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Trump Takes Fifth in NY Civil Probe    08/11 06:21

   Former President Donald Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against 
self-incrimination as he testified under oath Wednesday in the New York 
attorney general's long-running civil investigation into his business dealings.

   NEW YORK (AP) -- Former President Donald Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment 
protection against self-incrimination as he testified under oath Wednesday in 
the New York attorney general's long-running civil investigation into his 
business dealings.

   About an hour after arriving at Attorney General Letitia James' Manhattan 
offices, Trump announced that he "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," the statement said. "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."

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

   But after leaving around 3:30 p.m., he described the encounter as "very 
professional" and added a plug for his "fantastic" company.

   The questioning brought him face-to-face with an official he had called an 
"out-of-control prosecutor" and a racist. James, a Democrat, is the first Black 
person to hold her post.

   James' office declined to detail the interview, beyond saying that she 
personally took part in the deposition.

   One of Trump's lawyers, Ronald Fischetti, told The New York Times the former 
president answered one question, about his name, read a statement into the 
record in which he questioned James' motives, then invoked the Fifth Amendment. 
Trump then said "same answer" to every question he was asked over several 
hours, Fischetti said.

   As vociferous as Trump has been in defending himself in written statements 
and on the rally stage, legal experts said answering questions in a deposition 
was risky because anything he said could potentially be used against him in a 
parallel criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney. The Fifth 
Amendment protects people from being compelled to be witnesses against 
themselves in a criminal case.

   If the attorney general's investigation leads to a civil case against Trump 
and it went to trial, jurors could be told 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 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."

   Trump has undergone many depositions, dating 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.

   Messages seeking comment were left with James' office.

   Wednesday's events unfolded two days after FBI agents searched Trump'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 James, 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 company, 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, James' office said.

   Trump has denied the allegations, contending that seeking the best 
valuations is a common practice in the real estate industry.

   In May, James' office said that it was nearing the end of its investigation 
against Trump. The Republican's deposition was one of the few remaining missing 
pieces.

   The attorney general could decide to bring a lawsuit seeking financial 
penalties against Trump or his company, or even a ban on them being involved in 
certain types of businesses.

   Two of Trump's adult children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, gave depositions in 
recent days, two people familiar with the matter said. The people were not 
authorized to speak publicly and did so on condition of anonymity.

   It's unclear whether Ivanka Trump or Donald Trump Jr. invoked the Fifth 
Amendment. Eric Trump, their brother, did so more than 500 times during a 
deposition in the same investigation in 2020, according to court papers.

   People generally don't have a constitutional right to avoid questions in a 
civil lawsuit, but Trump's legal team fought James' attempt to question him for 
months, arguing that the district attorney's parallel investigation created a 
risk that Trump could face criminal charges. Lawyers in James' office have 
assisted with that criminal investigation.

   Manhattan Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that James' office had "the clear 
right" to question Trump and other principals in his company -- though Trump 
also had a right to decline to answer questions because of the criminal case.

   That criminal probe had appeared to be progressing toward a possible 
criminal indictment, but stalled after a new district attorney, Alvin Bragg, a 
Democrat, took office in January. A grand jury that had been hearing evidence 
disbanded. The top prosecutor who had been handling the probe resigned after 
Bragg raised questions internally about the viability of the case.

   Bragg has said his investigation is continuing.

   The district attorney's investigation has already led to criminal charges 
against the Trump Organization and its longtime finance chief, Allen 
Weisselberg, who are accused of tax fraud related to fringe benefits offered by 
the company.

   Weisselberg and the company's lawyers are scheduled to be in court Friday to 
argue that the case should be dismissed.

 
 
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