The plan was for Donald Trump to deliver a sworn deposition today in a New York civil case. As NBC News reported, however, things didn’t exactly go according to plan.
Former President Donald Trump said he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination Wednesday during a deposition before lawyers from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office in its probe into the Trump Organization’s business practices.
There’s a lot to this, so let’s briefly revisit our earlier coverage to review how we arrived at this point.
It was in March 2019 when New York’s attorney general’s office first opened a civil investigation into the Trump Organization. Over the course of three years, the examination into Trump’s business operation unfolded gradually, leading to subpoenas being issued earlier this year for the former president and two of his adult children who worked at the company.
In defense of the subpoenas, the Democratic state attorney general declared in January, “Thus far in our investigation, we have uncovered significant evidence that suggests Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization falsely and fraudulently valued multiple assets and misrepresented those values to financial institutions for economic benefit.”
As we’ve discussed, the ongoing probe is examining whether Trump’s business committed fraud in reporting the value of certain properties to banks and tax authorities. And while a controversy surrounding how the Republican’s operation valued its assets may sound like a boring topic, it’s proving to be a surprisingly potent problem.
“In light of the pervasive and repeated nature of the misstatements and omissions, it appears that the valuations in the Statements were generally inflated as part of a pattern to suggest that Mr. Trump’s net worth was higher than it otherwise would have appeared,” James added.
Trump World’s lawyers spent months trying to quash the subpoenas in this civil case. Those efforts failed, and the former president was ordered to show up for today’s deposition, whether he liked it or not.
We now know that the former president complied with the court’s directive, but when the Q&A began, the Republican asserted his rights against self-incrimination.
That is, of course, a legitimate legal option for those who believe their testimony might strengthen cases against them. But as a political matter, it also makes it appear that Trump has something to hide. What’s more, as a New York Times report added, “Jurors in civil matters can draw a negative inference when a defendant invokes his or her Fifth Amendment privilege, unlike in criminal cases, where exercising the right against self-incrimination cannot be held against the defendant.”
For his part, the former president issued an eight-paragraph statement this morning in which he whined at great length about New York’s attorney general and condemned the civil case as politically motivated.
As for Trump’s record, the Republican has had quite a bit to say over the years about this specific constitutional protection.
“The mob takes the Fifth Amendment,” the then-candidate said in 2016, deriding those who assert their right against self-incrimination. “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”
With this in mind, consider the high-profile figures from Team Trump who’ve pleaded the Fifth recently:
- Eric Trump, in this same civil case, reportedly invoked the Fifth Amendment in response to more than 500 questions.
- John Eastman, a Republican lawyer who allegedly played a leading role in the overall coup scheme, reportedly pleaded the Fifth with the Jan. 6 committee — by some accounts, roughly 100 times.
- Roger Stone, a longtime Trump adviser and GOP operative, said two weeks later that he also pleaded the Fifth.
- Alex Jones, by his own admission, pleaded the Fifth nearly 100 times when the professional conspiracy theorist sat down with congressional investigators.
- Jeffrey Clark, a former Justice Department official, also pleaded the Fifth, reportedly more than 100 times.
- Michael Flynn, the beneficiary of a Trump pardon despite having previously pled guilty to felonies, pleaded the Fifth in response to investigators’ questions in March.
And today, the former president joined the club.
To be sure, the issue here is civil litigation, not criminal charges, which may seem to lower the stakes. That said, let’s not forget that Trump’s earlier civil cases were hardly irrelevant: His fake “university” and fraudulent charity, for example, were brought down as a result of civil litigation. Watch this space.