Former U.S. President Donald Trump leaves Trump Tower to meet with New York Attorney General Letitia James for a civil investigation on August 10, 2022 in New York City.
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Trump announced he had invoked his Fifth Amendment right against making self-incriminating statements shortly after arriving for his scheduled, court-ordered interview under oath at James’ offices in New York City.
“I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’ Now I know the answer to that question,” Trump said in a furious statement that railed against James as a renegade prosecutor with a vendetta against him.
“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,” Trump said.
“Accordingly, 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,” he said.
A spokeswoman for James did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Trump’s move.
A Manhattan Supreme Court judge in his February ruling ordering Trump and two of his adult children to submit to questioning noted they would “have the right to refuse to answer any questions that they claim might incriminate them, and that refusal may not be commented on or used against them in a criminal prosecution.”
“However, there is no unfairness in allowing the jurors in a civil case to know these refusals and to draw their own conclusions,” Judge Arthur Engoron wrote. He cited a prior New York court decision that said: “a negative inference may be drawn in the civil context when a party invokes that right against self-incrimination.”
Trump’s deposition came two days after the FBI, in an unrelated criminal investigation, raided his home at the Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, Florida, and seized what his attorney has said were about a dozen boxes of documents.
That search was related to an ongoing investigation into whether laws were broken when boxes of White House records — which included some documents marked as classified — ended up at Mar-a-Lago instead of the National Archives.
Former US President Donald Trump waves while walking to a vehicle in New York City on August 10, 2022. Donald Trump on Wednesday declined to answer questions under oath in New York over alleged fraud at his family business, as legal pressures pile up for the former president whose house was raided by the FBI just two days ago.
Stringer | Afp | Getty Images
Trump has denied wrongdoing in all the pending probes involving him.
Trump said he decided he had “absolutely no choice” but to plead the Fifth in James’ deposition following the FBI raid at Mar-a-Lago “because the current Administration and many prosecutors in this Country have lost all moral and ethical bounds of decency.”
In a post on his social media platform early Wednesday, he also accused James, who is Black, of being “racist,” a charge he has also previously leveled at her and two other Black prosecutors who are separately investigating him.
Trump and two of his adult children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka Trump, for months had resisted complying with subpoenas from James demanding their testimony under oath for her probe.
Neither Donald Trump Jr. nor his sister Ivanka Trump invoked their Fifth Amendment right when they were questioned last week by James’ investigators, NBC has previously reported.
But Eric Trump, who runs the Trump Organization with Donald Jr., invoked his Fifth Amendment right more than 500 times when he was questioned under oath in the probe in October 2020, according to a court filing from January. Ivanka Trump is a former Trump Organization executive, who served as a senior White House advisor during her father’s administration.
While campaigning for president in 2016, Trump in a speech in Iowa blasted some staffers for his Democratic opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, for themselves invoking the Fifth Amendment when they were questioned by a select House committee investigating the attack on American diplomatic facilities in Benghazi, Libya.
“So there are five people taking the Fifth Amendment. Like you see on the mob, right? You see the mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” Trump asked at that time.
Monday’s raid sparked a political firestorm, with Republicans harshly criticizing the FBI — which is led by Director Chris Wray, a Trump appointee — and demanding answers from Attorney General Merrick Garland, a nominee of President Joe Biden.
The Department of Justice has not revealed details about the search warrant that the FBI executed.
Legal experts say Trump’s lawyers are in possession of a copy of that search warrant, and, if they wanted could disclose its contents. The warrant and a related affidavit in support of it would detail what the FBI was looking for, and how the agency believed there was probable cause that a crime or crimes had been committed that related to that evidence.
But Trump’s team does not plan to release a copy of the warrant, a source close to Trump told NBC News.
Trump and his family and business are the focus of multiple active investigations at the state and federal level.
In addition to the probe of records at Mar-a-Lago, the Justice Department is reportedly investigating events leading to the Capitol riot.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office last year charged the Trump Organization and its chief financial officer with a criminal scheme to evade taxes in compensation paid to executives.
In Georgia, a special state grand jury is investigating possible criminal efforts by Trump and others to meddle in that state’s presidential election in 2020 as part of a nationwide push to overturn Biden’s victory in the race for the White House.
On Tuesday, a federal appeals court in Washington, D.C., upheld a lower court ruling dismissing an effort by Trump to block the House Ways and Means Committee from obtaining several years of his federal income tax returns and those of a number of Trump business entities from the Treasury Department.