Two days after his Florida resort and home estate was searched by FBI agents, former president Donald Trump met with New York state investigators probing his business dealings, but said he invoked his Fifth Amendment rights and declined to answer their questions under oath.
“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.”
The civil investigation led by New York Attorney General Letitia James — which is separate from the federal criminal probe into alleged violations of the Presidential Records Act that is said to have led to the Mar-a-Lago search on Monday — involves allegations that the Trump Organization committed financial fraud and misled investors and tax authorities by misstating the value of assets such as skyscrapers and golf courses.
Under the Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination, individuals may refuse to give answers to questions in civil or criminal proceedings that might incriminate them in future criminal proceedings.
Declining to answer questions by invoking the Fifth Amendment is not itself evidence of criminality in a criminal trial, but a judge may allow the jury in civil proceedings to draw an adverse inference from its invocation.
In 2016, Trump complained about aides to Hillary Clinton invoking their rights during an investigation into her private email server. “You see, the mob takes the Fifth,” he told supporters.
The former president arrived at the attorney general’s office shortly before 9 a.m. with a large motorcade, and then released a statement to the press just over an hour later.
In his lengthy screed, he sought to paint James, a Democrat, as a corrupt, cynical “failed politician” and “a renegade and out-of-control prosecutor” who was pursuing a vendetta against him at all costs.
“I did nothing wrong, which is why, after five years of looking, the Federal, State and local governments, together with the Fake News Media, have found nothing,” he said.
Trump said he used the constitution to defend himself “against this malicious attack” — a decision he said was reinforced by the Mar-a-Lago raid.
“I have absolutely no choice because the current Administration and many prosecutors in this Country have lost all moral and ethical bounds of decency,” he said. “Accordingly, under the advice of my counsel and for all of the above reasons, I declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution.”
Representatives from the attorney general’s office didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but James has previously said she was following the law.
“No one in this country can pick and choose how the law applies to them, and Donald Trump is no exception,” James said in May when a federal court dismissed a Trump attempt to halt the investigation. “As we have said all along, we will continue this investigation undeterred.”
Trump has consistently sought to slow or impede the investigation into his business. In addition to his numerous legal challenges, he had been fined more than $100,000 and held in contempt of court in May for refusing to comply with a subpoena.
The New York state investigation runs parallel to another probe by the Manhattan district attorney general into the Trump Organization, which appeared to sputter out earlier this year, and a third in Westchester County related to a golf course.
Additionally, Trump is being investigated by authorities in Georgia for potential criminal election interference.
At the federal level, in addition to the investigation into mishandling classified documents under the Presidential Records Act, Trump is also facing the possibility of consequences over the Capitol riot and his alleged election interference — both of which have been the subject of extraordinary public hearings from a special House of Representatives investigative committee.
Despite openly campaigning for years for Clinton to be locked up, Trump and his allies have, without evidence, sought to paint all the investigations into him as politically motivated witch hunts.