of the day, when Trump left, he shook hands with all of the state’s attorneys, Fischetti said.

Previous investigation and depositions

In January, James’ office said it found “significant” evidence that the Trump Organization used false or misleading asset valuations in its financial statements to obtain loans, insurance and tax benefits. The Attorney General’s civil investigation is nearing completion and a decision on an enforcement order may soon be made.

The confrontation follows Trump’s failed attempt to block subpoenas for the depositions of him and his children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump.

Ivanka Trump’s deposition took place last week and Trump Jr. had her deposition in late July, people familiar with the matter said.

Trump Jr., who leads the Trump Organization with his brother Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump did not assert their Fifth Amendment rights and answered questions from the state, the people said. It is not known what specifically they were asked or what they said.

Their decision breaks with Eric Trump and former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who both asserted their Fifth Amendment rights more than 500 times during their 2020 impeachment.

Trump has testified under oath in civil lawsuits for decades and since leaving office he has also been deposed. Last year, he provided videotaped testimony for a trial involving an assault outside Trump Tower. The case is expected to go to trial in the fall. Trump has denied any wrongdoing.

Trump Net Worth Questions

Trump has been questioned about the accuracy of his net worth and financial statements in previous trials, which some advisers say is one of the reasons he should answer questions in the ongoing investigation.

In a 2007 deposition in a defamation lawsuit, Trump once said he calculated his net worth, to some extent, on his “feelings” and gave the “best spin” to some of the assets. . “I think everyone” exaggerates the value of their properties, he testified, adding: “Who wouldn’t?”

Has he inflated the values? “Not beyond reason,” Trump said.

In the past, Trump has tried to pin the blame for his valuation decisions on Weisselberg, while at the same time documents and depositions appear to show that while Trump has claimed he left those decisions to evaluation to others, he was also deeply involved in management. his company.

Trump said in the 2007 deposition that the only person he dealt with when preparing the statements of financial position was Weisselberg.

“I would give my opinion,” Trump said in the deposition. “We’ll talk about that,” he said, adding that “ultimately” and “primarily” it was Weisselberg who came up with the final values, which Trump said he considers “conservative.”

Asked specifically about fluctuations in values ​​from year to year, Trump had explanations ready.

During the deposition, Trump was asked about the family resort in Westchester County, New York, called Seven Springs, where its value nearly doubled in a year, from $80 million in 2005 to $150 million. in 2006.

“The property was valued very low, in my opinion, and it got very — it just went up,” Trump said.

He was asked if he had any basis for this opinion, other than his own opinion.

“I don’t believe so, no,” he said.

Besides Weisselberg, two other people involved in preparing the financial statements, Jeff McConney, the comptroller for the Trump Organization, and Donald Bender, the real estate company’s outside accountant, were both questioned by the attorney general’s office and the prosecutor. of the Manhattan district.

Trump’s lawyers will likely argue that the financial statements were unaudited, so anyone relying on them would be warned. The financial statements reviewed by The News show that they contain numerous information indicating that they do not comply with generally accepted accounting principles. Additionally, none of the lenders lost money on the transactions, which could make it harder to allege that they were defrauded or misled.

The appraisals underlying property values ​​were in many cases provided by Trump’s longtime appraiser, Cushman & Wakefield, which is also under investigation. Cushman, who cut ties with Trump after the Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021, has denied any wrongdoing and stands by his job.

Legal risks for Trump

The depositions pose significant legal risks for the Trumps.

If Trump is sued by James and the case goes to trial, the jury can draw an “adverse inference” against him for failing to answer questions, which could result in a higher judgment against him if found liable. If he answers the questions, it could open the door to possible civil and criminal liability.

Rudy Giuliani has been ordered to appear before the Georgia grand jury investigating the aftermath of the 2020 election next week

The criminal investigation, led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, has slowed but not stopped. Earlier this year, Bragg would not allow prosecutors to present evidence to a state grand jury after expressing concerns about the strength of the case, The Actualites reported. A special grand jury hearing evidence in the case expired in April, but a new one could be seated in the future.

Bragg told Les Actualites in an interview in April: “Any time you have a parallel civil and criminal investigation, if there is testimony in that proceeding, we will obviously look at it.”

This story has been updated with additional developments.

Ariane of Vogue and Joan Biskupic of Les actualites contributed to this report.

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