“You see the mob takes the Fifth,” candidate Donald Trump famously remarked on the campaign trail in 2016. “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?”
This morning, after years of refusing to testify in the New York Attorney General’s investigation of his eponymous business, Trump was finally forced to go under oath, whereupon he promptly invoked his Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate himself.
But the former president has a very good explanation for that.
I once asked, “If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” Now I know the answer to that question. 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. If there was any question in my mind, the raid of my home, Mar-a-Lago, on Monday by the FBI, just two days prior to this deposition, wiped out any uncertainty. I have absolutely no choice because the current Administration and many prosecutors in this Country have lost all moral and ethical bounds of decency.
Trump also called New York Attorney General Letitia James “a failed politician” who “openly campaigned on the policy of ‘Get and Destroy Trump.’”
His son Eric, who famously pled the Fifth more than 500 times in his own court-ordered deposition, tweeted that James is an “evil woman” engaged in a “coordinated effort to stop what they know will happen in 24.” As did his brother Don Jr, who was also deposed recently by the NYAG after multiple failed efforts to get the state’s courts to bail him out. It’s nice to have kids who haven’t been booted off mainstream social media outlets for inciting an attack on the seat of government. Yet!
“James now realizes I built a great company with tremendous value, and her case is a ‘Scam’, which is why for years, they haven’t been able to file a single charge,” their father crowed in his statement, conveniently omitting his family’s years long effort to stymie her investigation. But thanks to their hamhanded resistance, AG James was able to put quite a bit of dirty laundry about the “great company with tremendous value” on the public docket.
That’s how we know that her inquiry is centered on the Trump Organization’s history of questionable real estate valuations. Such as the $21 million conservation easement the family claimed on the undeveloped portion of an estate Westchester County, when the entire parcel, including the ancestral mansion, was valued by tax assessors at only $19 million. Or the golf course in Los Angeles located on land prone to landslides. After forbearing to build houses on it (LOL) the company agreed to keep using it as a golf course and claimed a $25 million conservation credit. There were also a whole bunch of questionable financial statements submitted to lenders, and an ominous reference to Ivanka Trump being “the primary contact for the Trump Organization’s largest lender, Deutsche Bank” and causing “misleading financial statements to be submitted to Deutsche Bank and the federal government.”
Of course they took the Fifth! As is their right, and no competent lawyer would advise them to do otherwise. But the reason they fought tooth and nail to avoid doing it is because the trier of fact in any future civil action will be invited to take the negative inference from their refusal to respond. Also it’s humiliating because, as Trump himself has pointed out, it tends to make people think you’re guilty of crimes.
“My client can’t take the Fifth Amendment. It’ll be all over the papers!” shouted Trump’s attorney Ron Fischetti at one memorable hearing before Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron.
And he was half right about that one. But Fischetti couldn’t have predicted that his client’s Fifth Amendment invocation would have to compete for column inches with stories about his home getting raided the day before by the FBI.
Life comes at you fast!
Elizabeth Dye lives in Baltimore where she writes about law and politics.
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