Trump says he took the Fifth Amendment in NY investigation
Trump arrived at New York Attorney General Letitia James’ offices Wednesday morning, but sent out a statement more than an hour later saying he declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution.
Anything he said during the deposition could have been used against him in a criminal case. While James’ investigation is civil in nature, the Manhattan district attorney is running a parallel criminal probe.
The civil investigation involves allegations that Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, misstated the value of prized assets like golf courses and skyscrapers, misleading lenders and tax authorities.
Trump’s testimony is happening at a critical point in James’ investigation: In May, James’ office said that it was nearing the end of its probe and that investigators had amassed substantial evidence that could support legal action against Trump, his company or both.
The deposition — a legal term for sworn testimony that’s not given in court — is one of the few remaining missing pieces, the attorney general’s office said.
Two of Trump’s 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.
The three Trumps’ testimony had initially been planned for last month but was delayed after the July 14 death of the former president’s ex-wife, Ivana Trump.
On Friday, the Trump Organization and its longtime finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, will be in court seeking dismissal of tax fraud charges brought against them last year in the Manhattan district attorney’s parallel criminal probe — spurred by evidence uncovered by James’ office. Weisselberg and the company have pleaded not guilty.
James has said in court filings that her office has 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 the Trump Organization exaggerated the value of its holdings to impress lenders or misstated what land was worth to slash its tax burden, pointing to annual financial statements given to banks to secure favorable loan terms and to financial magazines to justify Trump’s place among the world’s billionaires.
Once her investigation wraps up, James could decide to bring a lawsuit and seek financial penalties against Trump or his company, or even a ban on them being involved in certain types of businesses.
Meanwhile, the Manhattan district attorney’s office has long pursued a parallel criminal investigation. No former president has even been charged with a crime.
That probe had appeared to be progressing toward a possible criminal indictment of Trump himself, but slowed after a new district attorney, Alvin Bragg, 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.
As vociferous as Trump has been in defending himself in written statements and on the rally stage, legal experts say the same strategy could backfire in a deposition setting because anything he says could potentially be used in the criminal investigation.
In fighting to block the subpoenas, lawyers for the Trumps argued New York authorities were using the civil investigation to get information for the criminal probe and that the depositions were a ploy to avoid calling them before a criminal grand jury, where state law requires they be given immunity.
Weisselberg and Eric Trump each invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 500 times when questioned by James’ lawyers during separate depositions in 2020, according to court papers.