Trumps Bad Day In New York Fraud Trial
When Trump was asked why he took himself back off as trustee on July 7, 2021, he said the reason was because he “had gained more trust in my family” to be able to run it. Trump failed to mention that the trustee Allen Weisselberg had been indicted just days before. Ultimately, he admitted that he put Don Jr back in charge of the trust because he was getting back into politics.
Trump then reiterated his primary defense to this case – that he had a “disclaimer” clause with every financial statement (which he calls a “worthless clause”) that he claims renders everything in the statement useless because he warned the reader not to believe any of the numbers that were in it. He claimed that the banks he dealt with didn’t even use them in making their decisions because they really wanted to make the deals with him.
Judge Engoron then warned Trump not to start making speeches. Trump’s lawyer then objected to the warning, asserting that the prosecutor was asking open-ended questions that allowed for lengthy answers.
Trump was then asked what steps he took to ensure that the numbers in his statements were accurate. He said that it was a long time ago so he couldn’t remember everything, which is why the statute of limitations should apply, but the judge ruled against him on that because he rules against him on everything. Engoron responded, “You can attack me, but just answer the question.” Trump finally responds that he told his people to give Mazars (the accounting firm) all the information they needed to prepare the statements. When asked who specifically he told to provide Mazars the information, he said Weisselberg and Jeff McConney (former Controller of Trump Org).
Trump was then asked if he told them to assign specific values to his properties. He said that he would do that because, “I was certainly more expert than anyone else” to do it. Trump then launched into a familiar riff we hear day after day in his rallies, interviews and on social media about how the value of his name makes everything worth more and how Mar-a-Lago is the most valuable property in the country.
Trump was asked whether he ever discussed having the value of his “brand” assessed by an independent company with Weisselberg so that he could include it accurately in his financial statements. He said that he did not because he “didn’t care about it enough to bother him.”
Judge Engoron then interrupted Trump giving his long-winded rally style political answers to questions: “Mr. Kise, can you control your client? This is not a political rally. Maybe you should have a talk with him.” Kise responded, “You’re in control of the courtroom, not me.” Trump then started launching into another speech and the judge interrupted again striking his answer.
A few minutes later, the judge again admonished Trump for the 5th time that his answers were “non-responsive and repetitive” and if it continued he would draw a “negative inference” to each question from his refusal to answer directly.
The prosecutor began to walk through his financial statements asking Trump if he felt each asset was valued correctly at the time. He was asked if the value of $348 million for Niketown was accurate. He again tried to deflect, but when pinned down he finally answered, “I guess so, I really can’t answer that.”
When asked if 40 Wall Street was assigned an accurate value on the statements, he said that it could be worth even more because he was able to convert it into condos which would make it more valuable. This answer followed Trump’s claims in his deposition that several of his properties “could” be worth more if he make certain improvements or changes to them that he never actually made.
Judge Engoron continued to get frustrated with Trump’s refusal to answer questions after Trump started rambling about how unfair the trial was: “I beseech you to control him. If you can’t, I will. I will excuse him and draw every negative inference.” Alina Habba then said that Engoron needed to “hear what he has to say.” Engoron then angrily responded, “I’m not here what he has to say. He’s here to answer questions.” Habba then shot back, “Yes, you are here to listen what he has to say.” Engoron then ordered Habba and Kise to sit down.
Trump then grumbled, “This is a very unfair trial. Very, very unfair, and I hope the public is watching it.”
Trump was then asked if he approved the valuation of 40 Wall Street at $500 million. He responded that he did not come up with the number, but he “accepted it.” The judge then ordered a 15 minutes recess and said that Habba and Kise should take advantage of the break to speak with their client.
During the recess, reporters attempted to ask Trump how his testimony went. He made a “zip lips” motion indicating that the judge ordered him not to discuss his testimony while he was on the stand.
Trump was then asked why he wildly overstated the square footage of his NY apartment by 300%. He agreed that the property was overvalued on his financial statement. He claimed that the reason why it he claimed it was 30,000 sq feet is because “they took 10,000 feet per floor … but they didn’t take out elevator shafts and different things.” (He seemed to be claiming that the roof and other areas should be counted in the square footage).
Trump was asked if he received copies of his financial statements in 2021. He responded by saying he was too busy in the White House dealing with Russia and China. He was then reminded that he wasn’t president in 2021.
Trump was then asked if Mar-a-Lago was a private club or a residence. He said it was a club. He was then asked if he believed Mar-a-Lago was worth $1.5 billion like he has repeatedly claimed in the press and on social media. Trump responded, “I’d say between $1 billion and $1.5 billion.”
