1 of 5 | The investigation by New York Attorney General Letitia James, which began in March 2019, is specifically looking into whether Donald Trump's real estate business enriched itself by inflating the value of his properties, including his hotels and golf clubs. Photo by Alex Wroblewski/UPI | License Photo
Aug. 10 (UPI) -- Former President Donald Trump pleaded the Fifth Amendment under questioning on Wednesday in the most serious escalation of New York's three-year civil investigation into questionable financial dealings inside the Trump Organization.
The investigation led by New York Attorney General Letitia James is believed to be reaching its final stages and Trump was scheduled to give a deposition behind closed doors. During the proceeding, he asserted his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
"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 before the deposition, according to The New York Times.
Trump lost a months-long court battle to avoid testifying in the case and at one time he equated pleading the Fifth to admitting guilt -- something he actually referenced in his statement Wednesday.
"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."
On why he is invoking the Fifth Amendment, Trump also inexplicably blamed President Joe Biden's administration.
"I have absolutely no choice because the current administration and many prosecutors in this country have lost all moral and ethical bounds of decency."
James' office has been investigating Trump's business dealings and is deciding whether to file a civil suit against he and his company. She's said previously that her office has found "substantial evidence establishing numerous misrepresentations" in financial statements given by Trump to banks and the Internal Revenue Service.
Former President Donald Trump speaks to supporters at a rally in Waukesha, Wis., last Friday for Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Tim Michels. Photo by Alex Wroblewski/UPI
Trump was in New York this week when the FBI raided his Florida home as part of a separate investigation involving documents from Trump's White House. Dozens of agents were involved in the raid, which was related to potentially missing documents that Trump may have taken with him to Florida when he left office in 2021.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and denounced both the New York investigation and the FBI's raid on Monday night. Some Trump-aligned Republicans and supporters have demanded an explanation for why the bureau raided Trump's Mar-a-Lago home in Palm Beach, Fla.
"My great company, and myself, are being attacked from all sides," he said of the New York investigation in a social post, according to the Times.
In another setback, Trump also lost a federal appeal this week to prevent a congressional committee from accessing his prior tax returns. Trump has fought for years to keep those returns private.
Separately, the Manhattan district attorney's office is conducting its own criminal investigation into the Trump Organization, and Trump's answers in Wednesday's deposition could carry weight in that case. He's also implicated in another federal investigation related to efforts in Georgia to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
James' investigation, which began in March 2019, is specifically looking into whether Trump's real estate business enriched itself by inflating the value of his properties, including his hotels and golf clubs.
In a court filing earlier this year, James described the Trump Organization's business practices as "fraudulent or misleading" -- but at the time said her office could not determine who was responsible among Trump and two of his adult children.
Ivanka Trump, who was a senior White House adviser during his administration, and Donald Trump Jr. have already testified under oath in the case.
Earlier this week, real estate firm Cushman & Wakefield turned over more than 35,000 documents to James' office as part of the investigation. Cushman & Wakefield has appraised several of Trump's properties.
Trump has given sworn testimony about his financial statements in the past, too, and some of his closest advisers are trying to convince him to do the same this time around. Others say Trump should keep quiet to avoid legal jeopardy, which could potentially ruin any chances of him holding office again in the future.
"If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment," Trump asked during a campaign stop in 2016.
Activist and comedian John Stewart hugs Sri Benson, whose wife, Katie, was an Army medic who died from toxic exposure, during a signing ceremony for the PACT Act on Wednesday at the White House. The bill expands healthcare benefits for veterans exposed to toxic burn pits. Photo by Bonnie Cash/UPI | License Photo