By Catherine Yang and Michael Washburn
NEW YORK—Former President Donald Trump will testify today as the defendant in a civil fraud petition brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James in September 2022.
The trial, presided over by New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, began on Oct. 2, and is a bench trial. A number of outside bankers, financial experts, and accountants for the Trump Organization have already testified, as have Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., who are both executive vice presidents at the Trump Organization.
Ivanka Trump, who was dismissed from the case as a defendant, is expected to testify on Wednesday.
The former president has thus far maintained that he has done nothing wrong in the case that may decide the fate of his real estate empire. Trump Organization companies, President Trump, Mr. Eric Trump, Mr. Donald Trump Jr., Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, and Trump Organization comptroller Jeffrey McConney are named defendants in a suit where the attorney general is accusing them of artificially inflating the asset values in Trump Organization statements of financial condition (SFC) to get better terms from banks and insurers, thus defrauding the state.
In April, President Trump was deposed for the case, and in a seven-hour interview claimed that his properties were worth more than what was listed on the SFCs. He has said similarly in press briefings during the trial, and is expected to do so on the witness stand as well.
Trump Testimony Ends, Attorney and Judge Continue to Argue—3:22 PM
President Trump left the witness stand, concluding his testimony, and is expected to head to the airport to return to Mar-a-Lago shortly after.
The next witness is Ivanka Trump, who was not at the courthouse Monday.
“I think it went very well. I think if you were there, if you listened, then you see what a scam this is,” he told the media after leaving the courtroom. “Everybody saw what happened today … I think you saw what I had to say today and it was very conclusive.”
“People are sick and tired of what is happening,” he said. “I think this is a very sad day for America.”
After the testimony ended, defense attorney Chris Kise and Justice Engoron continued to argue over bias in the courtroom.
Ms. James spoke with the media after leaving the courthouse, saying President Trump “rambled” during his testimony.
“Mr. Trump can obviously engage in all of these distractions,” she said. “This case will go on. We look forward to hearing the testimony with Ivanka Trump on Wednesday and then we plan on closing the case.”
There is a motions hearing on Thursday and the defense will present their case.
“It’s important that all of you understand we have already been victorious in our summary judgment, and now we look forward to disgorgement,” she said. Disgorgement refers to the difference in interest President Trump paid and what the attorney general’s office argues he should have paid if the SFCs were different, which will come in the form of penalties ordered by the judge. Ms. James has asked for $250 million to be paid in the petition. She did not take questions.
Trump Tells State Attorneys They Have ‘No Case’—2:15 PM
President Trump took the stand again after the lunch break, testifying on documents related to a 2012 bank agreement, as his attorneys objected because it falls outside the statute of limitations.
The document shows that President Trump was required to maintain unencumbered liquid assets of $50 million, which President Trump said was true, adding that the banks “weren’t interested in anything but cash,” placing higher importance on his cash balance than his SFC, which served as a marketing document and summary of his net worth.
“They would check the cash and what kind of cash is available,” he said, in line with a testimony from a Deutsche Bank risk department officer who said he checked President Trump’s bank accounts before approving a loan.
“I think I had between three hundred and four hundred million dollars, I did that very easily,” President Trump said. “It goes up and down depending on whether you’re doing a development or want to pay off debt.”
He said the loan was paid off in full with no problems, and “the bank was thrilled.”
“You’re talking about a loan that was paid off in full. The interest was due Saturday, and I paid it on Friday,” he said. “There was no victim. No one knows why you’re doing this. Nobody understand it, but I understand it. It’s called politics.”
Asked why he gave banks the SFC if they were more interested in cash, he said, “I had it so might as well give it to them.”
State attorneys moved on to questioning him about a loan agreement for 401 North Wabash.
President Trump repeated that his net worth was “substantially greater” than what was on the SFCs, because they hadn’t factored in his brand value.
“Therefore, you have no case,” he said.
After answering questions confirming Whitney Penn accountants prepared SFCs after they stopped working with Mazars, he decried the case as “election interference, because you want to keep me in this courthouse all day.”
“I think this case is a disgrace. It’s a disgrace for people wanting to move into New York. You have people being murdered on the street and you have an attorney general sitting watching my every move,” he said. “Legal scholars are saying it’s the most unfair witch hunt they’ve ever seen.”
Trump Attorney Speaks With Press—1:15 PM
During lunch break, Trump attorney Alina Habba spoke with reporters, beginning the press conference by quoting Justice Engoron saying: “I’m not here to hear what he has to say.”
