Donald Trump refuses to answer questions in investigation into business dealings

Credit: AP

Donald Trump said he invoked his fifth amendment right and did not answer questions as he testified under oath as part of a long-running civil investigation into his business dealings.

The deposition was part of a three-year civil investigation into whether his company, the Trump Organization misled lenders, insurers and tax authorities by providing them with misleading financial statements.

The former US president arrived at Attorney General Letitia James' Manhattan offices on Wednesday, announcing around an hour after that he had "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,” Trump said in a statement.

"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.”

Donald Trump gestures as he departs Trump Tower on Wednesday on his way to the deposition. Credit: AP

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

Trump has been defending himself in written statements and on the rally stage, but experts pointed out that anything he said in the deposition could be used against him in the parallel criminal investigation Ms James is running.

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 a 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.”

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Trump has undergone many depositions, dating back 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.

The events on Wednesday unfolded two days after FBI agents searched the former president'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 Ms James, a Democrat 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 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, Ms James’ office said. Trump has denied the allegations, claiming that seeking the best valuations is a common practice in the real estate industry.

He’s also accused Ms James, who is black, of racism in pursuing the investigation.