What Trump’s children said at his New York civil fraud trial

Former president Donald Trump’s three eldest children, Donald Jr, Eric, and Ivanka, took the stand in the civil fraud trial against the Trump Organization

Oliver O'Connell
New York
,Gustaf Kilander
Friday 16 February 2024 14:52 GMT
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The main focus on Donald Trump’s myriad of legal woes shifted to Lower Manhattan in October as his civil fraud case came to trial at New York State’s Supreme Court.

A verdict in the case is expected on 16 February. New York Attorney General Letitia James is seeking $370m in penalties and other sanctions. Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled that Mr Trump inflated his wealth on financial statements given to banks, insurers, and others to sign agreements and get loans.

Ms James brought the case against the Trump Organization and maintains that, between 2011 and 2021, the company falsified financial statements regarding the development of several real estate projects.

This was done by over-stating valuations of the former president’s most prestigious holdings including his triplex penthouse at Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue in Midtown Manhattan and his current home at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Florida.

The Trump clan’s entire New York real estate empire was already in peril after a pre-trial ruling included the cancellation of their business licences in the state.

Three of Mr Trump’s adult children took the stand to testify under oath at the trial.

How were they involved in the case?

The answer is that Donald Trump Jr, Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump were all executives for the family business at the centre of the case.

All three of them were originally named as co-defendants alongside their father, former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, and former company controller Jeff McConney.

Donald Trump Jr (2nd L) and Eric Trump (3rd L) arrive at New York Supreme Court on 2 November 2023, for the fraud trial of the Trump Organization
Donald Trump Jr (2nd L) and Eric Trump (3rd L) arrive at New York Supreme Court on 2 November 2023, for the fraud trial of the Trump Organization (AFP via Getty Images)

Both Don Jr and Eric acted on their father’s behalf at the Trump Organization while he was president, running the company alongside Weisselberg.

They had also been closely involved in project developments prior to that including prestigious properties such as the Trump International Hotels in Washington DC and Chicago, and golf courses in Miami and Westchester County.

Judge Arthur Engoron’s earlier ruling before the trial started finding that fraud had occurred means that, as signatories to the underlying fraudulent documents, Don Jr and Eric’s testimony is key to understanding the workings of the company.

On the stand, they both failed to recall many details and argued that the blame for any fraud lies at the feet of the accountants and lawyers whom they hired to prepare financial documents that they then signed.

Donald Trump Jr on 1 November in the courtroom
Donald Trump Jr on 1 November in the courtroom (AP)

However, documentary evidence, including emails, appears to show them involved in appraisals and contributing to the preparation of statements of financial condition that were provided to banks.

Meanwhile, their sister Ivanka succeeded in removing herself from the list of defendants when an appeals court ruled in her favour in June last year, saying the claims against her were too old.

The former president’s oldest daughter had announced back in January 2017, ahead of her father’s inauguration, that she was stepping away from her job as an executive vice president at the Trump Organization to become an unpaid senior adviser inside his White House.

After her father’s term ended, she moved to Florida and has since distanced herself from the family business as well as her father’s political ambitions.

Eric Trump in court on 2 November
Eric Trump in court on 2 November (Getty Images)

Nevertheless, she was compelled to testify after the state’s lawyers argued that she was a key participant in some events discussed in the case – and to this day remains financially and professionally intertwined with the family business and its leaders.

Judge Engoron agreed, citing documents showing that Ivanka continued to have ties to some businesses in New York and still owns Manhattan apartments.

During her years at the Trump Organization, Ivanka was involved in negotiating and securing financing for various properties, including a lease and loan for the former Trump International Hotel in Washington DC, and loans for Trump’s Doral golf resort near Miami and the Trump International Hotel and Condominiums in Chicago, according to court filings.

According to the New York Attorney General’s office, Ivanka retained a financial interest in the Trump Organization’s operations even after leaving for the White House, including through an interest in the now-sold Washington hotel.

Donald Trump along with his children Eric (L), Ivanka and Donald Jr., arrive for a press conference January 11, 2017 at Trump Tower in New York
Donald Trump along with his children Eric (L), Ivanka and Donald Jr., arrive for a press conference January 11, 2017 at Trump Tower in New York (AFP via Getty Images)

Another appeal was denied in the midst of her brothers’ testimony.

In addition to the pre-trial ruling, there are six other charges for Judge Engoron to rule on, including falsifying business records, insurance fraud and conspiracy.

What did Trump’s children say?

The office of the New York attorney general pushed Mr Trump’s children on various kinds of communications going back more than a decade, including phone calls, emails, and conversations – most of which they claimed to be unable to recall.

The prosecution pressed Eric about a 2021 video call with Don Jr and others regarding the financial statements after they had become aware they were being investigated.

“I’m testifying that I don’t recall a specific call out of thousands of calls on every single day. There isn’t a question there were conversations in the organization about the statement of financial condition after this action started,” Eric said on the stand.

He claimed to have never seen any financial statements before he took charge of the company.

“I don’t believe I would have had knowledge of it,” he said, according to NBC News.

“I didn’t know anything about it really until this case came into fruition,” he subsequently added.

But the prosecution provided 2012 emails showing that Eric had used Mr Trump’s financial statements for a deal he was working on at the time. Another email showed a Trump Organization executive asking for his view on the evaluation of a property for the following year’s statement.

“So you did know about your father’s annual financial statement as of August 20, 2013, didn’t you?” the prosecution asked.

“It appears that way, yes,” Eric acknowledged.

While Mr Trump was president, both Eric and Don Jr signed the financial statements. Yet they both testified that they didn’t have much of a connection to the statements before their father became president. They said they didn’t question the numbers in the statements, but merely signed them off.

“I rely on the accountants,” Don Jr testified. “They were intimately involved in every aspect.”

“I relied on a very big accounting office,” Eric said. “I relied on one of the biggest accounting firms in the country. And I relied on a great legal team, and when they gave me comfort that the statement was perfect, I was more than happy to execute it.”

Ivanka, meanwhile, also sought to distance herself from any wrongdoing. She testified that she didn’t have anything to do with the statements and that she didn’t know how they were drawn up.

“I would assume he would have personal financial statements that he would work on with his own accountants, but those weren’t things that I was privy to,” she said. “It was not something that I was involved in.”

With reporting from the Associated Press

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