The prosecutor then pressed him on his assertions in writing and in interviews that Trump would remain a club and not a private residence. Trump was then shown the deed which states, “the Club and Trump intend to forever extinguish their right to develop or use the property for any purpose other than club use.” Trump responded, “‘Intend’ doesn’t mean we will do it.”
Trump was then specifically asked about a statement he gave to the Palm Beach Post in 2003 where he said it will be a club forever. Trump responded, “That was said with bravado as opposed to legal intent.”
The AG then pointed out that since he claimed that it was being operated as a club and not a residence, he was able to pay less in taxes.
Trump was then asked about his golf course in Scotland. (In his deposition he claimed that the reason why he valued it at more than double his purchase price a very short time later was because he might someday develop and sell houses on the course, which made it worth more). The AG pointed out that he never actually built any of the 1,100 additional houses he claimed and that he isn’t building anything there right now. Trump responded, “I’m in no rush. I’m not looking to build right now. I’m doing other things right now. I just want to sit with it. It’s an investment.”
The prosecutor then noted that this property was wildly overvalued based upon the inaccurate statement that there were 2,500 homes when in fact there were only 1,400 because he never built the other 1,100. He was asked why the number of homes on the statement didn’t match up with reality. Trump responded:
Trump was then asked about his issue with the windmills on the property. (He had testified previously in his deposition that the property in Aberdeen would be worth more if Scotland hadn’t constructed windmills adjacent to the property, and how he had enlisted actor Sean Connery to unsuccessfully lobby the Scottish parliament to remove them).
He asked Trump why he would claim that he may develop the property in the future when he told the UK government that he would not unless the windmills were removed. Trump responded, “They’ll probably come down one day. They are miles out. That was back in 2014 when we were fighting the windmills. There’s nothing wrong with sitting and waiting if you have money, and I’ve got a lot of money.”
Trump was then asked if he continued to stand by the inflated valuations in his 2014 financial statements. He responded, “People like you go around and try to demean me and hurt me … there was a disclaimer clause … This is disgraceful.” Then addressing AG Letitia James he said, “She’s a political hack and using this case to become Governor … this is a political witch hunt … the fraud is her.”
Trump then started rambling again about the disclaimer clause and Judge Engoron interrupted, saying that they weren’t going back over that again and if he was confused about his ruling about it then he should go back and read the decision. (He said that those clauses don’t mean the statement can’t be relied upon because you have a duty to try to provide accurate information despite a disclaimer).
Trump responded to the judge, “He called me a fraud and he doesn’t even know me … He said Mar-a-Lago was worth $18 million, what a fraud. As President of the United States, we did a great job. Just look at the president we have today. It’s a terrible thing you’ve done. You believed that political hack sitting back there.” (Gesturing at James).
The prosecutor then asked Trump who in Trump Org was responsible for making sure that the financial statements submitted by his accounting firm were accurate. Trump responded, “Everybody. I tell people, if anybody sees anything wrong, report it.”
Trump was then shown an article by Forbes, which broke the story that he wildly inflated the size of his New York apartment. He then attacked Forbes, “They’re owned by China. Now, they sold it to Russia. I have very little respect for Forbes. I haven’t dealt with Forbes in years. I think they’re out of business.”
Trump was then shown a statement from 2015 that showed he was losing millions of dollars on 40 Wall Street. Trump claimed the reason for that was because he was investing a lot of money into the property “fixing it up. We rebuilt the elevators, the lobbies.” Trump then motioned back to AG Letitia James and said, “She doesn’t know what 40 Wall Street is worth. She doesn’t even know where 40 Wall Street is. It’s going to do very well in the future.” (This caused James to briefly start laughing as her office is right next to 40 Wall Street).
Trump was asked what method he used to value 40 Wall Street: “I can look at buildings and tell you what they’re worth. You have to spend money to make money. Now they said take away all his properties like they do in communist China. In this country today, a certain judge can do it.”
Trump then claimed he doesn’t remember telling a reporter that 40 Wall Street had been appraised for $600 million. He was then shown an email from Don Jr to Trump Org executives in 2012 where he said that his father had just told a reporter it was appraised at $600 million and was hoping it would get printed in a story.
This story will be updated throughout the day.
This story relied upon reports from the courtroom from MSNBC contributor Lisa Rubin, Hugo Lowell from The Guardian, Adam Klasfeld from The Messenger, Matthew Russell Lee from Inner City Press, and Robert Costa from CBS.