Over the years, former President Donald J. Trump has generally criticized other politicians for taking the Fifth Amendment. But on Wednesday, he invoked the right himself during a deposition at the office of the New York attorney general, and it wasn’t the first time.
Mr. Trump previously contended that invoking one’s Fifth Amendment rights was virtually an admission of wrongdoing.
“So there are five people taking the Fifth Amendment, like you see on the mob, right? You see the mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Iowa in 2016, referring to investigations into Hillary Clinton’s handling of potentially classified material as secretary of state.
Soon after, at a presidential debate, Mr. Trump doubled down on criticizing Ms. Clinton for using a private email server as secretary of state, again referencing the Fifth Amendment. “When you have your staff taking the Fifth Amendment, taking the Fifth, so they’re not prosecuted, when you have the man that set up the illegal server taking the Fifth, I think it’s disgraceful,” he said.
Yet in 1998, he suggested that President Bill Clinton should have done just that during the impeachment investigation into Clinton. “It’s a terrible thing for a president to take the Fifth Amendment, but he probably should have done it. I don’t think he could have done any worse than what’s happened,” Trump said.
On Wednesday, Mr. Trump was singing a different tune, however, when he arrived at the New York attorney general’s office in downtown Manhattan to give sworn testimony for a civil inquiry into his business practices.
In a statement emailed just before the questioning started, Mr. Trump acknowledged his shifting positions over the years, but said circumstances had changed. He portrayed himself as the victim of politically motivated investigations, not just by the New York attorney general, but by the Justice Department and other prosecutors who he asserted “have lost all moral and ethical bounds of decency.”
“I once asked, ‘If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?’” he wrote. “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.”
It was not the first time, however, that Mr. Trump had taken the fifth in a civil proceeding. During his divorce proceedings against Ivana Trump in 1990, he invoked his right against self-incrimination close to 100 times according to Wayne Barrett’s book “Trump: The Greatest Show on Earth.” Most of the questions he was avoiding concerned his infidelity.
Mr. Barrett added that the fifth was invoked “mostly in response to questions about ‘other women.’”