Former President Donald Trump did not answer questions from the New York attorney general’s office about his business dealings during a deposition Wednesday, invoking his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
The deposition came as part of an ongoing probe into the former president’s businesses launched by New York Attorney General Letitia James. In a statement, Trump said he “declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution” and attacked James for what he called a “despicable attempt” to bring down his company.
James’s office has been conducting a civil investigation into the Trump Organization for “fraudulent or misleading” business practices, including knowingly providing inaccurate valuations of assets to benefit the company. There had been some speculation that Trump might invoke his Fifth Amendment privileges to avoid discussing his net worth, which critics say he has exaggerated for years.
An October 2018 report in the New York Times found that Trump had participated in a series of tax schemes related to his father’s real estate empire. In 2019, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen discussed these business tactics during testimony with the House Oversight Committee.
Trump had previously said that invoking the Fifth Amendment was a sign of guilt. While campaigning for the presidency in 2016, he noted that some staffers for former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had used the Fifth Amendment to avoid answering questions from a House committee investigating the 2012 attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya.
“So there are five people taking the Fifth Amendment,” Trump said in Council Bluffs, Iowa. “Like you see on the mob, right? You see the mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”
Trump noted his previous remarks in his statement Wednesday.
“I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’” he wrote. “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.”
This is not the first time Trump has invoked the Fifth Amendment, however. In 1990, he refused to answer 97 questions during a divorce deposition. James told a judge in January that Trump’s son Eric invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 500 times in an October 2020 deposition. The former president’s other children Donald Jr. and Ivanka, however, reportedly testified in James’s probe earlier this month and did not invoke the Fifth Amendment.
Trump’s deposition comes two days after FBI agents searched his Mar-a-Lago home in Florida. The raid stemmed from an investigation into whether he had removed classified documents from the White House. Trump and his allies have said the FBI’s search of his home was politically motivated, a notion dismissed by former Justice Department officials.
Trump is also still under scrutiny for his role in the violence of Jan. 6, 2021, which is being investigated by the Justice Department and a House committee. Additionally, a Georgia district attorney is investigating his attempts to overturn the 2020 election results in the state, which voted for Joe Biden.
“If there was any question in my mind, the raid of my home, Mar-a-Lago, on Monday by the FBI, just two days prior to this deposition, wiped out any uncertainty,” Trump said in his statement about invoking the Fifth Amendment. “I have absolutely no choice because the current Administration and many prosecutors in this Country have lost all moral and ethical bounds of decency.”