“That was what rang true, loud, and could not have been more honest, coming from the judge who has already predetermined that my client committed fraud before we even walked into this courtroom,” she said. “Then why exactly am I being paid as an attorney, and why exactly are taxpayer dollars being used in this courtroom? The answer is very clear. Because Ms. James wants to stand right here like she did this morning and call my client a liar, call the company fraudulent, and make a name for herself.”
Ms. James has said “the numbers don’t lie” in her statements about the case, and Ms. Habba said during her press conference that the poll numbers when Ms. James ran for governor and poll numbers showing President Trump’s lead “don’t lie” either, accusing her of being politically motivated in bringing this case.
Ms. Habba added that Ms. James had publicly stated she would target President Trump even before she saw any financial statements, and “taunted” the then-president saying his administration was “too male and too pale,” all the while accusing him of being the “bully.”
“Ms. James would not be attorney general but for President Trump, let’s be very clear on that.”
“This country is falling apart,” Ms. Habba said, echoing President Trump’s campaign rhetoric.
She brought up the gag order Justice Engoron issued, which he recently extended to all attorneys, prohibiting them from making statements about his staff after they brought up the issue of bias in the courtroom.
“You have the right to hire a lawyer who can stand up and say something when they see something wrong,” she said. “But I was told to sit down today. I was yelled at, and I’ve had a judge who is unhinged slamming a table.”
She said President Trump has 50 years of real estate development expertise and changed the New York City skyline over the course of his career, and when he is allowed to tell the truth on the witness stand, Ms. James’s claims fall apart.
“The judge doesn’t like when President Trump explains what actually happened, because it’s not good for his narrative,” she said, when asked whether she was worried about the judge drawing negative inference. “This is a judge who clearly has an issue, if you’ve seen his behavior with me, you’ve seen his behavior with the president today, he has a clear issue with facts that are not good for the case.”
“The only thing that they want are facts that are bad for Trump, that’s why he’s silencing him, that’s why he’s telling him ‘short answers,’ and that’s why he’s clearly enraged,” Ms. Habba said, describing the judge as red-faced. She added that the threat of penalties would not scare President Trump into silence.
Trump Testifies on 40 Wall Street—12:40 PM
President Trump said he did not know of values being inflated on the 40 Wall Street property in SFCs. He discounted the authority of a Forbes article quoting him, saying the outlet was “owned by Russia and now they’re going over to China.”
“The value of 40 Wall Street is hundreds of millions of dollars more than what she says it is,” he said. “I could look at a building and tell you what it’s worth.”
State attorneys said 40 Wall Street turned a deficit, to which President Trump responded that “not one bank lost money, not one insurance company lost money.” He added that he may have borrowed money to fix up the property, in the context of a profitable, long-term investment. “This is how you make money in real estate,” he said.
Trump Disparages State Attorney, Judge While on the Stand—12:35 PM
While testifying about the SFC disclaimers, President Trump addressed the state attorney questioning him saying “people like you go around and try to hurt me and demean me, maybe for political reasons.”
“Every legal scholar I’ve spoke to has said, ‘How could a thing like this be going on?’ It’s disgraceful,” he said, repeating his claim that the case was a “political witch hunt,” and adding that Ms. James “should be ashamed of herself.”
He also said the judge ruled against him “before he knew anything about me … he called me a fraud and didn’t know anything about me” while sitting beside the judge.
He again criticized the $18 million figure for Mar-a-Lago in the attorney general’s petition, saying “I could give you a part of the tennis court for that.”
He was dismissive of the SFCs, saying “the accounting firm which got paid millions of dollars to do this work and they had to do something.”
President Trump added that he would tell his staff, “anybody sees anything wrong, they should report it, anybody. Come and see me directly, I don’t care who you are,” and in the event that someone did, “I take care of the situation.”
Trump Brings Up SFC Disclaimers—12:25 PM
President Trump brought up the disclaimers on the SFCs, which the judge has repeatedly stated was not an applicable defense.
“It holds up in any courtroom except maybe this courtroom,” President Trump said. “It says do your own diligence, do your own study, don’t take anything from this statement for granted.”
He added that one of the reasons he didn’t get “too involved” in the SFCs was because “that disclaimer is on Page 1.”
Trump Waxes Poetic on Aberdeen—11:50 AM
President Trump was next asked about his Aberdeen property, where he has a golf course on a picturesque site in Scotland. He praised the views and location at length, and continued even after the judge told the state attorney that he was going to follow his lead. “If you want to let the witness ramble on … be unresponsive, that is your decision.”
