Trump clashes with judge during testimony at New York fraud trial today

Trump clashes with judge during testimony at New York fraud trial today

NEW YORK : Former President Donald Trump is on the stand in a New York courtroom Monday to testify in the fraud trial that could determine the fate of his business empire.

His early testimony was marked by Trump repeatedly straying from the questions posed by a lawyer from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office. He also stood by various property valuations at the center of the case, defending financial statements that other co-defendants have sought to distance themselves from.

Sworn in and under oath, Trump took the opportunity to repeatedly lash out at the New York Judge Arthur Engoron, who is seated four feet to his right. Engoron is overseeing the civil case and will decide the outcome of the bench trial himself.

“I’m sure the judge will rule against me, because he always rules against me,” Trump said at one point.

As Trump repeatedly gave long-winded answers to questions about the valuations of various Trump Organization properties, Engoron’s patience wore thin. Christopher Kise, one of Trump’s attorneys, encouraged Engoron to allow Trump to give answers in his own way.

“With this witness, it’s far more efficient to listen and take it all in,” Kise said, prompting laughter from Kevin Wallace, an attorney for the state who led the questioning.

Engoron’s voice rose as his anger seemed to boil over, and his microphone struggled to handle the sudden change in volume.

“No, I’m not here to hear what he has to say,” Engoron said, his voice rising. “I’m here to hear him answer questions. Sit down!”

Engoron said he was considering drawing negative conclusions from Trump’s testimony.

“We got another speech. I beseech you to control him if you can. If you can’t, I will. I will excuse him and draw every negative inference that I can,” Engoron said.

The trial stems from a $250 million civil lawsuit filed by James’ office accusing Trump, his two oldest sons, the Trump Organization and several executives of a yearslong fraud scheme. The state alleges Trump and his co-defendants inflated the value of the company’s assets and Trump’s personal wealth to obtain better terms on loans and insurance. They have denied wrongdoing, and Trump has repeatedly accused James of pursuing him for political reasons.

The judge has not allowed TV cameras to film the trial, meaning the former president’s questioning is not being live-streamed. CBS News has reporters on the scene to witness his testimony, and this story will be updated with the latest developments.

Trump’s testimony

Trump arrived shortly before 10 a.m. and made brief remarks before entering the courtroom, reiterating his criticism of the trial.

“It’s a terrible, terrible thing. These are political operatives that I’m going to be dealing with right now,” Trump said. “It’s a very sad situation for our country.”

Outside the courtroom, James predicted Trump would “engage in name-calling, taunts and race-baiting,” but said, “At the end of the day, the only thing that matters are the facts and the numbers, and numbers, my friend, don’t lie.”

Trump, on the stand, would later call James “a political hack.”

“This is a political witch hunt and I think she should be ashamed of herself,” Trump said, as James watched from the gallery.

Wallace, the lawyer from the attorney general’s office, kicked off the questioning by asking Trump about a trust he established to manage his assets before he entered the White House. When he left office in 2021, he took control of the trust, only to relinquish it again in July 2021. He testified that he did so because of increasing legal pressure from a number of fronts.

“You and every other Democrat district attorney, A.G., and U.S. attorney were coming at me from 15 different sides, all Democrats, all haters,” Trump said, adding that he had “great confidence” in his son to manage his assets.

After a break, Wallace’s questioning continued with lines of inquiry about the valuations of his and his company’s properties, including Mar-a-Lago, Trump Tower in Manhattan and an upstate New York estate known as Seven Springs. Trump defended the financial statements at the center of the case, saying that even those valuations that have been determined to be inflated were too low. He added that he would not be willing to sell several properties because they were worth so much.

Trump ultimately defended the statements, which James’ office says inflated his net worth by billions. Trump said the documents included a disclaimer that absolved him of responsibility for inaccuracies.

“The disclaimer clause says if there’s a mistake, if there’s something, don’t rely on it,” Trump said, adding of the disclaimers: “They always hold up in court, except maybe this court.”

Trump also insisted that increases in property values over time justified overvaluations in the past, an argument Engoron has previously rejected. Discussing property valuations for 2014, Trump said, “If you carry that forward to 2021, all of those valuations were low.”

Trump became particularly animated during discussion of Mar-a-Lago, the Florida club where he resides. Engoron’s pretrial ruling finding Trump liable for fraud noted that the local assessor valued Mar-a-Lago at $18 million, while in documents Trump valued it at hundreds of millions more. He said during testimony that he believes it’s worth as much as $1.5 billion. The property is deed-restricted and cannot be used as a residence, which experts previously told CBS News limits its value.

Trump said he agreed to the deed restriction for tax purposes — acknowledging that the lower assessed value limits the property’s tax burden. He then described a hypothetical scheme in which a person calls their own home a club to save money on taxes.

“There are a lot of advantages to having it as a club. The smartest thing to do would be to have a club and have one member,” Trump said.

He later argued about whether it was accurate to value one of his Scottish golf clubs as if he’s built nearly 2,500 new homes on it, when in fact he has built none and is limited by contract to just under 1,500.

“At some point in my old age I’ll go there and build the most beautiful thing we’ve ever seen,” the 77-year-old said.

Trump frequently waved his hands around, at one point pulling out a folded sheet of paper he said was related to the disclaimer.

He said to Engoron, “I’d love to read this, Your Honor, can I read this? “No, not at this point,” Engoron said.

“I’m shocked, I’m shocked,” Trump replied.

The fraud trial

Trump is accused in the civil suit of being the primary beneficiary of a scheme to fraudulently portray his wealth as far greater than it is, and his properties as far more valuable, in order to get undeservedly favorable loan and insurance terms. The judge in the case has already found Trump, his two adult sons and their company liable for fraud, determining that the scheme led to hundreds of millions in unearned profits.

The trial is continuing over other allegations, including falsification of business records, conspiracy and insurance fraud, as well as disgorgement — the exact amount of “ill-gotten gains” the Trumps must pay the state.

Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump both testified in the case last week, and Ivanka Trump is scheduled to take the stand on Wednesday. She had originally been named in the lawsuit as well, but the claims against her were thrown out on appeal due to the statute of limitations.

Though Monday was Trump’s first testimony related to fraud during the trial, it was not his first time in the courtroom nor his first time on the stand. The last time Trump was in the room, on Oct. 25, Judge Arthur Engoron ordered him to the stand to determine if Trump had violated a limited gag order in the case earlier in the day, when Trump appeared to reference the judge’s clerk while talking to the press.

Trump and his company have for more than a year blamed their former outside accountants, Mazars USA, for any inaccuracies in their statements of financial condition, essentially a snapshot of Trump’s wealth. Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump reiterated that defense in testimony last week, saying they “trusted” internal and external accounting teams.

But their former Mazars accountant testified in October that his firm merely compiled reams of financial information provided to them by the Trumps and their company.

The lawsuit is seeking $250 million and sanctions designed to limit the Trumps’ ability to do business in New York, including permanently barring Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump from serving as an officer or director in any business in the state.

Courtesy: cbsnews