Video of Trump’s deposition in New York fraud probe shows ex-president taking fifth, repeating ‘same answer’
Newly released video obtained by CBS News provides the first look at former President Donald Trump’s testimony last summer in the New York attorney general’s civil fraud investigation.
Trump sat down for questioning under oath on August 10, and the video shows him politely answering State’s Attorney Letitia James’ opening questions.
Dressed in a navy blue suit, red tie and an American flag lapel pin, sitting in front of a camera in a midtown Manhattan conference room, Trump said yes when James asked him if he was familiar with the rules for testifying. But when the questioning about his finances began in earnest, the former president — and now a candidate for the same office — invoked the Fifth Amendment and continued to do so for nearly four hours.
Transcripts of portions of Trump’s testimony were included as evidence filed by the New York Attorney General’s Office on Oct. 13 in its $250 million lawsuit against Trump, three of his children and his company. Those sections of Trump’s testimony were no longer confidential once the evidence was filed. That office initially denied CBS News’ request under the New York Freedom of Information Act for video that matched those portions of the transcript. An appellate officer overturned that decision.
“Anything you say in this review may be used in civil proceedings, and this may include civil enforcement proceedings or criminal proceedings. Do you understand that?” James asked.
“I think so,” Trump replied.
“Is that it?” James asked.
“I don’t know what I did wrong, but the answer is yes, I understand,” Trump said.
“You have the right to refuse to answer any question if answering the question truthfully could incriminate you. Do you understand that?” James continued.
“Yes,” Trump replied.
“And any intentional misstatement on your part can constitute perjury. Do you understand that, sir?’
After the opening questions ended, Trump was given the opportunity to read a prepared statement into the record.
He began with a familiar refrain: “This is the biggest witch hunt in the history of our country.” He called James a “renegade and out-of-control prosecutor” and accused her of having political motives for her office’s investigation into his financial practices.
A little over a month later, on September 21, James announced the case of her office against Trump, three of his children and his company, accusing them of a long-running scheme to inflate the value of their properties. The Trumps deny wrongdoing.
“This whole thing is very unfair,” Trump says in the video of the testimony.
“Anyone in my position who would not accept the Fifth Amendment would be a fool, an absolute fool,” Trump said, adding that, on the advice of a lawyer, “I respectfully decline to answer questions about the rights and privileges granted to every citizen under the Constitution of United States.
“That will be my answer to any further questions.”
Senior law enforcement adviser Kevin Wallace of the attorney general’s office noted “for the record” that the statement was “long” and that “we obviously disagree with many of the characterizations.” Wallace then began his cross-examination, which would make up the bulk of the testimony.
At the start, Trump answered three questions, saying: “For all the reasons stated in my answer, which is included here in its entirety, I decline to answer the question.”
Wallace then told Trump he could just say “the same answer” — “to speed things up.”
Trump did this more than 400 times during the full interview, according to a document from the New York attorney general. After the Trump deposition was completed issued a public statement saying he exercised his Fifth Amendment right and declined to answer.
During one part of the questioning, Wallace asked Trump about his financial statements, which have been filed every year since 2011. In February 2022 the accounting firm that prepared them recanted his work and said those reports “should no longer be relied upon.”
“The valuations contained in this document reflect false and misleading valuation statements; is that true?” asked Wallace.
“Same answer,” Trump replied.
Was he “aware” that they “contain false and misleading statements”?
Even as he responded with “the same answer” to question after question, Trump appeared to study financial documents presented to him by Wallace, folding his arms, leaning forward and staring.
Wallace also asked about the involvement of former Trump Organization chief financial officer Alan Weiselberg — now serving five months imprisonment for tax fraud — and the company’s current comptroller, Jeffrey McConney.
The two executives were among those named as defendants in the New York attorney general’s $250 million lawsuit that seeks to strike the company’s operations in the state. The suit accuses Trump and his company of engaging in a long-running, widespread fraud scheme revolving around the manipulation of real estate values. In addition to the financial penalties, the attorney general’s office is seeking an end to the company’s New York operations and sanctions against the four Trumps.
“From at least 2005 to the present, you have had an ongoing agreement with Mr. Weiselberg and Mr. McConney that they would prepare the statement of financial position in a manner that included estimates that depended on false and misleading assumptions as a means of inflating the reported values; is it right?” Wallace asked in testimony. The company has denied the New York attorney general’s charges against it and any of its executives.
“Same answer,” Trump said.
McConney and Weiselberg were the key witnesses in a separate criminal case against two Trump Organization companies brought by the Manhattan district attorney. Jury last month condemned the companies on 17 counts related to tax fraud arising from various schemes to reduce payroll liabilities while providing executives with large tax-free bonuses and high-end tax-free bonuses. Weisselberg separately entered a admission of guilt in this case.
The New York attorney general’s civil case is scheduled for trial on October 2. The judge in that case rejected repeated attempts by Trump’s lawyers to push back that date.
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