Former president Donald Trump on Wednesday declined to answer over 440 questions during a deposition with investigators working for New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office, instead choosing to invoke his fifth amendment right against self-incrimination each time.
According to multiple reports citing sources familiar with what happened during the Wednesday session, Mr Trump only answered one question — he provided his name when asked after he was sworn in as a witness.
The ex-president had announced his intention to avail himself of his fifth amendment protections earlier on Wednesday at the end of a lengthy, rambling statement filled with attacks on Ms James, who has been overseeing a long-running probe into whether Mr Trump’s eponymous real estate company violated New York tax laws.
“Under the advice of my counsel and for all of the above reasons, I declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution,” he said.
Shortly after posting on his own social media platform about having arrived at Ms James’ “very plush, beautiful, and expensive” offices, the ex-president sent out the statement through his government-funded post-presidential office.
Under an image of the Great Seal of the United States, Mr Trump accused the Empire State’s top prosecutor of “mak[ing] a career” of “attacking” him and his business and of being “a failed politician who has intentionally colluded with others” to “carry out this phony years-long crusade that has wasted countless taxpayer dollars”.
“What Letitia James has tried to do the last three years is a disgrace to the legal system, an affront to New York State taxpayers, and a violation of the solemn rights and protections afforded by the United States Constitution,” said Mr Trump, who added that he “did nothing wrong”.
Mr Trump, who once famously suggested that invoking one’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination was itself evidence of criminality, said he now understands why one would “take the fifth” if innocent.
“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,” he explained, adding that the FBI search of his Palm Beach, Florida residence as part of a federal investigation into whether he violated laws against theft of government documents and unlawful possession of classified information “wiped out any uncertainty” as to whether he’d refuse to answer questions on grounds that he might incriminate himself.
“I have absolutely no choice because the current Administration and many prosecutors in this Country have lost all moral and ethical bounds of decency,” he said.
Mr Trump’s refusal to answer questions could shield him from criminal liability in any cases brought as a result of Ms James’ probe (though under New York law she herself cannot bring criminal charges against him or his company).
But because the New York Attorney General’s investigation is playing out in civil court, legal experts say his decision to invoke the Fifth Amendment could be used against him if Ms James files any lawsuits against him or his company as a result of the investigation.