At a Wednesday deposition for a New York state civil investigation into the Trump Organization’s assets, former President Donald Trump said he would refuse to answer any questions from state Attorney General Letitia James.
The investigation into Trump’s business is examining whether he, his family and/or his company inappropriately adjusted the values of his assets in order to suit their needs — including inflating their worth in order to obtain positive bank loan outcomes and deflating their worth in order to avoid taxes.
The inquiry is a civil one, which means Trump and his family members won’t face any criminal charges from James, though they may face steep fines from the state. Being found in violation of state law on the matter would also reflect poorly on Trump ahead of a likely 2024 presidential election run.
Two of Trump’s adult children, Ivanka Trump and Don Trump Jr., gave depositions earlier this month.
Trump said he would refuse to answer any questions from James during his deposition. In a statement that was released while his deposition was beginning, Trump indicated that he would invoke his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination — an action he once said innocent people do not take.
Trump tried to suggest that the investigation was only about politics, appearing to blame his Fifth Amendment stance on everything from James to President Joe Biden.
“I have absolutely no choice because the current Administration and many prosecutors in this Country have lost all moral and ethical bounds of decency,” he said.
The former president also recognized that he had once derided people who utilized their Fifth Amendment protections.
“‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’” he said he had once asked. “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.”
Judges have repeatedly rejected Trump’s lawyers’ complaints that the civil suit is motivated by politics.
Trump’s complaints about people invoking their Fifth Amendment rights were hypocritical when he originally made them in 2016 during his presidential run against Hillary Clinton. For several decades, Trump has invoked the Fifth Amendment during depositions.
According to The New York Times, there may be other reasons why Trump is pleading the Fifth. Additional investigations examining his conduct, including a criminal one in Manhattan, could use his testimony in today’s deposition as evidence against him.
“While Ms. James’s inquiry is civil, and she cannot file criminal charges against the former president, the Manhattan district attorney’s office has been conducting a parallel criminal investigation into whether Mr. Trump fraudulently inflated valuations of his properties,” the Times reported. “Any misstep from the former president in his deposition could have breathed new life into that inquiry.”