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What Trump pleads the Fifth means for New York AG Tish James

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But it looks like the deposit isn’t moving the needle much after all. Trump declined to answer questions on Wednesday, deciding instead to argue his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.

I asked once, if you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment? Now I know the answer to that question, Trump said in a statement Wednesday. When your family, your business and everyone in your orbit has become the targets of an unfounded and politically motivated witch hunt supported by lawyers, prosecutors and the fake media, you have no choice.

In a statement, James confirmed she was in the room when Trump declined to answer questions.

Although we do not comment on specific details, we can confirm that today our office conducted a deposition of former President Donald Trump, a spokesperson for the AG said. Attorney General Letitia James participated in the deposition in which Mr. Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination. Attorney General James will pursue the facts and the law wherever they may lead. Our investigation is continuing.

Observers said Trump’s meeting with James suggests the investigation is in its final stages, pointing to another recent high-profile interview of former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, including the 11 a.m. interview with James was one of the last steps before her. released its final report into its unrelated misconduct.

Legal experts said the former president’s decision could make some, including a potential jury, feel like he had something to hide.

What he’s saying is that he’s afraid that if he testifies, what he says will be used against him in criminal proceedings, Vincent M. Bonventre, a professor and director of the Center for Judicial Process told New York at Albany Law School.

And James could theoretically capture that perception.

Now [James] can argue that, well, he’s pleading the Fifth, so he’s worried about potentially having criminal liability and so his investigation is meritorious and she can proceed with a complaint against him and proceed to trial, Joshua Schiller said, partner at Boies Schiller Flexner LLP who fought cases with the Attorney General. On the other hand, I imagine that [Trump] going to say, Well, I won’t answer any questions, because this is a puppet court, and no one would listen to me anyway.

That’s exactly what Trump suggested in his statement Wednesday, while linking James’ investigation to federal agents searching his Mar-a-Lago estate earlier this week.

If there was a question in my mind, the raid of my home, Mar-a-Lago, on Monday by the FBI, just two days before this deposition, erased any uncertainty. I have absolutely no choice because the current administration and many prosecutors in this country have lost all moral and ethical boundaries of decency, Trump wrote.

State and federal courts have repeatedly dismissed Trump’s claims that the case was politically motivated and dismissed his attempt to evade a deposition.

Former President Donald Trump departs Trump Tower, Wednesday, Aug. 10, 2022, in New York City, en route to the New York Attorney General’s office for a deposition in a civil investigation. | Julia Nikhinson/AP Photo

A media crush followed the former president from his downtown Trump Tower apartment to the Attorney General’s downtown office around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. Trump waved to onlookers and members of the media and raised his fist in the air as he left for deposition. He arrived at James’ office, located at 28 Liberty St. in the Financial District, around 9 a.m.

Secret Service officials and NYPD agents patrolled the entrance to the garage where Trump’s motorcade entered and stood guard throughout the morning as passersby gathered on sidewalks and street corners surrounding the entrance to the skyscraper.

Even though Trump said he would invoke his right not to incriminate himself, he remained locked in the attorney general’s office for several hours, before leaving in a motorcade around 3:20 p.m.

Trump’s decision not to answer questions may complicate the attorney general’s effort to link Trump to the alleged wrongdoing.

Whether or not he himself is directly connected to the statements they claim to be false or misrepresented in tax returns and the like is a matter they may not be able to resolve without his testimony, Schiller said. If they don’t have documentary evidence or testimonials from other people who say, Well, he told me to do this or it was his instructions, then maybe she won’t be able to build a case that specifically implicates him.

Indeed, James’s office wrote in a court filing earlier this year that Mr. Trump’s actual knowledge and intent to make the many inaccuracies and omissions made by him or on his behalf are critical to resolving the OAG investigation in a proper and fair manner.

She detailed evidence that the Trump Organization used fraudulent or misleading asset appraisals to obtain favorable loans and other economic benefits. These misrepresentations were all in Trump’s annual financial statements, snapshots of his assets and net worth that were submitted to banks and insurers, according to James.

The case could boil down to the following question: can you prove that he committed the violation by simply signing the document, if you cannot prove that he had knowledge of the falsity? I think there is an issue that needs to be argued there, Schiller said.

For now, that at least prevents Trump from giving James more ammunition.

It would have been much better for the investigation if he had agreed to answer questions. He talks too much and gets in trouble, Bonventre said. He would almost certainly have added to the evidence against him. I can’t imagine his lawyers would want him to answer questions. They know what he likes. The best would be to tell him to shut up.

James dropped out of the gubernatorial race last year to seek re-election for AG. Politically, she can continue to show her focus on Trump’s alleged misdeeds as she seeks a second term in November, a political analyst says even as Trump seeks to demonize her among his supporters.

Donald Trump has never been popular in New York. Not before he was president, not during his presidency or after his presidency, said Steven Greenberg, longtime Democratic strategist and poll spokesman for the Siena College Research Institute. So it can only be a political advantage for James. It cannot be a political success for her, certainly not with her base.

Joseph Spector contributed to this report.

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