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July 19, 2024

What to watch when former President Donald Trump returns to testify in New York civil fraud trial


Former President Donald Trump is returning Monday to testify at his New York civil fraud trial, this time under questioning from his attorneys in an effort to bolster his defence against allegations that he fraudulently inflated the value of his properties.

Trump has already testified once in the trial, repeatedly barreling past questions from the New York attorney general’s office to attack the judge instead of overseeing his case and the attorney general’s $250 million lawsuit against him.

The questions are likely to be friendlier Monday to the former president from his attorneys—at least until he faces cross-examination from the attorney general’s office—but that doesn’t mean the bitter tensions bubbling throughout the 10-week trial case will melt away.

Trump has also attacked the judge in the case, Arthur Engoron, and Engoron’s principal law clerk, leading to a gag order barring talk about the clerk. The former president’s lawyers are appealing the order.

While Trump is not facing criminal charges in this case, the allegations against his business are personal for the former president, and he’s spent several days attending the trial outside of his testimony.

The civil trial is a preview of what could play out next year as Trump runs for president at the same time one or more of his four criminal trials are ongoing.

Here’s what to watch in Monday’s testimony:

Trial and campaign trail converge:

Trump attended the civil trial Thursday to hear the testimony of New York University accounting professor Eli Bartov, an expert witness for his defence.

Trump didn’t have to be there – Bartov is one of several expert witnesses his lawyers have called during their defence – but his presence increased the attention on the trial testimony and gave the former president a chance to speak to television cameras just outside the courtroom at every break.

“We’ve proven this is just a witch hunt,” Trump said at one point. “It cannot be more conclusive.”

Trump also complained that he was in New York instead of one of the early swing states for his 2024 campaign, even though he was attending voluntarily.

“I should be right now in Iowa, in New Hampshire, in South Carolina. I shouldn’t be sitting in a courthouse,” Trump said.

Trump’s comments showed how he took the opportunity to attack the trial for interfering with his presidential bid. Still, the reality is that the two have effectively converged – Trump’s trials have become part of his pitch to his base, arguing that his legal peril is a key reason voters should return him to the White House.

What to watch when former President Donald Trump returns to testify in New York civil fraud trial

Judge has ruled Trump liable for fraud:

James alleges that Trump and his co-defendants – including his two adult sons, the Trump Organization and several company executives – committed fraud in inflating assets on financial statements to get better terms on commercial real estate loans and insurance policies.

Engoron already ruled before the trial began last month that Trump and his co-defendants were liable for “persistent and repeated” fraud. Now, the judge is considering how much the Trumps will have to pay in damages for the profits they’ve allegedly garnered through fraudulent business practices.

An expert witness for the attorney general testified last month that the ill-gotten gains totalled $168 million, though a defence witness disputed that analysis.

What to watch when former President Donald Trump returns to testify in New York civil fraud trial

The attorney general’s office is also looking to prove six other claims: falsifying business records, conspiracy to falsify business records, issuing false financial statements, conspiracy to falsify financial statements, insurance fraud and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

The trial has played out over the past two months with an appeal looming, as Trump’s lawyers have already appealed Engoron’s initial decision. Engoron’s ruling in the rest of the case – which is a bench trial, meaning there is no jury – is also sure to be appealed if it goes against Trump.

While there are no criminal charges in the case, its outcome has serious implications for the former president, as the attorney general is seeking to bar Trump from conducting business in New York.

Engoron’s summary judgment ruling cancelled Trump’s business certificates, though that has been placed on hold while it’s appealed.

A New York appeals court last week agreed to stop the cancellation of Trump’s business certificates until after the civil fraud trial and any appeals are completed – a continuation of an earlier ruling by a single appeals court judge at the start of the trial.

Trump is likely to defend his properties and brand:

Trump’s attorneys have argued the former president’s statements of financial condition were not fraudulent and that Deutsche Bank, which loaned Trump money for several properties, conducted its analysis and didn’t rely on the statements anyway.

The defence lawyers have called expert witnesses to testify there was no fraud and that Deutsche Bank would not have acted differently had Trump’s net worth been lower than what he reported at the time of the transactions.

They’ve also argued that valuations are subjective, that differences in valuations are common and that Trump’s net worth is higher than what was listed in his statements because it didn’t take into account the value of his brand.

Trump is likely to amplify arguments about his brand and net worth on Monday, based on his prior testimony. When he wasn’t attacking the trial, Trump was boasting about his properties and golf courses.

He claimed Mar-a-Lago was worth more than $1 billion and that his golf course in Aberdeen, Scotland, was “the greatest golf course ever built.”

When Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., testified, the defence lawyers walked through a sleek PR presentation touting the Trump Organization, in what could be a sign of how they plan to approach the former president’s testimony, too.

Tensions between Trump and the judge:

Trump’s earlier testimony – in which he attacked the attorney general, the judge and the entire trial with bombastic rhetoric – repeatedly exasperated Engoron, who at one point threatened to have Trump removed as a witness.

“This is a political witch hunt, and I think she should be ashamed of herself,” Trump said of James at one point in his testimony.

“It’s a terrible thing you’ve done,” he said at another point to the judge.

But that doesn’t mean Trump won’t take the chance on the stand to level the same attacks he’s been making in comments outside court or on his social media.

Trump is also operating under a gag order, which Engoron put in place after the former president attacked his law clerk, Allison Greenfield, on social media, posting a picture of her with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat.

Engoron has fined Trump twice for violating the order, including $10,000 for comments he made outside of court during former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s testimony. That resulted in an extraordinary scene in which the judge called Trump to the stand to answer questions about whether he was referring to Greenfield or Cohen when he complained about the “person who is very partisan sitting alongside” the judge.

Enrogon said Trump’s claims that he was referring to Cohen were “not credible” as he levied his fine. Trump’s attorneys have appealed.

Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba, said Trump was testifying despite her advice not to because the gag order is in place.

“He still wants to take the stand even though my advice is, at this point, you should never take the stand with a gag order. But he is so firmly against what is happening in this court,” Habba said Thursday.

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