With a national election on the horizon in just 12 months, former U.S. president and current presidential candidate Donald Trump was embroiled in four separate legal indictments as of this writing. Two of the indictments were federal. The remaining two were state indictments, one brought by the state of Georgia and another by New York. The New York case is unique in that it's a civil trial, not a criminal case. Also, there's no jury.
As The New York Times reported, the civil trial stems from a lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James that accuses Trump, his companies and his sons of "fraudulently inflating the value of assets to obtain favorable loans and insurance deals." James is suing Trump for $250 million and seeking to bar him from conducting business in the state.
In September, prior to the start of the weeks-long trial, Judge Arthur Engoron, who is overseeing the case, ruled that Trump had committed fraud and for decades had lied about the value of his real estate empire and his own net worth.
For example, Engoron argued that Trump valued his three-story Trump Tower penthouse after claiming it measured nearly three times its actual size, as The Associated Press (AP) reported.
His ruling, in a phase of the case known as summary judgment, resolved a key claim in James’ lawsuit, but several others remained, which Engoron must still decide on, along with James’ request for $250 million in penalties, AP reported.
Trump's attorneys have denied the allegations and said that banks probably didn’t rely on his financial statements anyway when determining whether to lend him money, per The AP.
On Nov. 6, Trump took the stand to testify for the first time in the case. Here are some key takeaways from news coverage of the testimony.
Trump's Testimony Resembled a Campaign Rally
CNN reported that Trump's remarks from the witness stand sounded a lot like the speeches he has given on the campaign trail, including verbal attacks on both James and Engoron:
Trump's campaign comes to the courtroom: The former president’s rhetoric at times during his testimony might as well have been at one of his rallies in front of supporters. He went after the attorney general. The judge. And the “political witch hunt” that he’s been railing against for years now. On the witness stand, the charged rhetoric was even more remarkable, as he attacked the judge sitting right next to him, with James in the courtroom watching his testimony just feet away. “The fraud is on the court, not on me,” Trump said.
Engoron Threatened to Excuse Trump
ABC News reported that Engoron, at one point, threatened to excuse Trump from the stand due to the nature of his testimony:
The judge directed most of his frustration toward Trump attorney Chris Kise, and at one point threatened to excuse Trump from the stand and "draw every negative inference I can."
"Mr. Kise, can you control your client? This is not a political rally. This is a courtroom," Engoron said. "I beseech you to control him, if you can. If you can't, I will."
When Trump attorney Alina Habba attempted to push back, Engoron shouted, "Sit down already! Sit down."
After a moment's pause, Trump weighed in.
"This is a very unfair trial," he said. "I hope the public is watching."
Trump Acknowledged Valuation of Assets Was Sometimes 'High'
The Boston Globe reported that, while Trump devoted some of his testimony to statements of a political nature, he did acknowledge that in some cases the valuation of his assets was high:
When Kevin Wallace of the attorney general’s office asked Trump about the value of his assets on the financial statements, Trump notably acknowledged that he thought his apartment — the size and worth of which has been understated before — was valued “high,” according to CNN.
James alleges Trump claimed for years that his penthouse was 30,000 square feet when in reality, the Trump Tower triplex is less than 11,000 square feet.
Trump also said he thought the values on his financial statements were at times “high and low,” CNN reported. He testified that “Mar-A-Lago was very underestimated” and that “40 Wall St. was very underestimated for its tremendous value.”
Wallace later pointed to a 2017 financial statement that showed the value of the Trump Tower apartment dropping from $327 million in 2016 to approximately $117 million in 2017.
In recent weeks and while taking the witness stand, Trump defended his financial disclosures by pointing to a clause that he believes absolves him of responsibility. That clause reportedly warns lenders to do their own research and calculations rather than relying on the facts and figures stated in the disclosures.
"There's a disclaimer clause where you don't have to get sued by the attorney general of New York," Trump said while on the stand.
James Reportedly Laughed at Trump in Courtroom
The Washington Post published four takeaways from the trial, including one that specifically concentrated on James' responses – both inside and outside of the courtroom – to Trump's remarks:
During his testimony, Trump said that James didn’t “know what 40 Wall Street” — one of his properties — was. James reportedly laughed at the statement in the courtroom. Her office later tweeted the remark while adding: “Don’t tell, I can see it from my office window.”
James also delivered a statement after Trump’s testimony, criticizing him for trying to make a scene.
“Mr. Trump obviously can engage in all of these distractions, and that is exactly what he did,” James said, adding that Trump also engaged in name-calling.
“But I will not be bullied. I will not be harassed. This case will go on.”
What's Next for the Civil Trial?
Trump's daughter Ivanka is expected to take the stand on Nov. 8. The state is then expected to rest its case after her testimony.
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Blake, Aaron. “Analysis | 4 Things We Learned from Trump’s Testimony in the New York Fraud Trial.” The Washington Post, 6 Nov. 2023, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2023/11/06/trump-trial-testimony-takeaways/.
Charalambous, Peter, et al. “5 Takeaways from Trump’s Fraud Trial Testimony.” ABC News, 6 Nov. 2023, https://abcnews.go.com/US/5-takeaways-trumps-fraud-trial-testimony/story?id=104670966.
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Larson, Shannon. “11 Key Takeaways from Donald Trump’s Testimony - The Boston Globe.” BostonGlobe.com, 6 Nov. 2023, https://www.bostonglobe.com/2023/11/06/nation/donald-trump-civil-fraud-trial-new-york-2/.
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Sisak, Michael R. “Judge Rules Donald Trump Defrauded Banks and Insurers While Building Real Estate Empire.” The Associated Press, 26 Sept. 2023, https://apnews.com/article/donald-trump-letitia-james-fraud-lawsuit-1569245a9284427117b8d3ba5da74249.
Spencer, Terry. “Is Mar-a-Lago Worth $1 Billion? Trump’s Winter Home Valuations Are at the Core of His Fraud Trial.” The Associated Press, 9 Oct. 2023, https://apnews.com/article/trump-maralago-lawsuit-palm-beach-51fea4e520b1901c1c045590b2a7bdc0.
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