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Donald Trump Finally Showed Up for His New York Deposition & Gave Us Nothing

Donald Trump adjusts a microphone and glares from a podium.

Donald Trump finally showed up to give his deposition in the New York attorney general’s ongoing investigation into his business practices. However, “show up” is pretty much the full extent of what he did. It doesn’t sound like he actually said anything at all, choosing instead to invoke his Fifth Amendment right to avoid self-incrimination.

NY AG Letitia James has been investigating whether Trump illegally inflated the value of his assets, including his hotels and golf clubs. Shortly after questioning began Wednesday, his office released a statement saying he had “no choice” but to invoke the Fifth Amendment, calling the investigation a “politically motivated Witch Hunt.”

Trump also cited the recent FBI search of his Florida residence in his statement. He implied that the timing of the search—”just two days prior to this deposition”—was proof of said witch hunt, ignoring the fact that this deposition was supposed to take place last month but was courteously rescheduled after the death of Trump’s ex-wife Ivana.

Trump’s unending hypocrisy

Donald Trump sure has changed his mind regarding the Fifth Amendment. On multiple occasions he’s claimed that only guilty people—and specifically “the mob”—need to invoke the Fifth.

Trump’s communications team clearly knew people would be ready with these clips and appear to have tried to get ahead of the issue. In his lengthy statement, Trump wrote, “I once asked, ‘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.”

What Happens When Someone Pleads the Fifth?

The Fifth Amendment guarantees that a person does not have to offer information that could incriminate themselves. It applies to criminal and civil cases, as well as cases in other government settings, and allows people—both defendants and witnesses—to remain silent when being questioned. (Despite the common phrasing of “pleading” the Fifth, it is not a plea like “guilty” or “not guilty,” but rather an option to invoke during questioning.)

Despite what Trump has claimed, it is not just guilty people who can benefit from taking the Fifth. However, when Trump and his allies spend hours in depositions invoking the Fifth hundreds of times, in response to every single question, it’s hard not to read into that.

As the AP notes, prosecutors in criminal cases are not allowed to instruct juries to read into a defendant or witness pleading the Fifth. “But in civil cases, jurors generally are allowed to hold silence against a defendant or witness,” the outlet writes. “Then there’s the court of public opinion.”

In Trump’s case, our reactions to his refusal to talk are bound to come down to confirmation bias. If we think he has something (or a lot of things) to hide, this will reinforce that idea. His supporters, meanwhile, are sure to think he’s just standing up to the “deep state” “witch hunt” or whatever.

Why would Trump invoke the Fifth Amendment?

Trump has proven time and time again that he loves to defend himself in these sorts of legal scenarios. He loves to ramble and to try to spar with lawyers. But while this is a civil investigation, the Manhattan district attorney’s office has a similar criminal investigation on the books. That investigation has gone dormant recently but anything Trump said here that was even slightly incriminating—any misstep at all—would almost certainly reignite those flames and could be used against him.

(image: Brandon Bell/Getty Images)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.