Donald Trump returns to court as his fraud trial gets down to business after a fiery first day
NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump returned to a New York court Tuesday after a fiery start to his business fraud lawsuit trial.
After Monday’s opening statements, Tuesday’s court action is expected to center on the more plodding task of going through years of his financial documents. An accountant who prepared Trump’s financial statements for years is expected to be back on the witness stand for a second day.
Trump spent a full day Monday as an angry spectator at the civil trial. It’s the culmination of a lawsuit in which New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, has accused the Republican former president and current 2024 GOP front-runner of deceiving banks, insurers and others for years by giving them papers that misstated the value of his assets.
Judge Arthur Engoron delivered an early victory to James last week, ruling that Trump committed fraud by exaggerating the size of his penthouse at Trump Tower, claiming his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida was worth as much as $739 million and putting similar oversized valuations on office towers, golf courses and other assets.
The non-jury trial concerns six remaining claims in the lawsuit and how much Trump might owe in penalties. James is seeking $250 million and a ban on Trump doing business in New York. The judge has already ruled that some of Trump’s limited liability companies should be dissolved as punishment.
During the trial’s first day, Kevin Wallace, a lawyer for the attorney general, told the judge that Trump and his company had lied “year after year after year” in his financial statements to make him look richer than he really was.
Trump’s lawyers said the statements were legitimate representations of the worth of unique luxury properties, made even more valuable because of their association with Trump.
“That is not fraud. That is real estate,” lawyer Alina Habba said.
After staying away from a previous trial, in which his company and one of his top executives was convicted of tax fraud, Trump spent hours sitting in court watching Monday’s opening statements, emerging several times to tell reporters that the trial was “a sham” intended to hurt his 2024 election prospects.
“I’d love to be campaigning instead of doing this,” Trump told reporters as he left court Monday.
Visibly angry for much of the day, Trump denounced Engoron as a “rogue judge” and James as a “disgrace to our country.”
“This is a judge that should be disbarred. This is a judge that should be out of office. This is a judge that some people say could be charged criminally for what he’s doing. He’s interfering with an election, and it’s a disgrace,” Trump said.
But Trump left court claiming he’d scored a victory, pointing to comments that he viewed as Engoron coming around to the defense view that most of the allegations in the lawsuit are barred by the state’s statute of limitations.
After the first witness, retired Mazars LLP partner Donald Bender, testified at length about Trump’s 2011 financial statement, Engoron questioned whether it might have been a waste of his time, because any fraud in the document would be beyond the legal time limit.
Wallace promised to link it to a more recent loan agreement, but Trump took the judge’s remarks as an “outstanding” development for him and wrote on Truth Social that it was a “Good day at trial” after all.
Bender’s testimony was to resume Tuesday. The trial is expected to last into December.