Donald Trump Jr., executive vice president at the Trump Organization, testified on Nov. 13 as the defense’s first witness in a fraud trial naming him, his brother Eric Trump, his father President Donald Trump, and other executives as defendants.
“My father saw a lot of things before other people in real estate,” Donald Trump Jr. said on the witness stand, beginning his testimony with an overview of his work at the Trump Organization.
He was questioned by state attorneys two weeks ago, and wasn’t cross-examined at the time. During that testimony, Mr. Trump, like his siblings, said more than once that he hadn’t been involved in the creation of the Trump Organization’s statements of financial condition (SFCs).
The trial began on Oct. 2, with the New York attorney general’s office seeking to prove that the Trumps sought to defraud lenders and investors through inflated SFCs from 2011 to 2021, in a bench trial presided over by New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron.
The SFCs were a marketing piece prepared every year and used in Trump Organization deals, and not a standard financial document. It listed major assets and their values, adding up to a total net worth figure for President Trump.
The judge had already ruled, on Sept. 26, in favor of the attorney general’s claim that President Trump inflated his net worth, finding him liable for fraud. The trial deals with the petition’s remaining six claims which require proving intent to defraud, and the amount that President Trump will have to pay in penalties.
The judge’s decision could prove dire for President Trump’s real estate empire and image as a successful developer; already he has had his business certificates canceled by the judge, who ordered the immediate dissolution by a third party of the companies that make up the Trump Organization. While the order has been put on pause by an appeals court, the attorney general is also asking for penalties of $250 million and to bar the defendants from doing business in New York state for five years.
Defense attorneys are expected to be preparing their appeal, as they have publicly claimed that the judge’s pretrial summary judgment was unfair, not based on the evidence, and that they no longer expect a favorable ruling at the end of the trial. During a recent Fox News appearance, Trump attorney Alina Habba said they would file for a mistrial “very soon.”
‘Lots of Opportunities’
On the witness stand, Mr. Trump painted a picture of optimism during his time working under his father at the Trump Organization. He described the former president as a visionary in the industry.
“My father had been very good throughout his career at seeing things other people didn’t see or wouldn’t be able to envision,” he said. “Because of the brand he created himself, he was able to get to the point where a lot of other developers would come to him for expertise.”
What began as a development company became much more, particularly with the use of licensing, Mr. Trump explained, which allowed for deals without a lot of upfront equity.
“There were a lot of opportunities to do licensing deals,” he said. “Real estate is a locals game. Companies wanted to come to us, learn how to design, build, amenitize their projects. … [It] allowed him to do these projects where others would pay him very significant funds to come in and do things better.
“Behind every wall is a new surprise.”
For example, with Trump Tower in Manhattan, his father put retail on the lower floors and residential above, maximizing the floor-area ratio and giving every apartment unit corner windows, which was a pioneering move at the time. With Seven Springs, his father saw a neglected 200-acre property in Westchester County, New York, “falling apart” and found opportunity. With Mar-a-Lago in Palm Beach, Florida, building out a ballroom for about $15 million gave him “significant control” of the rest of the property.
“He is an artist with real estate,” Mr. Trump said. “He sees the things that other people don’t. He creates the things other people would never envision.”
Mr. Trump began working in the Trump Organization with Hudson Waterfront Associates on a record-setting skyscraper, and then on Delmonico’s, a historic building. It was a “great opportunity” for him to advance, doing deals that “no one else wanted to,” he said, describing the culture as merit-based.
“There were people who didn’t necessarily have fancy degrees whom my father gave opportunities to,” he said. “It was more about who could get things done.”
Mr. Trump said the Trump Organization is very much a family business, and a hands-on one where they don’t just develop properties but also manage everything from golf courses to condo association buildings, in order to “preserve” their brand image and quality.
After his father was elected president, the structure of the family business changed, Mr. Trump said. His sister went down to Washington with their father, and he and his brother, who had always been on the ground, took on more responsibility. President Trump had transferred ownership of the Trump Organization to a trust, and his adult sons were made trustees.
Mr. Trump said it was open as to whether his father would return and become more involved in the business or specific things, but “for the most part, my brother and I” took responsibility for managing the Trump Organization.
State attorneys objected, arguing that Mr. Trump’s narrative wasn’t relevant “to anything we care considering here.” Justice Engoron overruled, saying, “The nature of the organization is important.”
Mr. Trump described his grandfather’s story as a “sort of incredible Horatio Alger story,” in which, as the eldest son of immigrants, his grandfather began working on job sites in Queens in the early 1900s.
“My father saw New York City and Manhattan as the ultimate frontier,” he said.
Defense attorney Chris Kise quipped that going back to this early time may be appropriate, given the plaintiff’s tendencies to focus questioning on years that fell outside of the statute of limitations.
The judge also joked, saying: “You’re going to get me in trouble. Mr. Kise is going to talk about how I always rule against him.”
Trump Organization Finances
Former Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg is another defendant in the case. He was convicted of tax evasion in 2022, pleading guilty to 15 counts, and in January was sentenced to five months in jail and five years probation, according to a statement from Manhattan District Attorney Alvin L. Bragg Jr. issued on Jan. 10.
Mr. Trump said that Mr. Weisselberg was very involved in the company through 2021.
“Allen Weisselberg was our in-house numbers guy,” he said. Their former chief financial officer (CFO) had worked with Mazars accountant Donald Bender to prepare the SFCs, he said, in line with previous testimony from other witnesses.
Mark Hawthorne, chief accounting officer of the Trump Hotels division, basically assumed the responsibilities of CFO after Mr. Weisselberg, Mr. Trump said. Mr. Hawthorne testified in mid-October, with state attorneys questioning him about various financial documents and specific figures such as the accuracy of cash holdings in a given year.
Mr. Trump’s testimony ended in the afternoon, with tax attorney Sheri Dillon taking the stand next.
From The Epoch Times