Former US President Donald Trump has invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and refused to answer questions from the New York attorney general in a deposition scheduled for Wednesday.
“On the advice of my attorney and for all of the above reasons, I have declined to answer questions about the rights and privileges granted to all citizens under the United States Constitution,” Trump said in a statement.
Trump was due to testify to attorneys at the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James as part of a more than three-year civil investigation into whether the Trump Organization misled creditors, insurers and tax officials by providing misleading financial statements.
Donald Trump said in a post on the Truth Social platform Wednesday morning that he would be “seeing” James “for a continuation of the biggest witch hunt in US history! My big company and I are being attacked from all sides. Banana Republic!”
Trump was seen leaving Trump Tower in New York on Wednesday morning, and his entourage arrived at the New York attorney general’s office shortly afterwards.
The scheduled deposition takes place during an extraordinary legal week for the former president. On Monday, the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, his primary Florida residence, in connection with an investigation into the handling of confidential documents. On Tuesday, a federal appeals court denied a long-standing effort by Trump to prevent a House committee from obtaining his tax returns.
Some advisers to Trump have advocated for the former president to answer questions since he previously testified about his sworn financial statements, while others have warned him against providing any information because of the potential legal risk he may face, people familiar with the matter said. to CNN. The Manhattan District Attorney has a separate criminal investigation underway into the Trump Organization.
Another consideration that was discussed, according to sources familiar with the matter, is the political implications of not answering questions, as Trump is expected to announce that he will run for president in 2024. While campaigning in 2016, Trump suggested not answering questions. it was a sign of guilt. At one of the campaign stops in Iowa in 2016, Trump said, “If you’re innocent, why are you claiming the Fifth Amendment?”
In his statement on Wednesday, Trump said, “I now know the answer to that question” and criticized James’ investigation. The former president and the Trump Organization previously denied any wrongdoing.
“When your family, your company and everyone in your orbit become targets of a baseless and politically motivated witch hunt, supported by lawyers, prosecutors and the fake news media, you have no choice,” said the former president. .
The Fifth Amendment guarantees that an individual cannot be compelled by the government to provide incriminating information. When an individual refuses to answer a “claiming the Fifth” question, he invokes that right. This is not an admission of guilt.
“No person should […] be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against herself,” states the Fifth Amendment.
Previous investigation and testimonials
In January, James’ office said it found “significant” evidence indicating that the Trump Organization used false or misleading asset valuations on its financial statements to obtain loans, insurance and tax benefits. The attorney general’s civil investigation is drawing to a close and a decision on an enforcement action could come out soon.
The confrontation follows Trump’s failed attempt to block testimonies of him and his sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump.
Ivanka Trump’s deposition took place last week and Trump Jr. gave his deposition in late July, people familiar with the matter said.
Trump Jr., who runs the Trump Organization with his brother Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump have not claimed their Fifth Amendment rights and answered questions from the state, the sources said. It is unclear what they were specifically asked or what they said.
Their decision breaks with Eric Trump and former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who invoked their Fifth Amendment rights more than 500 times when they testified in 2020.
Trump has testified under oath in civil lawsuits over the past few decades and, since leaving office, has also testified. Last year, he gave video testimony for a lawsuit involving an attack outside Trump Tower. The case is due to go to trial later this year. Trump denied any wrongdoing.
Trump’s Net Worth Questions
Trump has been asked about the accuracy of his net worth and financial statements in previous lawsuits, something some advisers say is one of the reasons he should answer questions in the current investigation.
In a 2007 deposition in a defamation suit, Trump once said that he calculated his net worth, to some extent, based on his “feelings” and that he gave the “best angle” to some of the assets. “I think everybody” exaggerates the value of their properties, he testified, adding, “Who wouldn’t?”
Did he inflate the values? “Not beyond reason,” Trump said.
In the past, Trump has tried to push responsibility for his evaluation decisions onto Weisselberg, while at the same time, documents and testimony appear to show that even though Trump claimed to have left those evaluation decisions to others, he was also deeply involved in the execution. of your business.
Trump said in his 2007 deposition that the only person he dealt with in preparing the financial condition statements was Weisselberg.
“I would give my opinion,” Trump said in the deposition. “Let’s talk about it,” he said, adding that “ultimately” and “predominantly” it was Weisselberg who came up with the final figures, which Trump said he saw as “conservative.”
When asked specifically about year-to-year fluctuations in value, Trump had explanations ready.
During the testimony, Trump was asked about the family compound in Westchester County, New York, called Seven Springs, where its value nearly doubled in a year, from $80 million in 2005 to $150 million in 2006.
“The property was valued too low, in my opinion, and it became too much — the value just went up,” Trump said.
Trump was asked if he had any basis for this view, other than his own opinion. “I don’t think so,” he said.
In addition to Weisselberg, two others involved in preparing the financial statements, Jeff McConney, controller of the Trump Organization, and Donald Bender, the real estate’s outside accountant, were questioned by the attorney general and the Manhattan District Attorney.
Trump’s lawyers will likely argue that the financial statements have not been audited, so anyone relying on them would be warned. Financial statements reviewed by CNN show that they have a number of disclosures indicating that they do not conform to generally accepted accounting principles. In addition, none of the creditors lost money on the transactions, which could make it difficult to claim that they were defrauded or deceived.
The valuations underlying the property values were, in many cases, provided by Trump’s longtime appraiser Cushman & Wakefield, which is also under investigation. Cushman, who severed ties with Trump after the January 6, 2021, invasion of Capitol Hill, has denied any wrongdoing and defends his work.
Legal risks for Trump
The depositions pose significant legal risks for the Trump family.
If Trump is prosecuted by Attorney General James and the case goes to trial, the jury could draw an “adverse inference” against him for failing to answer questions, which could result in a superior judgment against him if found responsible. If he answers the questions, it could open the door to potential civil and criminal liability.
The criminal investigation, led by Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg, has slowed but not stopped. Earlier this year, Bragg did not authorize prosecutors to present evidence before a state grand jury after raising concerns about the strength of the case. A special grand jury hearing evidence in the case expired in April, but a new one may be placed in the future.
Bragg told CNN in an April interview: “Anytime you have a parallel civil and criminal investigation, if there are depositions in that process, obviously we’ll look at them.”
*With information from Ariane de Vogue and Joan Biskupic of CNN.
Source: CNN Brasil