By MICHAEL BALSAMO and MICHAEL R. SISAK Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Donald Trump was being questioned under oath Wednesday in the New York attorney general’s long-running civil investigation into his business dealings as a flurry of legal activity surrounds the former president.
Trump’s testimony comes just days after FBI agents searched his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as part of an unrelated federal probe into whether he took classified records when he left the White House.
He arrived at the New York attorney general’s office shortly before 9 a.m. in a multivehicle motorcade. As he left Trump Tower in New York City for the short ride downtown, he waved to reporters assembled outside but did not comment.
The civil investigation, led by state Attorney General Letitia James, involves allegations that Trump’s company, the Trump Organization, misstated the value of prized assets like golf courses and skyscrapers, misleading lenders and tax authorities.
“In New York City tonight. Seeing racist N.Y.S. Attorney General tomorrow, for a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. history!” Trump wrote beforehand on Truth Social, invoking his oft-repeated claims about James, who is Black, and the investigation.
“My great company, and myself, are being attacked from all sides,” Trump wrote beforehand on Truth Social, the social media platform he founded. “Banana Republic!”
Messages seeking comment were left with James’ office and with Trump’s lawyer.
Trump’s testimony is happening at both a critical point in James’ investigation and midway through a pivotal week in his post-presidency.
In May, James’ office said that it was nearing the end of its probe and that investigators had amassed substantial evidence that could support legal action, such as a lawsuit, against Trump, his company or both.
The Republican billionaire’s deposition — a legal term for sworn testimony that’s not given in court — is one of the few remaining missing pieces, the attorney general’s office said.
Two of Trump’s adult children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka, testified in the investigation in recent days, two people familiar with the matter said. The people were not authorized to speak publicly and did so on condition of anonymity.
The three Trumps’ testimony had initially been planned for last month but was delayed after the July 14 death of the former president’s ex-wife, Ivana Trump, the mother of Ivanka, Donald Jr. and another son, Eric Trump, who sat for a deposition in James’ investigation in 2020.
On Friday, the Trump Organization and its longtime finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, will be in court seeking dismissal of tax fraud charges brought against them last year in the Manhattan district attorney’s parallel criminal probe.
James, a Democrat, has said in court filings that her office has uncovered “significant” evidence that Trump’s company “used fraudulent or misleading asset valuations to obtain a host of economic benefits, including loans, insurance coverage, and tax deductions.”
James alleges the Trump Organization exaggerated the value of its holdings to impress lenders or misstated what land was worth to slash its tax burden, pointing to annual financial statements given to banks to secure favorable loan terms and to financial magazines to justify Trump’s place among the world’s billionaires.
The company even exaggerated the size of Trump’s Manhattan penthouse, saying it was nearly three times its actual size — a difference in value of about $200 million, James’ office said.
Trump has denied the allegations, explaining that seeking the best valuations is a common practice in the real estate industry. He says James’ investigation is part of a politically motivated “witch hunt” and that her office is “doing everything within their corrupt discretion to interfere with my business relationships, and with the political process.”
“THERE IS NO CASE!” Trump said in a February statement, after Manhattan Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that James’ office had “the clear right” to question Trump and other principals in his company.
While James has explored suing Trump or his company, the Manhattan district attorney’s office has long pursued a parallel criminal investigation.
That probe had appeared to be progressing toward a possible criminal indictment, but slowed after a new district attorney, Alvin Bragg, took office in January.
A grand jury that had been hearing evidence disbanded. The top prosecutor who had been handling the probe resigned after Bragg raised questions internally about the viability of the case.
Bragg has said his investigation is continuing, which means that Trump could invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and decline to answer questions from James’ investigators.
According to the subpoena issued by James’ office, Trump was to appear in person at the attorney general’s office, located in a Manhattan office tower that has doubled as the fictional conglomerate Waystar Royco’s headquarters on HBO’s “Succession.”
As vociferous as Trump has been in defending himself in written statements and on the rally stage, legal experts say the same strategy could backfire in a deposition setting because anything he says could potentially be used against him or his company in the criminal investigation. No former president has even been charged with a crime.
In fighting to block the subpoenas, lawyers for the Trumps argued New York authorities were using the civil investigation to get information for the criminal probe and that the depositions were a ploy to avoid calling them before a criminal grand jury, where state law requires they be given immunity.
Last summer, spurred by evidence uncovered by James’ office, Manhattan prosecutors filed charges against Weisselberg and the Trump Organization. Prosecutors said Weisselberg collected more than $1.7 million in off-the-books compensation.
Weisselberg and the company have pleaded not guilty.
Weisselberg and Eric Trump each invoked the Fifth Amendment more than 500 times when questioned by James’ lawyers during separate depositions in 2020, according to court papers.
The former president could choose to do the same, but it’s likely “he’ll claim lack of knowledge on many questions,” New York University law professor Stephen Gillers said.
That could be a successful strategy, since Trump is known as more of a “big-picture guy” Gillers said. “So he’ll answer the big-picture questions and those answers will be general enough to keep him out of trouble, or so his lawyers will hope.”
“On the other hand, his impetuosity makes him a lawyer’s nightmare and his overconfidence may lead him astray. Whoever questions him will encourage that,” the professor added.
Once her investigation wraps up, James could decide to bring a lawsuit and seek financial penalties against Trump or his company, or even a ban on them being involved in certain types of businesses.