Trump takes the Fifth in NY deposition; questions swirl about Mar-a-Lago search

·6 min read

Two days after the FBI searched the Florida estate of former President Donald Trump, the unprecedented action reverberates across Washington with Republicans chastising the Justice Department and others bracing for what it means in ongoing criminal investigations involving Trump, his allies and his family business.

Here's the latest:

  • 🏙️ Trump took the Fifth at a deposition, but it wasn't related to the Mar-a-Lago search: Trump arrived at the New York attorney general's office in New York City this morning for a deposition in the long-simmering investigation into his namesake Trump Organization, but he declined to answer questions. Here's a breakdown of the storm of investigations involving the ex-president. 

  • 📱 FBI seizes cellphone of GOP congressman: Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., said in a statement that while traveling Thursday morning with his family, his cellphone was confiscated by three FBI agents carrying a search warrant. Perry is a Trump ally who sought a pardon after the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol, according to testimony before the House committee investigating the riot.

  • 👮 Republicans wage war on DOJ and FBI: The party that typically touts its support for law enforcement has targeted the nation's top law enforcement arms in recent days. Check out our story

Trump says he invoked Fifth Amendment in deposition for New York investigation

Former President Donald Trump said in a statement Wednesday that he invoked the Fifth Amendment during his deposition under oath as part of the New York attorney general's civil investigation into the Trump Organization's finances.

"I once asked, 'If you're innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?' Now I know the answer to that question," Trump wrote in announcing his decision to invoke his right against self-incrimination.

"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."

James' investigation began after former Trump attorney Michael Cohen told federal lawmakers in 2019 that Trump regularly inflated the value of his properties and net worth to get better insurance and loan rates. Her office said in May that it was nearing the end of its probe and investigators had amassed substantial evidence that could support legal action, such as a lawsuit, against Trump, his company or both.

Since 2021, Trump has faced legal scrutiny in at least five independent federal and state inquiries that are both criminal and civil in nature. At least two investigations involve the 2020 election. A bipartisan House committee is digging into Trump's role in the Jan. 6 Capitol attack. New York's attorney general is investigating the Trump Organization's business practices. And a federal inquiry into presidential records is ongoing, and appears to have prompted a search by the FBI at his Florida estate. The latest action prompted Trump to make accusations of a "witch hunt" in all levels of government, including the bureau itself. However, FBI director Christopher Wray was appointed by Trump, while he was president.

– Ella Lee

Trump knows what FBI agents took from Mar-a-Lago and why, experts say

Former President Donald Trump knows what FBI agents took from his private club in Palm Beach and knows why they took it, former federal prosecutors said Tuesday.

Before leaving Mar-a-Lago on Monday after executing a search, FBI agents were legally required to leave behind the search warrant and an inventory listing what items were seized, Fort Lauderdale defense attorney Richard Serafini told the Palm Beach Post, part of the USA TODAY Network.

Plus, the search warrant would have listed what crimes agents believed may have been committed that prompted their unprecedented request to search the home of a past president, said former federal prosecutor David Weinstein.

If the documents agents left behind indicate they found little of importance, Trump could release them to the public, Weinstein said. The silence from Trump and his attorneys could mean agents alerted them that the former president is suspected of far more serious crimes than simply not turning over presidential records to the National Archives and Records Administration.

– Jane Musgrave, Palm Beach Post

The main gate at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate sits closed on Wednesday morning. The FBI searched the estate on Monday.
The main gate at former President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago estate sits closed on Wednesday morning. The FBI searched the estate on Monday.

Trump, DOJ held talks this summer about material at Mar-a-Lago, reports say

Attorneys for former President Donald Trump and Justice Department officials held discussions earlier this summer about material at Trump's Florida estate, even after more than a dozen boxes of records were returned to the National Archives much earlier.

In June, a small group of officials from the Justice Department and FBI met with Trump lawyers at Mar-a-Lago, a meeting first reported by CNN and confirmed by The Washington Post. The group made the trip to learn more about additional documents, potentially classified, that were stored at the former president's estate, according to reports.

On Tuesday, a day after the FBI executed a search warrant at Mar-a-Lago, Trump attorney Christina Bobb told The Washington Post, and confirmed to NBC News, that agents on Monday removed about a dozen boxes stored in the estate's basement.

The FBI had notified the Secret Service in advance of the law enforcement action, indicating the agency had a search warrant for the property, a person familiar with the action told USA TODAY.

The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly, said the Secret Service facilitated the FBI's entry to the property but did not participate in the search.

Timeline: Trump records investigation: From early red flags to the search at Mar-a-Lago

Historical comparison?: Watergate 'in reverse'? Historians and legal analysts pan Trump's claims and point to legal peril ahead

GOP's turn away from FBI

Republican lawmakers had sharp words for Attorney General Merrick Garland and the Justice Department following Monday's search at Mar-a-Lago.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy vowed to investigate the DOJ should Republicans take control of the House in midterm elections. The Twitter account of the House Judiciary Committee GOP was even more intense.

Republicans have been the party of law and order since the 1970s, with those three words mentioned in nearly every major GOP campaign since that time, said Mike Cornfield, an associate professor of political management at George Washington University who studies political rhetoric.

"They remain committed to that slogan when it comes to border control and Democrats and the children of Democrats, such as Hunter Biden, but otherwise it's a selective application of the principle," he said.

Read more on the GOP's response to DOJ here.

More reaction: Pence expresses 'deep concern' over Mar-a-Lago search, asks for 'full accounting' from Garland

Subpoenas, grand juries, more: Questions about Mar-a-Lago search? Here's how warrants, subpoenas and grand juries work

Trump huddles with House GOP a day after FBI search

Former President Donald Trump held a dinner meeting with a dozen House Republicans on Tuesday, and his guests said he radiated confidence despite the FBI search of his Florida home the previous day.

Rep. Jim Banks, R-Indiana, chairman of the Republican Study Committee, tweeted out a photo of Trump and his guests with their thumbs up. Banks said that "House conservatives are united in standing with President Trump. We will Make America Great Again!"

– David Jackson

Former President Donald Trump walks into Trump Tower in New York late Tuesday.
Former President Donald Trump walks into Trump Tower in New York late Tuesday.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mar-a-Lago search questions remain; Trump takes the Fifth in NY probe