Former US President Donald Trump has invoked Fifth Amendment rights, refusing to answer questions of the New York attorney general in a civil investigation into his family’s lucrative business practices.
Trump on Monday confirmed the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) agents “raided” his Mar-a-Lago residence in Palm Beach Florida in what he called an act of “prosecutorial misconduct,” saying the agents “broke into his safe” in his place while he was away at Trump Tower in New York.
A day later, House Republican leaders pressured the Department of Justice (DOJ) to explain its rationale for executing the search warrant on Trump’s home. They said the probe is politically motivated.
On Wednesday, Trump said he refused to answer questions during an appearance before New York Attorney General Letitia James at a scheduled deposition for the day.
“Under the advice of my counsel and for all of the above reasons, I declined to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution,” he 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.”
The probe is part of a more than three-year civil investigation into whether the Trump Organization fraudulently misled lenders, insurers and tax authorities by giving them alleged misleading financial statements.
If the attorney general, an African-American Democrat, discovers any evidence of such alleged financial misconduct, she can sue the Trump Organization for damages. However, she cannot file criminal charges, as it is a civil investigation.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing. “I did nothing wrong, which is why, after five years of looking, the Federal, State and local governments, together with the Fake News Media, have found nothing,” he said on Wednesday.
He also lambasted James for conducting “a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in US history!” He further claimed that “My company, and myself, are being attacked from all sides. Banana Republic!”
The unprecedented move on Monday signals a major escalation in a host of investigations into the final stages of Trump’s presidency, while his legal problems continue on several other fronts, including a Congressional probe into the January 6, 2021 assault by Trump supporters on the US Capitol and accusations that Trump tried to influence Georgia's 2020 election results.
Pertinently, the penalties for the removal of official records include disqualification from holding any federal office in the future.
As Trump is widely believed to be preparing to run for the presidential election in 2024, that unusual penalty has raised the prospect that he might be legally barred from returning to the White House.