The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution contains several rights, including the right to “remain silent” in court and not provide evidence that is “self-incriminating”. Its original intent was to limit the government’s power to coerce people to make false confessions of guilt. The common use today of “taking the Fifth” or “pleading the Fifth” is that guilty persons can remain silent and not provide answers that would incriminate them.
I have always had problems about people who “take the Fifth”. If they are truly innocent, what is the problem in answering questions with truthful answers? In other words, only people who are guilty use this amendment, and they do so with the hope of evading or postponing the truth about their guilt. The truth usually wins out. Guilty actions eventually come into the light and appropriate punishment is meted out.
Back in 2016 when Donald Trump was running for president, he pronounced his opinion about those who take the Fifth. At a rally in Iowa, he criticized some of Hillary Clinton’s staff who had utilized the amendment to remain silent: “Her staffers taking the Fifth Amendment, how about that? You see the mob takes the Fifth. If you’re innocent, why are you taking the Fifth Amendment?” During a presidential debate, Trump affirmed that “taking the Fifth” was “disgraceful”. I agree with Trump. When people are innocent, they should answer court questions and answer with the truth.
On Wednesday of this week, Trump appeared in a deposition with the New York Attorney General who is leading a civil investigation of the Trump organization’s finances. It is alleged that the organization overestimated the value of the company’s assets in order to obtain loans at low interest rates. At the same time, it seems that the company underestimated the value of those same assets in order to pay lower taxes. Two of Trump’s children (Ivanka and Don, Jr., who hold positions of leadership in the organization) appeared in depositions recently and gave answers to the questions. Nevertheless, former president Trump “pled the Fifth” over 440 times on Wednesday and refused to answer simple questions regarding the company’s financial assets. More than 440 times! Clear answers could have proved his innocence if that were the true situation. The refusal to answer legitimate question, at the very least, gives the impression of guilt.
Noted legal scholar, Alan Dershowitz, who served as attorney for Trump, yesterday told reporters that he was shocked upon hearing that the former president used the Fifth Amendment 440 times if he has “nothing to hide”.
Given that there exist financial documents from the Trump organization, its innocence or guilt will soon come to light. A Scriptural maxim is that “we will be judged by our own words”. Consistency between our words and our deeds is important for our ethical integrity. I agree with Trump’s words six years ago regarding the Fifth Amendment, and therefore, and based upon his own words, I do not approve of his refusal to answer the deposition questions on Wednesday.