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Donald Trump declines to answer questions in New York fraud probe

The hearing comes days after FBI agents raided the former US president’s home in Florida as part of an unrelated investigation.

Donald Trump arriving at Trump Tower yesterday
Donald Trump arriving at Trump Tower yesterday
Image: Yuki Iwamura/PA

DONALD TRUMP SAID he declined to answer questions under oath in New York over alleged fraud at his family business, as legal pressures pile up for the former president whose house was raided by the FBI just two days ago.

Trump said he had “no choice” but to invoke the fifth amendment – which allows individuals to remain silent under questioning to protect against self-incrimination – during the deposition at the New York attorney general’s office.

“I declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution,” 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.”

After about six hours, Trump emerged from the Manhattan building where the deposition took place, waving through the closed windows of his vehicle at a small crowd of onlookers as his motorcade pulled away.

“Just leaving the Attorney General’s Office – A very professional meeting,” he wrote on social media. “Have a fantastic company with great assets, very little debt, and lots of CASH. Only in America!”

The hearing comes just days after FBI agents searched his 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.

embedded268240257 Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida Source: PA

The New York civil investigation involves allegations that Trump’s company, the Trump Organisation, misstated the value of prized assets like golf courses and skyscrapers, misleading lenders and tax authorities.

“My great company, and myself, are being attacked from all sides,” Trump wrote on Truth Social. “Banana Republic!”

Messages seeking comment were left with James’ office and with Trump’s lawyer.

Trump’s evidence is happening at a critical point in James’ investigation, midway through a pivotal week in his post-presidency.

In May, James’ office said that it was nearing the end of its probe and that investigators had amassed substantial evidence that could support legal action, such as a lawsuit, against Trump, his company or both.

The Republican billionaire’s deposition — a legal term for sworn evidence that is not given in court — is one of the few remaining missing pieces, the attorney general’s office said.

Two of Trump’s adult children, Donald Jnr and Ivanka, gave evidence in the investigation in recent days, two people familiar with the matter said.

trump File photo of Donald Trump with two of his children, Ivanka and Eric Jr Source: Jonathan Hayward/PA

The people were not authorised to speak publicly and did so on condition of anonymity.

The Trumps’ evidence had initially been planned for last month but was delayed after the July 14 death of the former president’s ex-wife, Ivana Trump, the mother of Ivanka, Donald Jnr and another son, Eric Trump, who sat for a deposition in James’ investigation in 2020.

Tax fraud charges

On Friday, the Trump Organisation and its longtime finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, will be in court seeking dismissal of tax fraud charges brought against them last year in the Manhattan district attorney’s parallel criminal probe.

James, a Democrat, has said in court filings that her office has uncovered “significant” evidence that Trump’s company “used fraudulent or misleading asset valuations to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions”.

James alleges the Trump Organisation exaggerated the value of its holdings to impress lenders or misstated what land was worth to slash its tax burden, pointing to annual financial statements given to banks to secure favourable loan terms and to financial magazines to justify Trump’s place among the world’s billionaires.

The company 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 US (€193.8 million), James’ office said.

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

While James has explored suing Trump or his company, the Manhattan district attorney’s office has long pursued a parallel criminal investigation.

That probe had appeared to be progressing toward a possible criminal indictment, but slowed after a new district attorney, Alvin Bragg, took office in January.

A grand jury that had been hearing evidence disbanded.

As vociferous as Trump has been in defending himself in written statements and on the rally stage, legal experts say the same strategy could backfire in a deposition setting because anything he says could potentially be used against him or his company in the criminal investigation.

No former president has even been charged with a crime.

Mar-a-Lago raid

Top Republican leaders have flung their support behind Trump after an extraordinary FBI raid on his palatial Florida residence.

The news of the raid has sparked a political firestorm in an already bitterly divided country.

The FBI move marked a stunning escalation of legal probes into the 45th president.

Trump denounced the FBI raid as a “weaponization of the Justice System” by “Radical Left Democrats who desperately don’t want me to run for President in 2024.”

At the White House, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said President Joe Biden did not have any advance notice about the raid and respected the independence of the Justice Department.

Asked about the potential for civil unrest in reaction to Trump’s legal problems, Jean-Pierre said “there’s no place for political violence in this country.”

The FBI declined to provide a reason for the raid, but US media outlets said agents were conducting a court-authorised search related to the potential mishandling of classified documents that had been sent to Mar-a-Lago after Trump left the White House in January 2021.

A day after the raid on Mar-A-Lago, US Representative Scott Perry – a Trump ally – said that FBI agents had confiscated his cell phone, but did not specify why it was taken.

“This morning, while traveling with my family, three FBI agents visited me and seized my cell phone,” Perry told FOX News, condemning “these kinds of banana republic tactics.”

Trump’s former vice president Mike Pence, a potential 2024 rival, expressed “deep concern” and said the raid smacked of “partisanship” by the Justice Department.


Kevin McCarthy, who is seeking to become speaker of the House of Representatives if Republicans win November’s midterm elections, accused the Justice Department of “weaponized politicization.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said “launching an investigation of a former president this close to an election is beyond problematic.”

Representative Elise Stefanik, the third-ranking House Republican, called it a “dark day in American history.”

“If the FBI can raid a US President, imagine what they can do to you,” Stefanik tweeted, to which Democratic Representative Ted Lieu replied: “Why can’t the FBI investigate a US President? We’re not Russia, where the law doesn’t apply to the head of state and his cronies.”

Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic speaker of the House, told NBC that “no person is above the law.”

The National Archives said in February that it had recovered 15 boxes of documents from Mar-a-Lago and asked the Justice Department to look into Trump’s handling of classified material.

The recovery of the boxes raised questions about Trump’s adherence to presidential records laws enacted after the 1970s Watergate scandal that require Oval Office occupants to preserve records.

Trump’s former communications director Alyssa Farah Griffin told CNN the raid could fire up his supporters, a small number of whom rallied outside Mar-a-Lago yesterday.

trump-fbi A Donald Trump supporter stands on a bridge outside the entrance to the former president's Mar-a-Lago estate Source: Lynne Sladky/PA

“If it’s seen as some sort of massive overreach and not something incredibly serious, this is a very good day for Donald Trump,” Farah Griffin said.

For weeks, Washington has been riveted by hearings in Congress about the January 6 storming of the Capitol and Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election.

Attorney General Merrick Garland has been repeatedly pushed over whether the Justice Department is building a case against Trump over the Capitol riot.

Trump is also being investigated for his efforts to alter the 2020 voting results in the state of Georgia, while his business practices are being probed in New York in separate cases.

Additional reporting from © AFP 2022

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