Former President Donald Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination Wednesday and refused to provide answers under questioning in New York Attorney General Letitia James‘ probe of his business practices.
Mr. Trump arrived at the New York attorney general’s office shortly before 9 a.m. in a multivehicle motorcade. The New York civil fraud investigation involves allegations that his company, the Trump Organization, misstated the value of assets like golf courses and skyscrapers, misleading lenders and tax authorities over the years.
Mr. Trump said he invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination because he was facing “a renegade and out-of-control prosecutor.”
“This is a vindictive and self-serving fishing expedition,” Mr. Trump said in a statement. “The United States Constitution exists for this very purpose, and I will utilize it to the fullest extent to defend myself against this malicious attack by this administration, this Attorney General’s Office, and all other attacks on my family, my business, and our country.”
Legal experts said answering questions in a deposition was risky because anything he said could potentially 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.
On Tuesday, Mr. Trump referred to Ms. James, who is Black, as “racist” in a post on his Truth Social platform.
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In his lengthy statement on Wednesday, the former president said, “I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’ Now I know the answer to that question. When your family, your company, and all the people in your orbit have become the targets of an unfounded, politically motivated Witch Hunt supported by lawyers, prosecutors, and the Fake News Media, you have no choice.”
His move comes two days after FBI agents raided his home in Palm Beach, Florida, in a probe over the possible mishandling of classified documents from his tenure as president.
“If there was any question in my mind, the raid of my home, Mar-a-Lago, on Monday by the FBI, just two days prior to this deposition, wiped out any uncertainty,” he said. “I have absolutely no choice because the current administration and many prosecutors in this country have lost all moral and ethical bounds of decency.”
Mr. Trump said in the statement, “under the advice of my counsel and for all of the above reasons, I declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution.”
The New York state attorney general is conducting a civil case against Mr. Trump and his company, but any testimony in the deposition could also be used against the former president in a parallel criminal probe being run by the Manhattan district attorney.
Democrats noted that Mr. Trump has ridiculed others in the past for pleading the Fifth Amendment.
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“In one day, Donald Trump accuses the FBI of planting evidence against him and takes the Fifth in another case. Another totally normal day from the leader of the Republican Party,” tweeted Dan Pfeiffer, a former Obama White House adviser.
Once the investigation wraps up, the attorney general could decide to bring a lawsuit seeking financial penalties against Mr. Trump or his company, or even a ban on them being involved in certain types of businesses.
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. It’s 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 papers.
Ms. James, a Democrat, 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.”
• This article is based in part on wire service reports.