NEW YORK — Frustrated in their unlikely bid to achieve an early verdict, Donald Trump’s lawyers will begin calling their own witnesses Monday in the civil fraud trial in New York that threatens the former president’s real estate empire.
First: Donald Trump Jr., who will return to the witness stand two weeks after state lawyers questioned him during a significant portion of the trial that also featured testimony from his father and siblings Eric and Ivanka Trump.
Trump’s eldest son, executive vice president of the Trump Organization, originally testified on Nov. 1-2. He said he never worked on the annual financial statements that are the center of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit. He said he relied on the company’s former chief financial officer and outside accounts to verify his accuracy.
James alleges that Donald Trump, his company and executives, including Eric and Donald Jr., overstated his wealth by billions of dollars in financial statements submitted to banks, insurers and others. The documents were used to guarantee loans and close deals. She seeks more than $300 million in what she says were ill-gotten gains and a ban on the defendants from doing business in New York.
Before the trial, Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that the defendants committed fraud by inflating their net worth and the value of their assets in their financial statements. He imposed a punishment that could strip Trump of prominent properties like Trump Tower, though an appeals court allows him to maintain control for now.
The Trumps have denied any wrongdoing. His lawyers maintain that the state failed to meet “any legal standard” to prove allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. The state dismissed his case last Wednesday after six weeks of testimony from more than two dozen witnesses. Among them: company insiders, accountants, bank officials and Trump fixer-turned-enemy Michael Cohen.
The trial continues after Engoron rejected the defense’s request last week to end it early through what is known as a directed verdict. Engoron did not comment on the request, but indicated that the trial would go ahead as planned.
Trump attorney Christopher Kise, seeking a verdict acquitting Trump and other defendants, argued last Thursday that the state’s case involved only “successful and profitable loan transactions” and that “there is no victim.” There is no plaintiff. “There is no harm.”
After testifying in early November, Donald Trump Jr. echoed his father’s claims that the case was “purely a political persecution” brought by James, a Democrat, to reduce Trump’s chances as a front-runner for the nomination 2024 Republican presidential election.
“I think it’s a really scary precedent for New York; for me, for example, before I even have my day in court, I’m apparently guilty of fraud for trusting my accountants to do, wait for it: bookkeeping,” Trump Jr. said. he told reporters on November 2.
On Monday, Trump Jr. will first be questioned by defense attorneys representing him, his father and other defendants. A state attorney is also expected to question him during cross-examination. Trump Jr. is expected to testify on Monday and Tuesday, followed by a tax attorney who also testified as a state witness.
The defense also plans to call several expert witnesses as part of its case in an attempt to rebut testimony from state witnesses that Trump’s financial statements gave him better loan terms, insurance premiums and were a factor in the deal.
When he became president in 2017, Donald Trump turned over day-to-day management of his company to Eric and Donald Trump Jr. and named Trump Jr. as trustee of a trust he established to hold his assets while in office.
In Donald Trump Jr.’s earlier testimony, when asked if he ever worked on his father’s “balance sheet,” the scion said, “Not that I remember.” Trump Jr. said he approved the filings as trustee, but left the job to outside accountants and the company’s then-chief financial officer and co-trustee, Allen Weisselberg.
“I had an obligation to listen to people who knew those things intimately,” Trump Jr. testified. “If they proposed something to me, I was not working on the document, but if they tell me that it is accurate, based on their accounting evaluation of all the materials. These people had incredible intimate knowledge and I trusted that.”