Legal Expert Shares The Truth About Pleading The 5th During A Deposition - Exclusive

At a scheduled deposition with the New York state attorney general's office in August 2022, former President Donald Trump "pleaded the 5th" amendment, referring to the 5th amendment in the U.S. Constitution. The legal inquiry was related to alleged Trump Organization financial and tax malfeasance, according to CNN. As outlined in the U.S. Constitution, the 5th amendment offers several protections, such as the right to a grand jury and protection against self-incrimination. It also protects the accused against double jeopardy (via Cornell Law).

Though Trump was well within his rights to plead the 5th in this instance, what might the move mean going forward in the New York state attorney general's case, and what could the decision signal about Trump's potential guilt? Speaking exclusively with Grunge, Joshua Ritter, a former Los Angeles county prosecutor and current defense attorney with the law office Werksman, Jackson & Quinn, says though it's tempting to assume that when someone chooses to plead the 5th, it means "where there's smoke there's fire," this isn't always the case.

The 5th amendment protects against self-incrimination even if someone is innocent

According to L.A. attorney Josh Ritter, when a defendant chooses to plead the 5th, it means their testimony could implicate them in a crime, even if they had nothing to do with the crime in question. As Ritter goes on to note, "Given Trump's current situation, which includes both an ongoing criminal investigation which led to the FBI document seizure at Mar-a-Lago, as well as the New York Attorney General's civil investigation into his business practices, it's not at all surprising that his attorneys at this stage are telling him not to testify to anything."

The 5th amendment's protections are somewhat limited, though. "You can't take the 5th forever. Opposing counsel can challenge and ask a judge to review the validity of your refusal to testify on 5th Amendment grounds," Ritter says. "If a judge determines that someone — like Trump — pleading the 5th is valid and that their testimony could criminally implicate them, then that could strongly imply that there is some criminal wrongdoing they were involved with, Ritter adds. A person's refusal to testify also in no way stymies the attorney general's office's ongoing criminal investigation. "It can go on, with or without [their] cooperation," Ritter says.

A 4-hour deposition with attorneys general

Naturally, the former president didn't take kindly to being questioned by lawyers from the New York state attorney general's office. Per CNN, on Wednesday morning, he posted on Truth Social — his self-made social media outlet — that he would be "seeing" New York Attorney General Letitia James "for a continuation of the greatest Witch Hunt in U.S. history! My great company, and myself, are being attacked from all sides. Banana Republic!" Trump reacted similarly to the recent FBI search of his Mar-a-Lago property, saying (via The New York Times), "After working and cooperating with the relevant government agencies, this unannounced raid on my home was not necessary or appropriate ... Such an assault could only take place in broken, Third-World Countries," ending, "They even broke into my safe!" 

During the four-hour deposition, Trump was encircled by no less than 10 assistant attorneys general, each taking notes while he faced off against Assistant New York Attorney General Kevin Wallace. When declining to give an answer in citation of the 5th amendment, he reportedly said "same answer" again and again. Regarding his taking of the 5th, Trump also stated to the public, "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." 

A family affair

It wasn't only the former president who gave a deposition recently. Both Ivanka Trump and Donald Trump Jr. sat with attorneys general, as well. As CNN says, Ivanka's deposition took place on August 3, and Donald Jr.'s the Thursday prior. By all accounts, they were supposed to give depositions earlier, but the death of their mother Ivana postponed the proceedings. 

Not much is known about Ivanka's deposition, only that it was kept hush-hush and behind closed doors. Donald Jr., it seems, did not follow in his father's footsteps by taking the 5th amendment. What he did say, however, remains unknown. Lawyers for the siblings refused to comment, as did both the Trump Organization and the New York attorney general office. 

Back in 2020, as CNN cites, Eric Trump also gave a deposition regarding the ongoing investigation into the Trump Organization's financial goings on. At the time, a source stated that the organization was believed to have "improperly inflated the value of Mr. Trump's assets on financial statements in order to secure loans and obtain economic and tax benefits." One such area of investigation involved looking into a $21 million tax deduction on the "lost development value" of Seven Springs, an estate of Trump's located in Westchester County.

Only time will tell whether or not the Trump family's depositions will contribute to the discovery or not of financial improprieties conducted by the Trump Organization.