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Aug. 10, 2022, 5:46 p.m. EDT

Trump takes the Fifth in New York civil investigation, claims ‘witch hunt’

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By Associated Press

NEW YORK — Donald Trump invoked his  Fifth Amendment  protection against self-incrimination as he testified under oath Wednesday in the New York attorney general’s  long-running civil investigation  into his business dealings, the former president said in a statement.

About an hour after arriving at Attorney General Letitia James’ Manhattan offices, Trump announced that 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.”

During more than six hours at the office building, Trump used Truth Social, the social media platform he founded, to review the decor — “very plush, beautiful and expensive” — and to suggest the attorney general was squandering time investigating him instead of attending to crime in New York.

But after leaving around 3:30 p.m., he described the encounter as “very professional” and added a plug for his “fantastic” company.

The questioning brought him face-to-face with an official he had called an “out-of-control prosecutor” and  a racist.  James, a Democrat, is the first Black person to hold her post.

James’ office declined to detail the interview, beyond saying that she personally participated in questioning Trump and that he invoked the Fifth Amendment.

As vociferous as Trump has been in defending himself in written statements and on the rally stage, legal experts said answering questions in a deposition was risky because anything he said could potentially be used against him in a parallel criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney. The Fifth Amendment protects people from being compelled to be witnesses against themselves in a criminal case.

Also, if the attorney general’s investigation leads to a civil case against Trump and it went to trial, jurors could be told that he invoked his protection against self-incrimination.

New York University law professor Stephen Gillers said he was surprised that Trump had done so, given his previous experience with depositions, a legal term for sworn testimony that’s not given in court.

“Jousting with lawyers at depositions, while avoiding lying, is something he’s proud of,” Gillers said. “Perhaps his lawyers feared that his impetuosity would imperil him.”

Trump has undergone many depositions, dating to his career as a real estate developer. He has sometimes seemed to relish giving answers: For example,  he said he was “pleased to have had the opportunity to tell my side” last October in a lawsuit brought by protesters  who say his security guard roughed them up outside Trump Tower in 2015.

However, Trump invoked the Fifth Amendment to refuse to answer 97 questions in a 1990 divorce deposition.

Messages seeking comment were left with James’ office.

Wednesday’s events unfolded two days after  FBI agents searched Trump’s 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.

New York’s investigation is led by James, who has said in court filings that her office has uncovered “significant” evidence that Trump’s company misled lenders and tax authorities about the value of prized assets like golf courses and skyscrapers.

The company, the Trump Organization, 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.

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