NEW YORK — Ex-President Donald Trump refused to answer questions from the New York attorney general’s office Wednesday, providing the latest bizarre twist in the ongoing civil investigation of his real estate business.
“Under the advice of my counsel ... I declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution,” the former Manhattan mogul said in a statement after invoking his Fifth Amendment rights.
“This is a vindictive and and self-serving expedition, the likes of which this country has never seen before,” he continued. “The United States Constitution exists for this very purpose, and I will use it to the fullest to defend myself against this malicious attack.”
Trump’s embrace of the Fifth Amendment did not mark the end of the Q&A session, which was expected to last all day. One possible factor in his decision to stay mute was New York Attorney General Letitia James’s collegial relationship with the Manhattan district attorney’ office, which continues a parallel criminal probe into Trump’s business practices.
The ex-commander-in-chief’s lawyers alleged in May that James was improperly trying to question Trump in a bid to gather information for the DA’s office.
Trump, along with his children Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr., had earlier fought a February order by Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron requiring they sit for questioning under oath as part of James’ probe of the Trump Organization.
But an appeals court ruled in May that Trump, along with his kids, needed to sit for questioning. The sessions were delayed by the sudden death of Trump’s first wife Ivana last month.
Trump, during his 2016 presidential campaign, pointedly questioned people who invoked the protection: “The Mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” And even as the hearing continued, so did Trump’s email solicitation of donations from his supporters.
“I urgently need your help,” read the latest Trump appeal. “Joe Biden and the radical Left are working OVERTIME this month.”
Trump, in a Tuesday post on his Truth Social account, once again blasted the investigation led by James.
“Seeing racist N.Y.S. Attorney General tomorrow, for a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. history!” Trump wrote. “My great company, and myself, are being attacked from all sides. Banana Republic!”
The former president left Trump Tower in Midtown about 8:30 a.m., according to a New York Times’ live blog. He waved to a few onlookers, some chanting loudly “Lock him up!” before getting in a black Suburban.
A half-hour later, his motorcade arrived in downtown Manhattan at the Liberty St. office of the state attorney general. Secret Service agents and NYPD officers were stationed outside as Trump’s Suburban rolled into a parking garage.
The attorney general’s office declined to comment Wednesday on the deposition. But her office said in May that it was getting near the end of the investigation and had collected evidence that could lead to legal action against the former Trump.
The New York Times reported that Donald Jr. and Ivanka had recently testified in James’ probe without invoking the Fifth. Their brother Eric Trump took the Fifth more than 500 times when he appeared for a deposition in the case, according to court papers, a harbinger of his father’s strategy.
Trump’s appearance came two days after the FBI executed a search warrant at the former commander-in-chief’s Palm Beach, Fla., home as part of an investigation into the handling of presidential and classified documents that may have been taken from the White House, according to reports.
Trump, who was in New York when the raid took place, confirmed that FBI agents searched the sprawling beachfront compound and even “broke into my safe.”
James is investigating whether Trump and his children violated the law through serial manipulation of the values of his properties to obtain loans, tax breaks and other benefits.
The properties in question include the one-term president’s golf clubs in Scotland and Los Angeles and his Seven Spring Estate in Westchester County. Trump listed his 40 Wall Street tower — about a five-minute walk from where he was deposed at the AG’s office — as worth $735 million in a refinancing application for a loan. But it was only worth $257 million, James’ office has said.
In late April, Trump was hit with a civil contempt order for repeated delays in handing the evidence over to James, resulting in $110,000 in fines.
He swore in an affidavit and repeatedly maintained through his attorneys that he had no more evidence to personally surrender, as he never put anything in writing, whether by email or text.
His lawyer Alina Habba told Judge Engoron she had flown to Mar-a-Lago and personally looked for possible outstanding documents and found nothing.
Trump and his family have long argued that James’ investigation was an improper fishing expedition and that she was unfairly in cahoots with Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg.