Trump’s lawyers are preparing his defence. He already claims he ‘won’

The former president’s lawyers begin to make their case at the trial’s halfway point

Alex Woodward
Monday 13 November 2023 12:48 GMT
Former Watergate prosecutor Nick Akerman says 'Trump is toast'

After six weeks and more than a dozen witnesses, Donald Trump and his attorneys are trying to put an end to a trial in lower Manhattan that could collapse the former president’s family business and his vast real-estate empire.

Lawyers with New York Attorney General Letitia James closed their case this week after Mr Trump and his three oldest children were questioned for more than 20 hours about years of business deals that allegedly defrauded banks, insurers and others with grossly inflated values of his net worth and assets.

On Thursday, Mr Trump’s attorneys – now with the case in their hands at the halfway point in the trial in New York Supreme Court – asked the judge for a verdict in their favour.

Judge Arthur Engoron, whose damning pretrial judgment already found the defendants liable for fraud, said he would take their arguments “under advisement” and issue a decision at another time. But he has previously indicated that he wants to hear the case through the schedule he assigned, up until the weekend before Christmas.

Mr Trump, who has repeatedly lashed out at the case, the attorney general and the judge, claimed on his Truth Social on Friday that he “TOTALLY WON”. Meanwhile, his attorneys are preparing to introduce their own long list of witnesses – starting on Monday with his oldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

The oldest Trump son already spent nearly two days on the witness stand, where he was grilled about his knowledge of his father’s statements of financial condition, the allegedly fraudulent documents at the heart of the case.

Ms James’s 2022 lawsuit argues that Mr Trump, his adult sons and their chief associates doctored those financial statements to exaggerate his net worth in order to meet financing terms for brand-building properties in the Trump Organization’s portfolio.

Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump claimed they had nothing to do with them. In his furious and meandering testimony, the former president downplayed their role entirely and called them “worthless” but admitted he would sometimes “look at them” and maybe offer “suggestions”.

Michael Cohen – Mr Trump’s former attorney and an executive in the Trump Organization – testified that he was “tasked” with coming up with “whatever number Mr Trump told us to”.

Minutes into his testimony last month, Cohen got to the heart of the case: his former boss instructed him to craft those documents around an “arbitrarily elected” value of his assets and net worth. When pressed by Mr Trump’s attorneys, he said Mr Trump never explicitly told him to do so, because he “speaks like a mob boss”.

During Ivanka Trump’s testimony, she was shown emails from Trump Organization accountants who appeared to point out that meeting those net worth requirements from lenders might be a “problem”.

When Ms Trump left the courthouse, Ms James told reporters at the base of the courthouse steps that the case comes down to “fraudulent statements about the financial condition that she benefited from.”

“Despite the fact that she was very, very nice, very friendly, facts basically demonstrate the truth,” she said.

The case strikes at the heart of a narrative that elevated Mr Trump’s public persona and built his political one.

A civil trial puts the Republican Party’s possible 2024 nominee under an unprecedented level of scrutiny that exposes his family, his business and his money – all in advance of his four upcoming criminal trials on charges of business fraud, withholding classified documents, and a conspiracy to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Judge Engoron’s pretrial decision in the fraud lawsuit notched a key victory for Ms James and state investigators, leaving a trial to determine Mr Trump’s legal obligation to pay for damages, not relitigate the merits of the case.

Ms James is seeking a ruling against the Trumps that would strip control of their properties and block them from entering any new commercial real estate leases in the state or from applying for loans from any New York bank for five years.

The Trumps also would be permanently banned from running any businesses in the state. Ms James also wants to recover $250m in profits from their alleged fraud.

While the former president’s attorneys make their case to the judge inside the courtroom, Mr Trump and his GOP allies have launched political threats to Judge Engoron and Ms James in an attempt to undermine the case against him.

Republican US Rep Elise Stefanik filed an ethics complaint against the judge days before the case resumed. Mr Trump – who has considered using federal law enforcement against his political enemies, if elected – demanded that Ms James be prosecuted.

After Mr Trump’s first criminal indictment in March, congressional Republicans began investigating the Manhattan prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, who brought the charges. Republican US Rep Jim Jordan also has tried to investigate Fani Willis, the Georgia prosecutor who charged Mr Trump for election interference.

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