By Maggy DONALDSON
Donald Trump on Wednesday declined to answer questions under oath in New York over alleged fraud at his family business, as legal pressures pile on the former president whose house was raided by the FBI just two days ago.
Trump said he had “no choice” but to invoke the fifth amendment — which allows individuals to remain silent under questioning to protect against self-incrimination — during a deposition at the New York attorney general’s office.
In a statement apparently issued after the deposition began, Trump said, “I declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution,” adding he took the advice from his legal counsel.
“I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’ Now I know the answer to that question,” he continued.
“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.”
The deposition follows an extraordinary Federal Bureau of Investigation search earlier this week on Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence in Florida, signaling an escalation of legal probes into the 45th president.
Trump took aim at the search in his statement Wednesday, saying, “The current Administration and many prosecutors in this Country have lost all moral and ethical bounds of decency.”
He arrived early Wednesday in a convoy of cars guarded by the secret service at the offices of New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose investigation is one of several active probes into the brash billionaire’s business practices and other actions.
James suspects the Trump Organization of fraudulently overstated the value of real estate properties when applying for bank loans, while understating them with tax authorities to pay less in taxes.
If James, a Democrat, finds any evidence of financial misconduct, she can sue the Trump Organization for damages but can not file criminal charges, as it is a civil investigation.
The Manhattan district attorney’s office, meanwhile, is running a parallel probe into the Trump Organization that does have the potential for criminal charges. That investigation could be a reason Trump’s legal team advised him to remain silent, as his deposition could energize the case.
– Another White House run? –
The former president did not mince words in attacking James, calling her a “failed politician who has intentionally colluded with others to carry out this phony years-long crusade.”
“We cannot permit a renegade and out-of-control prosecutor to use this investigation as a means of advancing her political career,” Trump wrote in his statement.
The Trumps have denied any wrongdoing. Trump and his eldest children, Donald Jr and Ivanka, had been due to start testifying under oath in July, but the depositions were postponed due to the death of the former president’s first wife.
Trump’s son Eric hit out the state attorney general in a tweet Wednesday, calling her “corrupt.”
Trump’s myriad legal battles have the potential to complicate any bid for another run for the White House in 2024.
US authorities’ search of Donald Trump’s Florida residence drew renewed attention to the various investigations the former Republican leader is embroiled in.
The FBI — which is led by Christopher Wray, a Trump appointee — declined to provide a reason for the raid.
But US media outlets said agents were conducting a court-authorized search related to the potential mishandling of classified documents that had been sent to Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House in January 2021.
Trump voiced outrage over the search, dubbing it “weaponization of the justice system.”
At the White House, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden did not have any advance notice about the raid and respected the independence of the Justice Department.
Since leaving office, Trump has remained the country’s most divisive figure, continuing to sow falsehoods that he won the 2020 presidential vote.
He also has faced intense legal scrutiny for his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election and over the January 6 attack on the US Capitol by his supporters.