Former U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday refused to answer questions in a civil investigation of his family’s business practices, invoking his constitutional right against self-incrimination.
Trump took a combative stance against the probe being conducted by New York State Attorney General Letitia James into whether he has inflated the value of his hotels, golf courses and other real estate to obtain favorable terms on loans, while understating the valuations to get tax breaks.
“I declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution," Trump said in a statement in which he castigated James as “a renegade and out-of-control prosecutor” who was pursuing a vendetta against him.
Over hours of questioning by one of James’ attorneys, Trump refused to answer more than 400 questions, according to people familiar with the proceeding, and repeatedly said over and again, “Same answer,” invoking his right to not incriminate himself.
Trump, wearing a blue suit with an American flag pin on his lapel, raised his fist as he left Trump Tower on Wednesday morning and headed in a motorcade to James’ office.
Two of Trump’s adult children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, who also play key roles at the family’s global Trump Organization real estate empire, fought to avoid testifying but lost. In recent days, they answered questions in the state attorney general’s investigation. Their brother, Eric, invoked the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 500 times in the same investigation in October 2020.
James has said her investigation has uncovered significant evidence that the Trump Organization, which the former president oversees, has manipulated asset values.
Trump in the past has derided people who invoked the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering probing questions that might implicate them in wrongdoing.
In 2016, he complained about aides to Hillary Clinton, whom he defeated in the presidential election six years ago, for invoking their rights during an investigation into her private email server while she was secretary of state.
“You see, the mob takes the Fifth,” he told his political supporters.
On Wednesday, however, Trump said in his statement, “I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’ Now, I know the answer to that question.
“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 wrote in his statement.
His appearance in the New York investigation came two days after FBI agents searched Mar-a-Lago, his Atlantic oceanside mansion in Florida, for classified documents he took with him when his term as president ended in January 2021.
In January, Trump turned over 15 boxes of documents from his White House tenure to the National Archives, as he was required to do under U.S. law. But government officials suspected he had more classified material at Mar-a-Lago and secured court authorization for a search that ended up lasting more than nine hours on Monday. Agents carted away about a dozen more boxes after searching his office and cracking open his safe.
No other choice, Trump says
Trump said he was left with no choice but to refuse to answer questions about his business domain “because the current Administration [of President Joe Biden] and many prosecutors in this Country have lost all moral and ethical bounds of decency.”
“Accordingly, 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 wrote.
Representatives from James’ office did not immediately comment on Trump’s use of the Fifth Amendment, but she has said in the past she was following the law.
“No one in this country can pick and choose how the law applies to them, and Donald Trump is no exception,” James said in May when a federal court rejected Trump’s attempt to block the investigation. “As we have said all along, we will continue this investigation undeterred.”