Trump to Testify in New York Civil Fraud Trial

Michael Washburn
By Michael Washburn
November 6, 2023Donald Trump
Trump to Testify in New York Civil Fraud Trial
Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom for his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court, in New York on Oct. 17, 2023. (Seth Wenig/Pool/Getty Images)

After weeks of tumultuous and bitter testimony and cross-examination in New York Attorney General Letitia James’s civil lawsuit against members of the Trump family, the star witness is expected to take the stand when the trial resumes at 10:00 a.m. on Nov. 6.

Assistant Attorney General Andrew Amer’s highly aggressive questioning of Donald Trump, Jr., and Eric Trump on the witness stand this week was a prelude to what looks sure to be the most intensive, closely watched phase of the trial. Former President Donald J. Trump will appear in the civil court building at 111 Centre Street in Manhattan to testify about the truthfulness of valuations of Trump family assets in financial statements provided to Deutsche Bank and other lenders.

The former president’s sons gave lengthy testimony on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday morning on often overlapping subjects. The prosecutor went over financial documents and records in minute and painstaking detail, seeking to elicit admissions from the brothers about whether they recognized certain letters, emails, and financial statements, and whether they had knowingly approved the presentation of such items to the banks for the purpose of obtaining loans on terms highly favorable to the Trump family and the Trump Organization.

Over and over during their testimony, Mr. Amer grew frustrated with the tendency of both brothers to seek to qualify their answers and demanded that they reply to his questions with a “yes” or “no.” Justice Arthur Engoron largely supported Mr. Amer in his efforts to obtain simple answers, and the judge’s perceived favoritism toward the prosecution led to a prolonged argument with Trump lawyer Christopher Kise on Thursday afternoon and Friday morning.

NTD Photo
Former President Donald Trump (R) appears in the courtroom with attorney Christopher M. Kise for the third day of his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court in New York City on Oct. 4, 2023. (Mary Altafeer/Pool/Getty Images)

At many points throughout the proceedings, the brothers minimized their role in the preparation of the statements of financial condition and other documents and records, and said that they trusted the professional accountants and financial experts who prepared such items. Though the documents bear their signatures, they were merely acting in accordance with legal advice from people inside and outside the Trump business empire, whose job was to run numbers and come up with valuations.

In essence, the brothers sought to acknowledge their authority within the Trump Organization while portraying their role as the rubber-stamping of documents containing figures and valuations that others had compiled.

Typical of the cross-examination was a moment on Thursday when Eric Trump told Mr. Amer, “People ask me questions all the time, but I never had anything to do with a statement of financial condition.”

Then, a bit later in his testimony, he stated, “We had an accounting department that would sometimes work with outside entities. I did not work on a statement of financial condition, I’ve been very clear about that.”

Questions for the Former President

Mr. Amer often pursued an indirect route to getting the information he wanted, asking one of the Trump brothers a question that a third-party financial professional assigned to a given project, or the former president himself, might be in a better position to answer.

At one point, he asked Eric Trump whether the witness had seen one of his father’s financial statements from August 2013. At such times, Eric Trump often alluded to the sheer amount of time that had passed and said he did not recall the details of the document or figures he was pressed about.

He denied his involvement in appraisal work on properties and said repeatedly that Sheri Dillon, who is now an attorney with the law firm Morgan Lewis & Bockius, handled the minutiae of such matters.

The brothers did not dispute their agency as executives of the Trump Organization with a significant amount of latitude when it came to signing documents whose preparation they had entrusted to others. But they fell short of claiming oversight of properties and assets that fall under their father’s ownership.

Hence, the questioning of Donald Trump, Jr., and Eric Trump may have been a long warm-up for the most critical phase of the trial, when questions about who was ultimately answerable for representations made to powerful financial institutions, and for any real or alleged inflations of the value of Trump family assets, will be front and center throughout the testimony.

President Trump is expected to take the stand as soon as the new phase of the trial begins on Monday.

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