“I have a castle, I want it just the way it is,” President Trump said of the property. “It is 1,200 acres, fronting on the North Sea in the oil capital of Europe. Everyone said I could never get it zoned. I not only got it zoned but … much better than anyone thought possible.”
“It is an incredible piece of land. Aberdeen is a very rich place,” he said. “It is sort of like a painting.”
He added that he could build homes on the property to sell for a “tremendous amount of money” and he had the rights to build whatever he’d like, but he did not feel like building right now. He noted that there was a fight against building windmills in the area, but they had to be built.
“Just a beautiful piece of property,” he said. “There is nothing wrong with sitting with a piece of property if you have the money to play that game, and I do have the money, more money than you could guess.”
He then claimed he was worth “billions” more than what is listed on the SFCs.
Trump Testifies About Mar-a-Lago—11:37 AM
Asked about Mar-a-Lago, President Trump said it is worth much more than what the attorney general’s office has claimed, and “we’re bringing in an expert” to testify to its value.
“I think it’s worth a billion, and a billion-five,” he added, as he has often claimed since the attorney general requested a summary judgment, valuing Mar-a-Lago with county assessor numbers. The judge ruled in favor of the attorney general on Sept. 26, finding President Trump liable for fraud.
Real estate professionals have since said publicly that county assessor numbers are not used in valuations nor indicative of market value, viewing the $18 million to $26 million valuation of Mar-a-Lago with skepticism.
A key argument state attorneys have made is that President Trump valued the property as a private residence on SFCs when an easement on the property allows use of the property only as a club, where any change in use requires approval from a board.
“When you say intend, we have the right to change it back to our house, or a residence, and a club, which is what it is right now,” he said. “I don’t mind leaving it as a club. The smartest thing would be to have a club and have one member. And the member is the one that lives in the house.”
The property was once a private vacation home of heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post, who willed it to the United States government so that it could be used as the warm-weather retreat of presidents. President Trump purchased it in 1985 during a market downturn, securing it at a favorable price.
He said in his testimony that the ballroom was built by him, and the property as-is is more valuable than if he had built additional houses on the property, which the easement prohibits.
“My children, if they want to change it, they have the right to do that,” he added. “A club would pay less in taxes, correct.”
“I got lucky. There’s a man building a house down the road, spending one billion. And it ain’t Mar-a-Lago,” he said.
Trump Testifies About Triplex—11:30 AM
State attorneys are asking President Trump questions about the valuation of specific properties in specific years, referencing the SFCs.
Asked whether one property valued at $160 million in 2013 was estimated “too high” in a 2021 valuation of $327 million, President Trump said he couldn’t tell because the SFCs don’t break down how the valuation was reached.
He said he thought the number placed on his penthouse triplex was too high, but not by much when you account for the fact that he had rooftop access.
The penthouse was famously the subject of a Forbes article, where it was revealed that the square footage listed on the SFCs was triple the actual square footage. President Trump said he thought perhaps the 10,000-plus square foot number was tripled, because his staff assumed it was the square footage of one floor, and they hadn’t subtracted the elevator space from it.
Trump Back on Witness Stand, Testifying on Seven Springs—11:15 AM
President Trump returned to the courtroom, giving cameras outside a thumbs up.
Questioning resumed with the 2014 SFC and an easement on Seven Springs. President Trump said he thought the number was high, but didn’t think it wasn’t something the property could sell for.
“In many ways it’s better,” he said, adding he had 30 percent of a partnership with Vorndao on the property.
He added that his buildings were refinanced two years ago, and he probably had conversations with the comptroller, Mr. McConney, about the 2021 refinancing.
State attorneys asked whether he was involved in the 2021 SFCs.
“No,” President Trump said, explaining he was “busy in the White House” and dealing with China and Russia.
Asked whether CFO Mr. Weisselberg and Mr. McConney lowered valuations in 2021, President Trump said yes, he had thought it was too high, and they lowered it.
President Trump left the courtroom during a short break, miming zipping his lips to the media cameras as he did.
He is not expected to give remarks to the press during breaks today, but attorney Ms. Habba may give a press conference on the courthouse steps during lunch.
Judge, Trump Clash—10:50 AM
Justice Engoron interrupted the testimony to warn defense attorney Chris Kise to “control” his client yet again, with yelling between the judge and attorney.
