Trump Invokes Fifth Amendment, Attacking Legal System as Troubles Mount

Donald J. Trump has lengthy derided public figures who invoke their constitutional proper in opposition to self incrimination, however on Wednesday he took full benefit of the Fifth Amendment.

For hours below oath, Mr. Trump sat throughout from the New York State lawyer common, Letitia James, responding to each query posed by her investigators by repeating the phrase “same answer” time and again.

Mr. Trump’s refusal to reply substantively to any questions within the court-ordered deposition was an surprising twist that would decide the course of Ms. James’s three-year civil investigation into whether or not the previous president fraudulently inflated the worth of his property to safe loans and different advantages.

It was additionally a rare second in a rare week, even by the previous president’s requirements. Two days after his house was searched by the F.B.I. in an unrelated investigation, Mr. Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment proper whereas brazenly questioning the legitimacy of the authorized course of — as he has with the nation’s electoral system — and insulting a regulation enforcement official sitting just some ft away.

Mr. Trump’s solely detailed remark, folks with data of the continuing mentioned, was an all-out assault on the lawyer common and her inquiry, which he known as a continuation of “the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country.”

“I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’” he mentioned whereas studying from a ready assertion, which overlapped considerably with one he launched to the general public. “I now know the answer to that question.” He mentioned that he was being focused by attorneys, prosecutors and the information media, and that left him with “absolutely no choice” however to take action.

Ms. James is now left with a vital choice: whether or not to sue Mr. Trump, or search a settlement that would extract a big monetary penalty. And whereas declining to reply questions might need provided the most secure route for the previous president, it may strengthen Ms. James’s hand within the weeks to come back.

In a press release on Wednesday, a spokeswoman for Ms. James mentioned, “Attorney General James will pursue the facts and the law wherever they may lead. Our investigation continues.”

The encounter, the primary time the previous president had confronted off immediately with Ms. James, who has turn into his chief antagonist in New York, got here at a very perilous second for Mr. Trump. On Monday, the F.B.I. searched his Florida house and personal membership in Palm Seashore, Fla., as a part of an investigation into delicate materials that he took when he left the White Home.

The search was an embarrassing reminder of the a number of inquiries swirling across the former president in connection together with his conduct within the ultimate weeks of his presidency. Along with the investigation that triggered the F.B.I.’s search, federal prosecutors are questioning witnesses about his involvement in efforts to reverse his election loss; a Home choose committee held a collection of hearings tying him extra intently to the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol; and a district lawyer in Georgia is investigating potential election interference on the a part of Mr. Trump and his allies.

Ms. James is conducting a civil inquiry, and he or she can’t file prison costs in opposition to the previous president. However the Manhattan district lawyer’s workplace has been conducting a parallel prison investigation into whether or not Mr. Trump fraudulently inflated valuations of his properties.

That prison investigation factored into Mr. Trump’s choice not to reply to questions, an individual with data of his considering mentioned.

Any misstep may have breathed new life into that inquiry, which misplaced momentum earlier this yr, and the district lawyer, Alvin L. Bragg, had mentioned he would monitor the interview intently.

There have been different compelling causes for Mr. Trump to carry his tongue. If the lawyer common had discovered that any of Mr. Trump’s responses contradicted proof from its inquiry, the inconsistency may have prompted a separate perjury investigation.

However his choice may have a big influence on any trial if Ms. James’s investigation results in a lawsuit. Jurors in civil issues can in lots of circumstances draw a damaging inference when a defendant invokes his or her Fifth Amendment privilege, in contrast to in prison circumstances, the place exercising the suitable in opposition to self-incrimination can’t be held in opposition to the defendant.

And if Ms. James prevails at a civil trial, a choose may impose steep monetary penalties on Mr. Trump and limit his enterprise operations in New York.

With that menace in hand, Ms. James’s attorneys may use Mr. Trump’s refusal to reply questions as leverage in settlement talks.

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Having stayed silent may additionally damage Mr. Trump politically at a time when he’s hinting that he’ll be part of the 2024 presidential race; it may elevate questions on what he may be attempting to cover.

For years, Mr. Trump has handled all the pieces that occurs on a authorized entrance together with his enterprise as a possible alternative to form public notion. Maybe not this time. The investigation by the New York lawyer common could be very a lot a authorized drawback, and never answering questions was, in the beginning, a authorized maneuver.

Nonetheless, the previous president has lengthy thought-about himself his finest spokesman, and people who had questioned him previously, in addition to a few of his personal advisers, believed he was unlikely to remain quiet.

