Political News

What we know about Trump under oath

Posted January 11, 2018 4:35 p.m. EST

— President Donald Trump is no stranger to testifying in legal cases, once estimating that he had given more than 100 depositions and testified in the same number of court hearings as well.

Trump's past depositions offer clues to how a high-stakes interview with special counsel Robert Mueller could play out -- with the presidency potentially on the line.

No stranger to testimony

CNN reported Thursday that Trump's advisers and friends are warning him not to grant a special counsel interview request, which Trump's legal team anticipates, and Trump himself said Wednesday that an interview would be "unlikely."

Trump has faced civil litigation in federal and state courts across the country, usually pertaining to his business empire and his Trump-branded properties. And he has pursued lawsuits of his own, including a defamation case against one of his biographers. Asked about the high volume of litigation during a 2012 deposition, Trump said it was part of the "normal course of business, unfortunately."

Over roughly the last decade, Trump has given at least seven depositions that were later publicly released. He also sat for a deposition in January 2017, weeks before his inauguration, in a lawsuit between his company and chef Jose Andres, who pulled out of a deal to open a restaurant in Trump's hotel in downtown Washington after Trump made disparaging comments about Mexican immigrants.

With all this experience, Trump doesn't always prepare. In 2015, Trump sued another chef who pulled out of his Washington hotel, Geoffrey Zakarian, and was asked how he had prepped for the deposition.

"I would say virtually nothing. I spoke with my counsel for a short period of time," Trump said, adding that he didn't examine any documents about the case before walking into the 2016 deposition.

Many of the cases include complex details about Trump's business dealings. While Trump often deferred to his children and his colleagues -- saying that they managed the day-to-day affairs -- he appeared comfortable at other times delving into the specifics of his contracts and properties.

In a 2013 deposition, Trump was asked what differentiates the Trump brand from other properties.

"I think room sizes, window sizes, where we do get involved. Even if we're not the developer, but we have a certain standard, just like Ritz-Carlton has," Trump said. "We all have standards, and whether it's ceiling heights or views or windows or the location of the building itself, all those things play into it."

Trump's demeanor

One of Trump's recent videotaped depositions was released last year. The video, from Trump's case against Zakarian, was taken during the heat of the presidential campaign in June 2016, but it shows a much calmer Trump than the man who gave fiery speeches on the trail.

For nearly the entire two-hour session, Trump sat with his arms crossed in front of his chest. At times, he leaned forward in his chair while listening to the lawyers peppering him with questions.

He usually gave quiet answers and didn't seem to say more than was necessary -- a different style than the freewheeling nature of his interaction with reporters as President.

Though in the Zakarian deposition, Trump did appear to revert to campaign mode for a moment.

"I've tapped into something," Trump said, arguing that his comments could have helped, not hurt, restaurant sales. "And I've tapped into illegal immigration. I've tapped into other things, also. But, you know, when you get more votes than anybody in the history of the (Republican) party, history of the party by far, more than Ronald Reagan, more than Richard Nixon, more than Dwight D. Eisenhower, who won the Second World War, you know, that's pretty mainstream, when you think about it."

Walking back big claims

Trump's 2006 defamation suit against biographer Tim O'Brien offers insights into how Trump reckons with previous grandiose claims and blatant falsehoods while under oath -- where it is a crime to lie.

Perhaps the best example came when Trump was quizzed about his net worth. Trump sued O'Brien in part because he was upset that the book disputed Trump's claims that he is a multi-billionaire.

Asked in a 2007 deposition if he always speaks honestly about his net worth, Trump said, "My net worth fluctuates, and it goes up and down with markets and with attitudes and with feelings, even my own feelings. But I try."

The lawyer asked for more explanation and Trump obliged.

"As to where the world is, where the world is going, and that can change rapidly from day to day. Then you have a September 11th, and you don't feel so good about yourself ... and you don't feel so good about New York City," he said. "Then you have a year later, and the city is as hot as a pistol. ... So yeah, even my own feelings affect my value of myself."

Under oath, Trump's big claims grew more nuanced. His lawsuit was dismissed in 2009.

Memory issues

Trump has claimed on several occasions over the years that he has an excellent memory. During the campaign, while defending his unfounded claim that he remembered hearing about thousands of American Muslims in New Jersey celebrating the 9/11 attacks, he declared that he has "a very good memory."

Also during the campaign, when Trump was under fire for appearing to mock a New York Times reporter with a physical disability, he said in a statement, "Despite having one of the all-time great memories I certainly do not remember him."

More recently, amid a spat in October over whether he remembered the name of a fallen US soldier killed in a controversial raid in Niger, Trump bragged that he has "one of the great memories of all time."

But Trump steered away from this claim while under oath in a 2015 deposition about Trump University, his beleaguered educational program that paid $25 million last year to settle a trio of fraud lawsuits.

First, Trump acknowledged that he once said he had "one of the all-time great memories." But then the opposing lawyer asked, "Do you believe you have one of the best memories in the world?"

"That I can't tell you," Trump responded. "I can't tell for other people, but I have a good memory."

The lawyer again pointed out that Trump once said his memory was "one of the best in the world."

"I don't remember saying that," Trump said. "As good as my memory is, I don't remember that, but I have a good memory. ... I don't remember that. I remember you telling me, but I don't know that I said it."

Despite touting his superior memory, Trump said "I don't remember" or "I don't recall" about 30 times during the same deposition, when asked about the internal workings of Trump University. It is common for people under oath to give broad answers and say they can't remember details.

'Disgusting' moments

During some depositions, Trump paused the proceedings to call out things he found "disgusting."

Attorney Elizabeth Beck told CNN during the presidential campaign that Trump was not pleased and had an "absolute meltdown" when she asked for a break from a 2011 deposition to pump breast milk.

"He got up, his face got red, he shook his finger at me and he screamed, 'You're disgusting, you're disgusting,' and he ran out of there," she said, explaining that the incident occurred before a pre-scheduled break in the testimony but that Trump decided at the moment that he didn't need it.

Trump's attorney Alan Garten does not dispute the quote and agreed Beck's actions were "disgusting."

A year later, in one of the Trump University depositions, Trump was perturbed when an opposing lawyer handed him a document that was an exhibit in the case. "Could you not lick your finger before you give me a document, please," Trump asked. "Would that be OK? It's disgusting."

Trump and his attorneys have also sparred with the opposing side over what they saw as "harassment." Trump once complained about a request to spell his last name, saying, "That's a form of harassment."