“If you can’t control him I will, and will draw every negative inference,” he said.
Mr. Kise said that would be unfair. “You have on the stand a candidate for the President of the United States. I don’t think you should draw negative inference. The court needs to hear what he has to say.”
President Trump had been talking about a lease he gave to Tiffany’s and IBM on Fifth Avenue, and what he believed were very favorable terms on prime real estate.
Justice Engoron was annoyed with President Trump’s long answer when he had been asked a question about the accuracy of a number.
“I am not here to hear what he has to say,” Justice Engoron said.
“This is a very unfair trial,” President Trump said. “And I hope the public is watching.”
Trump Says He Became President Because of His ‘Brand’—10:27 AM
President Trump said his brand value was a large part of the Trump Organization’s assets value.
“I became president because of my brand. I sell books in very large volumes because of my brand,” he added. He said he may have given suggestions regarding his net worth for the SFCs, and that he didn’t believe other developers use SFCs.
“Everybody got their money in full,” he said, referring to banks and insurers he dealt with.
Justice Engoron asked President Trump’s attorney Chris Kise to “control your client” and that this was “not a political rally.”
Mr. Kise responded that these were “extraordinary circumstances,” hence the irregular testimony.
President Trump continued, explaining that he believed he was under-leveraged to the asset value, had $342 million in cash, and could have done deals without a loan, but chose to borrow money for tax reasons.
Trump Testifies on SFCs—10 AM
President Trump took the witness stand and got sworn in.
The former president was questioned about his ownership of the Trump Organization, which was transferred to a trust when he took office as president. His sons Mr. Donald Trump Jr. and Mr. Eric Trump were trustees.
“Don Jr. was impressive in business, as was Eric,” he said.
He was shown the 2012 SFC and asked about his involvement.
“I would look at them, I would see them, and maybe on occasion make suggestions,” he said.
He added that he was “under-leveraged,” and that banks looked at the SFCs, but placed more importance on the actual deal at hand, and the SFCs in this case were “not very important.”
“I’d been dealing with banks for 50 years, and probably know banks as well as anybody,” he said. “They don’t look at financial statements because that’s not what they’re after.”
He said all he did was give banks what was necessary, and if someone, including accountants, asked for his opinion, he would give it. He said Mar-a-Lago and 40 Wall Street were valued lower on the SFCs than what he would personally estimate.
Trump Says He Looks Forward to Testifying—9:52 AM
President Trump arrived just outside the courtroom where he was asked by a reporter, “Mr. Trump are you looking forward to testifying today?”
“I am,” he said.
He claimed the case was election interference.
“So while Israel is being attacked, while Ukraine is being attacked, while inflation is eating our country alive, I’m down here, and these are all political opponent attack ads by the Biden administration,” he said.
He referenced a recent New York Times/CBS poll which put President Trump in the lead once again, and said President Biden’s poll numbers were “terrible.”
“These are political operatives I’m going to be dealing with right now,” he said.
“It’s very unfair. But in the meantime, the people of the country see it, and they don’t like it, because it’s political warfare as you would call it, or political lawfare,” he said. “Usually it takes place in third world countries.”
“We’ll win the election and we’ll make America great again,” he said. “But we have to take away from the thugs that we deal with and the horrible people who actually must hate our country to do this. But we’ll fight very hard for our country. Thank you very much everybody.”
Trump Blasts James—8 AM
Throughout the trial President Trump has maintained he did nothing wrong, did not inflate assets on Trump Organization SFCs, and that the case is part of a political “witch hunt” that should never have been brought against him.
On Monday morning, he posted on social media a campaign video, a compilation of Ms. James campaigning on a platform to “get Trump.”
“What is fueling my soul right now is Trump,” she said at one event, followed by a clip at a separate event with the campaigning Ms. James saying, “I look forward to going into the office of the attorney general every day, suing him, and then going home.”
President Trump made another post about heading down to the courthouse, claiming that this case is “one of the many cases that were instigated and brought by my political opponent, crooked Joe Biden, through agencies and surrogates, for the purposes of election interference.”
He criticized the judge and attorney general, and said the case had “zero merit.”
He is expected to head down to the court just after 9 a.m. from his Trump Tower residence, and arrive by 9:45 a.m.
According to a projected schedule sent by his campaign, his attorney Ms. Habba will speak to the press outside the iconic courthouse, but the former president is not expected to speak during breaks.
After the trial concludes for the day, President Trump will head to the airport for a 5 p.m. flight back to Mar-a-Lago.