Mr. Trump has ridiculed witnesses who’ve refused to reply questions, as soon as remarking at a rally that refusing to reply questions below oath was a sign of guilt relied upon by the mafia. “You see the mob takes the Fifth,” he mentioned. (Actually, he has exercised his Fifth Amendment proper earlier than, refusing to reply questions in a deposition taken in connection together with his divorce from his first spouse, Ivana Trump.)

Having been persuaded to not reply questions by his authorized staff, Mr. Trump departed Trump Tower at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday. After waving to a small crowd that had gathered exterior the constructing, he headed downtown to Ms. James’s workplace with a convoy of black SUVs, arriving round 9 a.m.

His deposition started quickly after and opened with Ms. James introducing herself and the investigation. She then turned over the questioning to certainly one of her workplace’s attorneys, Kevin Wallace.

One among Mr. Trump’s attorneys, Ronald P. Fischetti, mentioned that over the course of about 4 hours, Mr. Trump answered solely a query about his title.

Mr. Trump’s authorized staff had not alerted the lawyer common that he deliberate to invoke his Fifth Amendment rights. This account of the deposition relies on interviews with folks conversant in the continuing, a few of whom spoke on the situation of anonymity to reply questions on a confidential continuing.

After being requested his title, the previous president learn his assertion saying that intention into the report. Within the assertion, he known as Ms. James, who was sitting just a few ft away, a “renegade prosecutor.”

After studying the assertion, Mr. Trump started repeating the phrases “same answer.” It was “same answer” till the attorneys broke for lunch, and “same answer” after that till, shortly after 3 p.m., the interview ended and Mr. Trump left the constructing.

The interview was considerably shorter than that of his daughter Ivanka Trump, who didn’t end answering questions till the night when she was questioned days earlier.

Neither she nor Donald Trump Jr., who was additionally interviewed in current days, invoked the Fifth Amendment. However Eric Trump, who was interviewed in October 2020, cited the modification a whole lot of occasions.

Since March 2019, Ms. James’s workplace has investigated whether or not Mr. Trump and his firm improperly inflated the worth of his lodges, golf golf equipment and different property. Mr. Trump has lengthy dismissed the inquiry from Ms. James, and fought laborious in opposition to sitting for questioning below oath, however was compelled to take action after a number of judges dominated in opposition to him this spring.

Shortly after questioning started on Wednesday morning, Mr. Trump’s workplace launched the assertion saying he would invoke his Fifth Amendment proper, explaining that he “declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution.”

The assertion he launched publicly and the one he learn in the beginning of the interview explicitly linked his refusal to reply inquiries to the F.B.I.’s search of his house, casting the actions as a part of a grander conspiracy. (The 2 investigations are usually not linked.)

In looking for to fend off a lawsuit from Ms. James — and in negotiating a doable settlement along with her investigators — Mr. Trump’s attorneys could be more likely to argue that valuing actual property is a subjective course of, and that his firm merely estimated the worth of his properties, with out meaning to artificially inflate them.

Whereas Ms. James has contended in courtroom papers that the Trump Group supplied bogus valuations to banks to safe favorable loans, Mr. Trump’s attorneys would possibly argue that these have been subtle monetary establishments that turned a hefty revenue from their dealings with Mr. Trump.

The deposition of Mr. Trump represented the fruits of months of authorized wrangling. In January, Mr. Trump requested a choose in New York to strike down a subpoena from Ms. James looking for his testimony and private paperwork. The choose, Arthur F. Engoron, sided with Ms. James and ordered the Trumps to testify, a ruling that an appellate courtroom upheld.

And at Ms. James’s request, Justice Engoron held Mr. Trump in contempt of courtroom, discovering that he had didn’t adjust to the phrases of Ms. James’s subpoena looking for his paperwork. It was an embarrassing two-week episode that compelled Mr. Trump to pay a $110,000 penalty.

Mr. Trump is not any stranger to going through questions below oath, having as soon as boasted that he has sat for “over 100 depositions.” A lawyer who as soon as questioned Mr. Trump described him as “completely fearless in a deposition.”

Till now, he hardly ever handed up a possibility to reply questions — or spar together with his questioners. He as soon as informed a lawyer that her questions have been “very stupid.”

Mr. Trump has additionally opined on the professionals and cons of a president answering questions below oath. In 1998, he prompt that President Invoice Clinton ought to have relied on the Fifth Amendment throughout that period’s impeachment investigation.

“It’s a terrible thing for a president to take the Fifth Amendment, but he probably should have done it,” Mr. Trump mentioned.

Maggie Haberman, Sean Piccoli, Nate Schweber and Jasmine Sheena contributed reporting.