Trump invokes 5th Amendment under questioning in New York financial probe




  • In Politics
  • 2022-08-10 07:42:08Z
  • By LA Times
 

Former President Trump says he invoked the 5th Amendment and wouldn't answer questions under oath in the long-running New York civil investigation into his business dealings.

Trump arrived at New York Atty. Gen. Letitia James' offices in a motorcade shortly before 9 a.m. Wednesday for his deposition, 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."

"I once asked, 'If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?' Now I know the answer to that question," the statement said. "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."

As vociferous as Trump has been in defending himself in written statements and on the rally stage, legal experts say the same strategy could have backfired in a deposition setting because anything he says could potentially be used in the parallel criminal investigation pursued by the Manhattan district attorney.

Trump's appearance in New York came just days after FBI agents searched his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as part of an unrelated federal probe into whether he took classified records when he left the White House.

The civil investigation involves allegations that Trump's company, the Trump Organization, misstated the value of prized assets such as golf courses and skyscrapers, misleading lenders and tax authorities.

"My great company, and myself, are being attacked from all sides," Trump wrote beforehand on Truth Social, the social media platform he founded. "Banana Republic!"

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, such as a lawsuit, against Trump, his company or both. His deposition - a legal term for sworn testimony that's not given in court - was 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 the investigation 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 the two siblings invoked the 5th Amendment during their depositions. When their brother Eric sat for a deposition in the same investigation in 2020, he invoked the 5th Amendment more than 500 times, according to court papers.

The 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, the mother of Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric.

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.

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."

James alleges that 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.

The company even exaggerated the size of Trump's Manhattan penthouse, saying it was nearly three times its actual size - a difference in value of about $200 million, James' office said.

Trump has denied the allegations, explaining that seeking the best valuations is a common practice in the real estate industry. He says James' investigation is part of a politically motivated "witch hunt" and that her office is "doing everything within their corrupt discretion to interfere with my business relationships, and with the political process."

"THERE IS NO CASE!" Trump said in a February statement, after Manhattan Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that James' office had "the clear right" to question Trump and other principals in his company.

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 their being involved in certain types of businesses.

While James has explored suing Trump or his company, the Manhattan district attorney's office has long pursued a parallel criminal investigation. That probe had appeared to be progressing toward a possible criminal indictment, 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.

Bragg has said his investigation is continuing.

Last summer, spurred by evidence uncovered by James' office, Manhattan prosecutors filed charges against Weisselberg and the Trump Organization. Prosecutors said Weisselberg collected more than $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation.

Weisselberg and the company have pleaded not guilty.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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