On Wednesday, Donald Trump showed up for questioning in the ongoing civil investigation by New York state Attorney General Letitia James into his business — and invoked the Fifth Amendment over 400 times, according to reporting from The New York Times.
Trump evidently didn’t answer a single question other than one asking for his name. After getting asked that question, he read a prepared statement antagonizing James and linking the investigative efforts he was facing in New York to the recent raid by the FBI on his Florida property known as Mar-a-Lago. (The probes aren’t tangibly connected.) The questioning began shortly after 9 a.m. local time on Wednesday, and — with an intervening lunch break — it went until just after 3 p.m. Trump reacted similarly to all further questioning; he simply repeated “same answer” for hours after invoking his Fifth Amendment rights. James, who was present for Trump’s sit-down but didn’t lead the process of asking him questions through the day, didn’t immediately provide comprehensive details about what she’d be doing next, but she indicated the investigation would be fundamentally undeterred.
“Attorney General Letitia James took part in the deposition during which Mr. Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination,” a statement from a spokesperson for the official said. “Attorney General James will pursue the facts and the law wherever they may lead. Our investigation continues.” Notably, neither Ivanka Trump nor Donald Trump Jr. — two adult children of the former president who also recently sat for questioning — invoked the Fifth Amendment. Considering James’s probe is civil rather than criminal in nature, it’s not set up to lead to criminal charges against the former president or anyone involved in the Trump business, but the top New York law enforcement official could obtain a financial penalty from the former president, either through trial or a settlement. In a civil trial, a defendant invoking the Fifth Amendment can get held against them.
“Ms. James’s lawyers could use Mr. Trump’s refusal to answer questions as leverage in settlement talks,” the Times notes. According to the Times, the criminal investigation into the Trump company out of the Manhattan district attorney’s office impacted Trump’s decision-making on answering James’s questions. A four-judge appeals court panel in New York previously specifically rebuffed complaints from Trump’s corner about that Manhattan matter. The panel concluded the “existence of a criminal investigation does not preclude civil discovery of related facts, at which a party may exercise the privilege against self-incrimination,” as they put it. Before Trump showed up to answer questions from the attorney general’s team on Wednesday, his side provided no advance notice that he would be invoking the Fifth Amendment, which provides rights against self-incrimination. Trump only appeared after losing a multi-stage judicial fight to stop his deposition.