Trump takes the Fifth

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A spokesperson for the state’s attorney general confirmed Wednesday that their office conducted a deposition of Trump and that the former president invoked his Fifth Amendment rights. The spokesperson declined to provide further details.

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

A crush of media followed the former president from his Midtown Manhattan apartment at Trump Tower downtown to the attorney general’s office around 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday morning. Trump waved at onlookers and members of the media and held a fist in the air as he departed for the deposition.

Secret Service agents and New York Police Department officers patrolled the garage entrance to James’ office where Trump’s motorcade drove in at about 9 a.m. The officers stood guard throughout the morning, with passersby gathered on sidewalks and street corners surrounding the entrance to the skyscraper.

Trump’s deposition with the New York attorney general’s team came amid the office’s three-year-long investigation into whether the Trump Organization had misstated the value of assets on financial statements. Trump had tried for months to avoid Wednesday’s deposition — which comes at a high stakes moment for the former president just two days after the FBI raided his Florida home in an investigation into the alleged mishandling of White House records.

The former president is also the subject of a parallel criminal investigation being conducted by the Manhattan district attorney’s office into whether he fraudulently inflated property values. It has been speculated for months that Trump would plead the Fifth in James’ probe to avoid incriminating himself in the district attorney’s investigation.

Trump on the campaign trail in 2016 had suggested that not answering questions was a sign of guilt, saying at an event in Iowa, “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” But he walked back that implication in his Wednesday statement, admitting that he now knows “the answer to that question.”

“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,” Trump said.

A state appeals court ruled in May that Trump and his two eldest children would have to sit for depositions under oath in the attorney general’s probe, denying an appeal from Trump to overturn a ruling enforcing the subpoenas. The former president’s meeting on Wednesday came just days after the attorney general’s office questioned Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, both of whom did not plead the Fifth.

The possibility of Trump pleading the Fifth was discussed at length over the past few months in state court litigation over Trump’s and his children’s depositions. Trump’s lawyers argued that James had exceeded her authority by running two parallel investigations — one civil and one criminal, with the Manhattan district attorney’s office — and that taking the Fifth was not a practical option for the former president. But New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron in February rejected the lawyers’ attempts to dodge the testimony and asserted that Trump and his children all had the right to show up to the depositions and claim their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination.

“Isn’t that what Eric Trump did 500 times?” Engoron asked at the time, referring to an earlier deposition by Trump’s son where he invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 500 times while being questioned by James’ lawyers in October 2020.

In a subsequent appeal of Engoron’s decision to force the former president to sit for the deposition, Trump’s lawyers argued that the subpoenas violated the Trumps’ constitutional rights because their statements could be used in a parallel criminal investigation. But a four-judge panel concluded in May that there is no constitutional right that would grant immunity from prosecution to individuals who were called to testify before a grand jury. They also cited the Fifth Amendment as an option for the president in his deposition.

James’ office has said that it uncovered “significant evidence” that the Trump Organization fraudulently valued multiple assets and misrepresented them to mislead financial institutions. But Trump has denied any wrongdoing and claimed the investigation is politically motivated.

The former president’s deposition on Wednesday could represent a final stage of James’ civil investigation, after which she could file a lawsuit against Trump or negotiate a settlement with Trump’s lawyers to obtain a quicker financial payout.

Betsy Woodruff Swan, Georgia Rosenberg, Josh Gerstein and Olivia Olander contributed to this report.

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