Video of Trump deposition in New York fraud probe shows former president taking the Fifth, repeating "same answer"
Newly released video obtained by CBS News provides the first look at former President Donald Trump's deposition last summer in the New York attorney general's civil fraud investigation.
Trump sat for questioning under oath on Aug. 10, and the video shows him politely answering the opening questions from state Attorney General Letitia James.
Wearing a dark blue suit, red tie and American flag lapel pin, sitting in front of a camera in a downtown Manhattan conference room, Trump answered "yes" when asked by James if he was familiar with the rules for giving a deposition. But as the questioning about his finances began in earnest, the former president—and now candidate for that same office—invoked the Fifth Amendment and continued to do so for nearly four hours.
Transcripts of portions of Trump's deposition were included as an exhibit 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 deposition were no longer confidential once the exhibit was filed. That office initially denied CBS News' request, under New York's Freedom of Information Law, for video that aligned with those transcript portions. An appeals officer reversed that decision.
"Anything you say in this examination may be used in a civil proceeding, and that can include a civil enforcement proceeding or a criminal action. Do you understand that?" James asked.
"I think," Trump replied.
"Is that yes?" James asked.
"I don't know what I did wrong, but the answer is yes, I do understand," Trump said.
"You have the right to refuse to answer any question if a truthful answer to the question would tend to incriminate you. Do you understand that?" James continued.
"Yes," Trump replied.
"And any willful misstatement by you may constitute perjury. Do you understand that, sir?"
Once the preliminary questions wrapped up, Trump was given an opportunity to read a prepared statement into the record.
He began with a familiar refrain: "This is the greatest 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.
Just over a month later, on Sept. 21, James announced her office's lawsuit 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 have denied wrongdoing.
"This whole thing is very unfair," Trump says in the deposition video.
"Anyone in my position not taking the Fifth Amendment would be a fool, an absolute fool," Trump said, adding that on the advice of counsel, "I respectfully decline to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States Constitution.
"This will be my answer to any further questions."
Senior enforcement counsel Kevin Wallace, of the attorney general's office, noted "for the record" that the statement was "lengthy," and that "obviously, we disagree with a lot of the characterizations." Wallace then began his questioning, which would comprise the bulk of the deposition.
At the outset, Trump responded to three questions by saying, "For all of the reasons provided in my answer, which is incorporated herein in its entirety, I decline to answer the question."
Wallace then told Trump he could just say, "same answer" — "to speed things up."
Trump did so more than 400 times during the course of the full interview, according to a New York attorney general court filing. After the deposition concluded, Trump issued a public statement saying that he had exercised his Fifth Amendment right and refused to answer.
An attorney for Trump declined to comment on the video's release Tuesday.
During one section of questioning, Wallace asked Trump about his Statements of Financial Condition, submitted every year since 2011. In February 2022, the accounting firm that prepared them recanted its 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 correct?" Wallace asked.
"Same answer," Trump replied.
Was he "aware" they "contained false and misleading statements"?
Even as he replied "same answer" to question after question, Trump appeared to study financial documents presented to him by Wallace, crossing his arms, leaning forward and looking.
Wallace also asked about the involvement of former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg — now serving a five-month jail sentence for tax fraud — and current company comptroller Jeffrey McConney.
The two executives were among those named as defendants in the New York attorney general's $250 million lawsuit, which seeks to kneecap the company's operations in the state. The lawsuit accuses the Trumps and their company of engaging in a yearslong widespread fraud scheme revolving around property value manipulations. In addition to financial penalties, the attorney general's office is seeking an end to the company's operations in New York and sanctions on the four Trumps.
"From at least 2005 through the present, you've had an ongoing agreement with Mr. Weisselberg and Mr. McConney that they would prepare the Statement of Financial Condition in a manner that included valuations that depended on false and misleading assumptions as a means of inflating reported values; is that correct?" Wallace asked in the deposition. The company has denied the New York Attorney General's allegations against it and any of its executives.
"Same answer," Trump said.
McConney and Weisselberg were the key witnesses in a separate criminal case against two Trump Organization companies, brought by the Manhattan district attorney. A jury last month convicted the companies of 17 counts related to tax fraud, stemming from a variety of schemes to trim payroll liability while giving executives large tax-free bonuses and high-end untaxed perks. Weisselberg separately entered a guilty plea in the case.
The New York attorney general's civil case is scheduled to go to trial on Oct. 2. The judge in that case has rejected repeated attempts by Trump attorneys to push that date back.
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