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Trump says he declined to answer deposition questions in Trump Organization probe

Former U.S. president Donald Trump said on Wednesday he declined to answer questions during an appearance before the New York state attorney general in a civil investigation into his family's business practices.

Former U.S. president had sought to avoid testifying in 3-year-old investigation

A man in a suit and tie is shown raising a fist at shoulder level.
Donald Trump is shown as he departed Trump Tower in Manhattan on Wednesday for his deposition. Trump's legal bids to avoid giving testimony were denied after a long process in the courts. (David Dee Delgado/Reuters)

Former U.S. president Donald Trump said on Wednesday he refused to answer questions during an appearance before the New York state attorney general in a civil investigation into his family's business practices, citing his constitutional right against self-incrimination.

Trump, his son Donald Trump, Jr., and daughter Ivanka Trump, had fought unsuccessfully to avoid appearing for testimony in New York State Attorney General Letitia James's probe into whether the Trump Organization inflated real estate values to obtain favourable loans and understated asset values to get tax breaks.

"I declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution," Trump said in a statement issued roughly an hour after he arrived, via motorcade, at the attorney general's office in lower Manhattan.

The U.S. Constitution's Fifth Amendment protects against self-incrimination. Trump's decision not to answer questions still could carry consequences, however; should the investigation lead to a trial, jurors could take his silence into account. Politically, it also could give adversaries ammunition about whether Trump has something to hide as he mulls another run for the presidency in 2024.

James has said her investigation has uncovered significant evidence that the Trump Organization, which manages hotels, golf courses and other real estate, gave banks and tax authorities misleading financial information to obtain benefits.

WATCH | Trump's legal troubles galvanize supporters: 

Trump refused to answer questions at deposition over family’s business dealings

4 months ago
Duration 2:46
Former U.S. president Donald Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment rights by refusing to answer questions during a deposition before the New York state attorney general's office investigating whether he inflated the value of his assets to avoid taxes.

Trump did not leave the attorney general's office until about six hours after arriving, suggesting he faced questioning for much of the day. In a social media post after the deposition, Trump called it a "very professional meeting," while boasting about his company.

A spokesperson for the New York attorney general's office said in a statement that James participated in the deposition and confirmed that Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment rights.

"Attorney General James will pursue the facts and the law wherever they may lead," the spokesperson said. "Our investigation continues."

Trump on Fifth Amendment reasons

Trump, a Republican, in his earlier statement, denied wrongdoing and sought to portray the investigation by James, a Democrat, as part of a years-long vendetta against him by her and others, including the news media.

He also attempted to link the state attorney general's investigation to Monday's FBI search of his Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, which represented an escalation of a federal probe into whether he illegally removed records from the White House as he left office in January 2021.

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

Trump added, "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."

A woman speaks at a podium with the American flag in the background.
New York Attorney General Letitia James speaks at a news conference in New York City on June 6. James has been pursuing a civil probe of the Trump Organization since 2019. (Mary Altaffer/The Associated Press)

In the statement, Trump also made disparaging comments about James and violent crime in New York state.

Trump agreed in June to testify in the three-year investigation, but only after court decisions rejecting his argument that the probe was politically motivated, so he should not have to testify.

His lawyers also argued that Trump's words could be unfairly used against him in a related criminal probe led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg in which James also is involved. Two top prosecutors in that case resigned in March, with one saying Bragg was skeptical of bringing charges against Trump. A Bragg spokesperson on Wednesday said that criminal probe continues.

WATCH | Right-wing figures, Republicans rally around Trump: 

Raid on Trump’s home sparks outcry from supporters

4 months ago
Duration 2:55
The search of former U.S. president Donald Trump’s Florida home has galvanized both his supporters — and detractors. Meanwhile, the U.S. Justice Department is saying very little about the raid, in which FBI agents reportedly seized several boxes of documents.

Legal troubles continue 

Trump previously disparaged people for exercising their Fifth Amendment rights.

"The mob takes the Fifth," Trump said during a 2016 campaign rally. "If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?"

In that instance, he was discussing people who had exercised their Fifth Amendment rights in a probe relating to Democrat Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server for official correspondence during her time as secretary of state. Clinton was Trump's opponent in the presidential election that year.

Trump raised his fist as he left Trump Tower on Wednesday morning, wearing a blue suit with a flag pin on his lapel, before heading to the deposition. Police officers and Secret Service personnel stood guard as the motorcade transporting Trump arrived.

Two people hold up protest signs on a city sidewalk.
Anti-Trump protesters stand in front of Trump Tower in New York on Tuesday. The FBI search of Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate marked a dramatic and unprecedented escalation of the law enforcement scrutiny of the former president, angering most Republicans. (Seth Wenig/The Associated Press)

A crowd of about 200 people then waited outside for Trump to emerge. One man shouted, "We love you, save us," as Trump's vehicle left. Two other men minutes earlier chanted, "Lock him up," employing words some Trump supporters previously used toward Clinton.

Donald Trump, Jr., and Ivanka Trump also testified in recent weeks in James' probe, according to a person familiar with the matter. Reuters could not determine whether they also refused to answer questions. Their brother Eric Trump invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 500 times when he testified in October 2020.

Monday's FBI search related to the U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, which safeguards presidential records that belong to the public, and whether classified documents were kept at Mar-a-Lago, according to a person familiar with the matter.

On social media, Trump again on Wednesday complained about the search as a "surprise attack."

U.S. President Joe Biden passed a health care, tax and climate bill that some say is legacy-defining. Meanwhile, the FBI raided the home of former president Donald Trump. We discuss what these duelling political narratives might mean for the upcoming midterms with Molly Ball, the national political correspondent at TIME; and Asawin Suebsaeng, a senior political reporter at Rolling Stone.

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