But it looks like the deposit isn’t moving the needle much after all. Trump declined to answer questions on Wednesday, deciding instead to argue his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
“I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’ Now I know the answer to that question,” Trump said in a statement Wednesday. “When your family, your business, and everyone in your orbit became the targets of an unfounded, politically motivated witch hunt backed by lawyers, prosecutors and fake media, you have no choice.”
A spokesperson for James’ office declined to comment. Observers said Trump’s meeting with James suggests the investigation is in its final stages, pointing to another recent high-profile interrogation – that of former New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, whose 11-year interview hours with James was one of the last steps before she released her final report into her unrelated misconduct.
Legal experts said the former president’s decision could give the impression to some – including a potential jury – that he has something to hide.
“What he is saying is that he is afraid that if he testifies, what he says will be used against him in criminal proceedings,” said Vincent M. Bonventre, professor and director of the Center for Judicial Process in New York at Albany Law School.
And James could theoretically capture that perception.
“Now [James] can argue that, well, he’s pleading the Fifth, so he’s worried about potentially having criminal liability and so his investigation is meritorious and she can proceed with a complaint against him and proceed to trial,” Joshua Schiller said. , partner at Boies Schiller. Flexner LLP which fought cases with the Attorney General. “On the other hand, I imagine that [Trump] going to say, “Well, I won’t answer any questions, because it’s a puppet court, and nobody would listen to me anyway.”
That’s exactly what Trump suggested in his statement Wednesday, while linking James’ investigation to federal agents searching his Mar-a-Lago estate earlier this week.
“If there was any question in my mind, the search of my home, Mar-a-Lago, on Monday by the FBI, just two days before this deposition, swept away any uncertainty. I have absolutely no choice because the current administration and many prosecutors in this country have lost all moral and ethical boundaries of decency,” Trump wrote.
State and federal courts have repeatedly dismissed Trump’s claims that the case was politically motivated and dismissed his attempt to evade a deposition.
A media crush followed the former president from his downtown apartment in Trump Tower to the Attorney General’s downtown office around 8:30 a.m. Wednesday morning. Trump waved to onlookers and members of the media and raised his fist in the air as he left for deposition. He arrived at James’ office, located at 28 Liberty St. in the Financial District, around 9 a.m.
Secret Service officials and NYPD agents patrolled the entrance to the garage where Trump’s motorcade entered and stood guard throughout the morning as passers-by gathered on sidewalks and street corners surrounding the entrance to the skyscraper.
Even though Trump said he would invoke his right not to incriminate himself, he remained locked in the attorney general’s office for several hours, before leaving in a motorcade around 3:20 p.m.
Trump’s decision not to answer questions may complicate the attorney general’s effort to link Trump to the alleged wrongdoing.
“Whether or not he himself is directly connected to the statements they claim to be false or misrepresented in tax returns and the like is a matter they may not be able to resolve without his testimony,” Schiller said. “If they don’t have documentary evidence or testimony from other people who say, ‘Well, he told me to do this or it was his instructions,’ then maybe she won’t be. unable to mount a case that specifically implicates him.”
Indeed, James’ office wrote in a court filing earlier this year that “Mr. Trump’s actual knowledge of — and intention to do — the many inaccuracies and omissions made by him or on his behalf are critical to resolving the OAG’s investigation appropriately and fairly.
She detailed evidence that the Trump Organization had used “fraudulent or misleading asset valuations” to secure favorable loans and other economic benefits. These misrepresentations were all in Trump’s annual financial statements, snapshots of his assets and net worth that were submitted to banks and insurers, according to James.
The case might boil down to the question, “Can you prove he committed the violation by simply signing the document, if you can’t prove he had knowledge of the falsity?” I think there is an issue that needs to be argued there,” Schiller said.
For now, that at least prevents Trump from giving James more ammunition.
“It would have been much better for the investigation if he had been willing to answer questions. He talks too much and gets himself into trouble,” Bonventre said. “He would almost certainly have added to the evidence against him. “I can’t imagine that his lawyers would want him to answer questions. They know how he is. The best thing would be to tell him to shut up.”
James dropped out of the gubernatorial race last year to seek re-election for AG. Politically, she can continue to show her focus on Trump’s alleged misdeeds as she seeks a second term in November, a political analyst has claimed – even as Trump seeks to demonize her among his supporters.
“Donald Trump was never popular in New York. Not before he was president, not during his presidency or after his presidency,” said Steven Greenberg, a longtime Democratic strategist and polling spokesman for the Siena College Research Institute.” So that can only be a political advantage for James. It can’t be a political stunt for her – certainly not with her base.
Joseph Spector contributed to this report.