Donald Trump returns to a New York courtroom on Monday, where he is expected to take the witness stand in a civil fraud trial that threatens to diminish the real-estate empire that built his reputation before he entered politics.
The former U.S. president, like his two adult sons who testified last week, will likely face pointed questions about the questionable accounting practices that a judge has already ruled to be fraudulent.
New York state lawyers argue that those methods enabled him to win favourable financing terms by pumping up the value of his golf courses, apartment towers and other assets at a time when many lenders refused to do business with him. They say such activity earned him $100 million US and exaggerated his wealth by $2 billion.
Trump, 77, has denied wrongdoing, but the judge in the case ruled in a partial summary judgment before testimony even started that Trump Organization had submitted “fraudulent valuations.” The weekslong trial will determine the scope of damages and future of the corporation in New York state, though any verdict will be appealed.
WATCH l Trump family members begin to testify:
Featured VideoDonald Trump Jr. took the stand on Wednesday in New York as part of a civil fraud case against his father, former president Donald Trump. Trump Jr. was the first of three adult siblings to testify, and he was asked about business practices of the Trump empire.
New York Attorney General Letitia James is seeking $250 million in fines, as well as restrictions that would prevent Trump and his sons Eric and Donald Jr from doing business in their home state.
Evidence introduced at trial so far has revealed that company officials, including Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr, were involved in efforts to manipulate the assessed value of trophy properties like the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Both sons testified that the organization relied on accountants and lawyers to verify the accuracy of financial documents that Judge Arthur Engoron has ruled to be fraudulent.
One witness, his former president’s lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, testified that Trump directed him to doctor financial statements to boost his net worth.
Gag order violations
Trump has taken the witness stand several times over the course of his life in his capacity as a real estate baron, casino owner and sports franchise owner. But the last time he did so before this civil trial was in 2013, after an 87-year-old suburban widower sued him over changes to contract terms for a Chicago hotel and condominium tower she had bought units in as an investment.
Trump has already appeared seven times to watch the proceedings from the defendant’s table and complain to TV cameras outside the chamber that James, Engoron and others involved in the case are motivated by politics. He has also kept up a steady stream of criticism on social media.
That has earned him fines of $15,000 US for twice violating a limited gag order that prevents him from criticizing court staff. Trump’s lawyers have chafed at that order and indicated they might use it as the basis for an appeal, but Engoron expanded it on Friday to cover them as well.
Trump briefly took the stand two weeks ago to explain apparent violations of a gag order, with Engoron commenting that his comments on the matter at hand rang “hollow and untrue.”
Unlike the four criminal cases Trump faces, this civil trial does not threaten to put him in prison as he mounts another presidential campaign. Indeed, Trump has been leaning into the experience, using it to solicit campaign donations and argue that he is being targeted for his political views.
Trump’s crowded legal calendar threatens to take him off the campaign trail for much of next year.
The trial was originally scheduled to run through early December but could wrap up sooner as the state calls its final witnesses this week. It is unclear how many witnesses the defence will call.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka is due to testify on Wednesday, though she is not among the defendants in the case.