Video released on Tuesday showed Donald Trump answering questions from the New York state attorney general, Letitia James, in a deposition in a civil fraud case late last summer.
Questioned about his financial affairs, the former president repeatedly invoked his fifth-amendment right against self-incrimination – part of a refusal to answer he repeated more than 400 times.
“Anyone in my position not taking the fifth amendment would be a fool, an absolute fool,” Trump said.
On the advice of counsel, Trump said, he “respectfully decline[d] to answer the questions under the rights and privileges afforded to every citizen under the United States constitution”.
The footage was obtained and reported by CBS News.
Three of Trump’s children – Donald Trump Jr, Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump – were also deposed by James during an investigation which lasted for three years.
In his deposition, Trump repeatedly claimed to have been treated unfairly.
James told him: “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?”
Trump replied: “I think.”
James asked: “Is that yes?”
Trump said: “I don’t know what I did wrong, but the answer is yes, I do understand.”
Trump was also warned about the risk of perjury.
Reading a prepared statement, he complained of “the greatest witch-hunt in the history of our country” and called James “a renegade and out of control prosecutor”.
He added: “This whole thing is very unfair.”
Trump acknowledged the deposition and his refusal to answer questions at the time, saying in a statement: “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.”
The deposition took place on 10 August, two days after Trump’s Florida home, Mar-a-Lago, was raided by FBI agents looking for classified documents.
In his statement, Trump said the raid “wiped out any uncertainty” about whether he should take the fifth in his deposition by James.
“I have absolutely no choice because the current administration and many prosecutors in this country have lost all moral and ethical bounds of decency,” he said.
In late September 2022, James announced a wide-ranging civil suit against Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr, Ivanka Trump, Eric Trump and the Trump Organization.
James said Trump “falsely inflated his net worth by billions of dollars to unjustly enrich himself and to cheat the system, thereby cheating all of us. He did this with the help of the other defendants.”
Saying “the number of grossly inflated asset values is staggering”, the suit seeks to bar the Trumps from serving as executives in New York and to prohibit the company from acquiring commercial real estate or receiving loans from New York-based entities for five years.
In November, Trump sued James, over what he called a “relentless, pernicious, public, and unapologetic crusade” against him.
Ever litigious, on Monday Trump announced a near-$50m lawsuit against the Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward and the publisher Simon & Schuster, over an audio book, The Trump Tapes, for which Trump says he did not give permission.
Woodward and Simon & Schuster said the suit was “without merit and we will aggressively defend against it”.
Even as he steps up the pace in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination in 2024, Trump faces legal jeopardy on numerous fronts aside from the New York state civil suit.
Prosecutors in New York City who secured a conviction against Trump’s chief financial officer on tax offences have said they are looking again at a hush money payment to a porn star, made in 2016.
Also in New York, Trump faces lawsuits from E Jean Carroll, a writer who says he raped her in the mid-1990s, an allegation Trump denies.
The Department of Justice and state authorities are investigating Trump’s attempt to overturn the 2020 election and his incitement of the US Capitol attack, regarding which the House January 6 committee made four criminal referrals.
The justice department also continues to investigate Trump’s retention of classified documents.
On Monday, in a post to his Truth Social platform, Trump complained of “Democrat D.A.’s [sic], attorney generals and prosecutors” who he said were “very DANGEROUS to the well being of our country”.
He also said he was being “hit” to keep him from running for the White House, “and all because I am leading by sooo much”.