On Monday, Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, will testify in a high-stakes case that could have a major impact on his New York business empire.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is suing Trump for civil fraud, demanding $250 million in penalties and an injunction against him conducting business in the state. Trump is testifying in the trial. James argues that Trump and his co-defendants committed persistent fraud in misrepresenting assets on financial statements to secure better terms on commercial real estate loans and insurance policies.
Although the former president faces no criminal charges, he has attended the trial for several days and has criticised it as a political witch hunt.
Trump and his co-defendants, including his adult sons, were found guilty of “persistent and repeated” fraud by Judge Arthur Engoron before trial began last month. Now the judge is assessing how much the Trumps will have to pay in damages for the riches they’ve allegedly acquired through dishonest business practises.
The state’s attorney general’s office is also investigating allegations of insurance fraud, insurance fraud conspiracy, fraudulent financial statement issuance, and conspiracy to falsify financial statements.
In preparation for the four criminal trials he faces next year as he campaigns to retake the president, Trump’s testimony on Monday will be the first time we get to witness how he handles tough interrogation.
Although the trial will not be broadcast, Trump’s testimony will be a major event in his 2024 presidential campaign, in which he has stressed the danger he faces in court as a reason why voters should give him another term in office.
What’s at risk for Trump, and what to watch for on Monday:
Trump is being prosecuted
Trump has been very critical of James for suing him. He claims the judge is unfairly ruling against him. He has also accused the law clerk to the judge of being biassed.
Trump’s behaviour throughout the trial has already been a source of contention, with the president having been fined twice for breaking a gag order by criticising the judge’s staff in public.
When the former president is sworn in to testify on Monday morning, those insults will be playing in the background. The attorney general’s staff will have him answer questions, and they’re likely to be very specific about Trump’s finances and the value of his properties.
The interrogation of Trump will be widely watched to see how he answers. The attorney general’s office reprimanded President Trump’s adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, for giving lengthy speeches rather than responding “yes” or “no” questions during their testimony. It’s common knowledge that Trump isn’t known for his brevity in public speeches.
Trump is notorious for making untrue statements, both large and minor, which could cause problems if he were speaking while under oath.
Trump, the defendant, will be limited in what he can say in court, but Trump, the candidate, will have no such restrictions when he addresses the cameras outside the courthouse.
Trump has made a habit of commenting everytime he enters or exits the courtroom, often using the opportunity to vent his frustration with the proceedings.
This is another reason Trump is in hot water. Trump seemed to violate Engoron’s gag order when he spoke to cameras outside the courtroom during Cohen’s testimony, accusing the “person sitting alongside” the judge of being biassed.
Trump was forced to appear in an impromptu hearing on the infringement after being pulled there by Engoron. Trump insisted he was referring to Cohen, not the clerical worker. Engoron stated his testimony was “not credible,” fining him $10,000 for the gag order violation.
The Importance of This Case for Trump
The civil action is significant to Trump because it challenges the foundation of his brand as a real estate mogul worth billions of dollars; the attorney general of New York is suing the former president, alleging that he inflated his net worth to avoid paying hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes.
James is suing to prevent Trump from doing business in New York and to dissolve his corporations, thus this case has very substantial implications for the Trump Organisation.
Trump, his two adult sons, the Trump Organisation, and many company executives have been accused by the attorney general of lying about Trump’s wealth by as much as $3.6 billion in order to qualify for more favourable terms on commercial real estate loans and insurance policies. A state’s attorney general’s expert witness testified last week that the stolen money amounted to $168 million.
Trump’s lawyers have rejected the charges, noting that asset values are highly subjective. They’ve also indicated an intention to appeal by calling the trial in Engoron’s courtroom biassed against the ex-president.
In testimony last week, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. distanced themselves from helping to prepare their father’s annual “statements of financial condition,” in which the values of Trump’s properties are said to have been inflated.
Cohen said Trump told him and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer, to inflate the property valuations, but then stated Trump didn’t tell him to do it explicitly but it was implied. According to Weisselberg’s testimony, the meeting never took place.
Despite Trump’s claims that Cohen’s inconsistencies exonerate him, Trump’s lawyers asked the court to dismiss the case, and Engoron “absolutely denied” their request, noting there was more evidence than just Cohen.
Attempts to seize Trump’s properties will be made.
Trump’s properties will be the focus of most of the questioning, especially his flagship projects like the 40 Wall Street building in New York, the Trump National Doral Miami golf course and resort, the Trump International Hotel & Tower in Chicago, and the Old Post Office project in Washington, DC. The attorney general has also claimed that Trump overstated the worth of his Trump Tower triplex.
The case also involves Trump’s Florida resort, Mar-a-Lago, and the tax status and valuation of that property.
Trump has claimed the judge’s finding that Mar-a-Lago is worth $18 million from September is fatally defective because of one sentence.
Alina Habba, an attorney for Trump, said that Mar-a-Lago might fetch $1 billion or more on the market. “The value is what someone is willing to pay. “The Trump properties are like the Mona Lisa,” Habba remarked.
Experts in the field of real estate have cast doubt on the tax assessor’s valuation of $18 million. While testifying in court, Engoron stated that he was not considering the property’s value.
However, Trump is not only expected to dispute the Mar-a-Lago valuation but also charges that the prices of his properties were inflated.
Family members give their testimony
Last week, Trump’s adult sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump appeared in court. This week, it’s Trump’s turn to testify. Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter, will testify on Wednesday after she decided not to appeal the judge’s order compelling her to do so.
An appeals court ruled that Ivanka Trump could not be named as a defendant in the case because the statute of limitations had passed.
The Trump team did not submit Donald Trump Jr. or Eric Trump to cross-examination. When Donald Trump is questioned by the attorney general’s staff, it is unclear if they will also question him.
Trump’s testimony is scheduled for Monday but might continue into Wednesday if things run long. (Tuesday is Election Day, so the court will be closed.)