- Associated Press
Highlights of Donald Trump’s Hours on the Witness Stand at His New York Civil Fraud Trial
11:04 JST, November 8, 2023
NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump went off. Again and again. Making the witness stand at his civil fraud trial his podium, the former president laid into the judge who’ll decide the case and the New York attorney general who’s suing him.
During 3½ hours of testimony on Monday, the Republican denied Attorney General Letitia James’ allegations that he duped banks by exaggerating his wealth on financial statements used to make deals and secure loans.
“There was no victim. There was no anything,” he said.
He bragged about his riches, saying he has “a lot of cash” and described one of the grown sons he put in charge of his company as a “hard working boy.” He said of his priorities while president: “My threshold was China, Russia and keeping our country safe.”
Trump’s often verbose responses — replete with anecdotes about development projects, the intricacies of property valuations and complaints that he was a victim of a “political witch hunt” — led a frustrated Judge Arthur Engoron to warn: “This is not a political rally.”
Here are some highlights from Trump’s day on the witness stand:
‘A VERY UNFAIR TRIAL’
Trump made his grievances a focal point of his testimony, amplifying complaints the 2024 Republican front-runner has made for weeks in front of TV cameras outside the courtroom.
He directed a lot of his ire against the judge, who issued a decision before the trial even began holding Trump liable for fraud.
“He ruled against me without knowing anything about me,” Trump testified. “He ruled against me, and he said I was a fraud before he knew anything about me, nothing about me. I think it’s fraudulent, the decision. I think it’s fraudulent. The fraud is on the court, not on me.”
During the trial, the judge has fined Trump $15,000 for violating a limited gag order barring attacks on court staff. But nothing in the order bars the former president from criticizing the judge.
Engoron did try to clamp down on Trump’s speechifying during his testimony.
“I’m not here to hear what he has to say. I’m here to hear him answer questions,” Engoron told one of Trump’s lawyers. The former president retorted: “This is a very unfair trial, very, very. And I hope the public is watching it.”
Engoron’s admonition only gave Trump more ammunition to claim he was being mistreated. Trump later posted Engoron’s “not here to hear what he has to say” comment to his Truth Social account.
On the witness stand, Trump suggested the judge should’ve showed him deference as a former president, testifying, “How do you rule against somebody and call them a fraud, as the president of the United States, who did a great job?”
STATEMENTS ‘WEREN’T VERY BADLY NEEDED’
In defending his business practices, Trump sought to downplay the importance of the annual statements of financial condition at issue in the case. He testified that the documents, which listed values for his properties and assets, were “nice to see” but “weren’t very badly needed” to obtain financing and make deals.
Even when banks required Trump to provide copies of his financial statements as part of a loan agreement, he testified that they really wanted to know if he had enough cash to cover the loan. Trump testified that he typically kept $300 million to $400 million in the bank, saying, “I’ve had a lot of cash for a long time.”
“They were not really documents that the banks paid much attention to,” Trump testified. “They looked at the deal. They looked at the asset. If it is real estate, they looked at the location.”
Retired Deutsche Bank official Nicholas Haigh testified earlier in the trial that the bank, which loaned Trump hundreds of millions of dollars, would look to his financial statements to ensure that his “financial strength is being maintained.”
Trump testified that he relied on two longtime Trump Organization executives and an outside accounting firm to prepare his financial statements. He said ex-CFO Allen Weisselberg would give him a draft before each year’s statement was finalized and that he’d “look it over and maybe have a suggestion.”
“But it wasn’t very important,” Trump testified. “You’ve made it important. But it wasn’t very important to me.”
A ‘VERY, VERY POWERFUL’ DISCLAIMER
Trump testified that he had no qualms with how his financial statements turned out and that, if anything, they undervalued some of his properties. Regardless, he said, the statements had a “disclaimer clause that was very, very powerful” that absolved him and his company of responsibility.
Trump said the disclaimer instructed banks and others: “Do your own due diligence. Do your own work. Do your own study. Don’t take anything from this statement for granted.”
The disclaimer said, among other things, that the financial statements weren’t audited by outside accountants.
Trump mentioned the disclaimer more than a dozen times, at one point irking Engoron, whose pretrial ruling found that the clause didn’t insulate Trump from liability.
“No, no, no. We are not going to hear about the disclaimer clause,” the judge bellowed. “If you want to know about the disclaimer clause, read my opinion again, or for the first time, perhaps.”
“Well, you are wrong on the opinion,” Trump responded.
‘A VERY SAD THING’ FOR EX-CFO
As Trump wrapped up his testimony, he expressed sorrow for Weisselberg, his longtime finance chief who pleaded guilty and served jail time last year for evading taxes on pricey company-paid perks, including a Manhattan apartment, luxury cars and private school tuition for his grandchildren.
At a trial largely built on Weisselberg’s testimony, Trump’s company was convicted last year of helping executives dodge taxes on such perks. The Trump Organization was ordered to pay a $1.6 million fine.
“It was a sad, very sad thing,” Trump testified. “People went after him viciously and violently because he happened to work for me.”
Trump testified that he’d learned of Weisselberg’s tax misdeeds only through last year’s trial, where the ex-executive testified that his schemes were unknown to his boss. Despite the revelation about his trusted lieutenant, Trump said he never thought to go back and review Weisselberg’s work.
“The education of his grandchildren — that is going to be some kind of a breach where you want to put a man in jail? It’s a very sad thing,” Trump lamented.
‘A DISGRACE’ AND ‘DISTRACTIONS’
Trump looked away from Attorney General James and sneered as he walked past her on the way into court. On the witness stand, he tore into the Democrat, accusing her of pursuing him to advance her political career.
“She’s a political hack, and this a disgrace that a case like this is going on,” Trump testified, adding that James “should be ashamed of herself.”
Trump also directed his enmity at Kevin Wallace, the lawyer from James’ office who was questioning him, saying: “People like you go around and try and demean me and try and hurt me. Probably for political reasons. In her case, definitely for political reasons.”
James made a short-lived run for New York governor in 2021 before winning reelection as attorney general last year.
Outside court Monday, James said Trump was “engaging in distractions and engaging in name calling” to steal attention from the evidence against him.
AT MAR-A-LAGO, ‘FOREVER’ ISN’T NECESSARILY FOREVER
Trump suggested he or his heirs could someday depart from a decades-old agreement that limits the use of his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Trump’s financial statements have valued the sprawling Palm Beach club as high as $739 million, based on what James’ office argues is a false premise that it could be sold as a private residence. Real estate agents say it’s possible it could fetch $1 billion as a home. Trump claims the property is now worth up to $1.5 billion.
In 2002, Trump signed an agreement with the National Trust for Historic Preservation that limited Mar-a-Lago’s use to a social club. From the stand, Trump argued that language in the document stating that he did “intend to forever” use the estate as a club didn’t necessarily mean forever.
“It doesn’t say I will. It says ‘intend,'” Trump testified, adding: “I would, personally, never change it. If somebody later on, including my children, if they want to change it, I believe they would have a right to do that.”
Shown a 2003 article in The Palm Beach Post that quoted him saying “it will forever be a club,” Trump responded, “I think that was said with bravado, as opposed to with legal intent.”
Trump acknowledged benefiting from the deal, testifying that as a club “you pay much less tax.”
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