Trump Set to Testify in High-Stakes New York Fraud Trial

Emma Grant
Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media as he arrives for his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on November 06, 2023 in New York City. (Photo by Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)

NEW YORK – After watching his sons Eric and Don Jr. sweat it out on the witness stand last week, former President Donald Trump is scheduled to testify Monday in a high-stakes Manhattan trial that could cost him $250 million and bar his iconic company from operating in New York.

Trump’s turn on the hot seat comes after State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron on Friday extended a partial gag order he imposed on the former president to include the Trump defense team. Trump has twice been fined by Engoron for violating the gag order.

The 2024 Republican presidential frontrunner has described his fraud trial as a “witch hunt” by Letitia James, New York’s state attorney general, and Engoron, both of whom are elected Democrats.

What is the Trump New York trial about?

The trial is addressing several allegations, including that Trump, his adult sons, and the Trump Organization executives falsified corporate financial statements and committed insurance fraud. The testimony will also inform Engoron’s decision about what further punishment, if any, to impose.

James not only wants to permanently block Trump and his two oldest sons from running a New York business, but also to impose a 5-year ban on the father and the Trump Organization from buying New York real estate or applying for loans from banks in the state.

The attorney general’s office has asked Engoron to force the defendants to forfeit any profits stemming from the alleged fraudβ€”a penalty that could reach a quarter billion dollars.

Trump’s eldest daughterβ€”the former top White House advisorβ€”Ivanka Trump was initially a defendant in James’ lawsuit, but a New York appeals court tossed out the case against her, finding too much time had passed since her involvement in the Trump Organization.

That hasn’t meant Ivanka can avoid testifying: Engoron rejected her challenge to a state subpoena, and she is slated to take the stand Wednesday.

Sons Deny Close Knowledge of Financial Statements

Questioning of Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump last week focused on what they knew about alleged misrepresentations in their father’s financial statements, which the state says were used to get bank loans on fraudulent terms. The brothers have been closely involved in their father’s business operations for many years.

Both of the brothers denied having close knowledge of the financial statements, blaming company accountants for any discrepancies.

Time will tell if the former president’s testimony mirrors that of his sons. In public statements, Trump has said his financial statements are “phenomenal” and that his actual net worth is “substantially more” than what the statements indicated.

Last week, Trump said on social media that his sons were “PERSECUTED in a political Witch Hunt by this out of control, publicity seeking, New York State Judge.”

Controversy Over Judge’s Law Clerk

Eric Trump’s testimony on Friday was overshadowed by the controversy over defense attacks on Engoron’s principal law clerk, Allison Greenfield, with whom Engoron sometimes passes notes on the bench. Last month, Trump said on social media that Greenfield β€œis running this case against me,” prompting Engoron to issue his initial gag order.

On Friday, Trump lawyer Christopher Kise complained that the exchanges created a β€œperception of bias.”

β€œSince the commencement of this bench trial, my chambers have been inundated with hundreds of harassing and threating phone calls, voicemails, emails, letters, and packages,” the judge wrote in his Friday order. β€œThe First Amendment right of defendants and their attorneys to comment on my staff is far and away outweighed by the need to protect them from threats and physical harm.”

Engoron’s gag order doesn’t extend to the judge himself, who Trump has called a “partisan political hack” and a “radical Trump hater.”

Trump Ruling in September

In September, Engoron ruled that Trump and other defendants in the case had fraudulently inflated the value of billions of dollars in assets, and he said that certain entities tied to them will lose their New York business certificates – a finding Trump called β€œthe corporatate death penalty.”

The judge also imposed sanctions on Trump’s defense attorneys for repeatedly advancing “bogus arguments,” such as the defense notion that square footage is subjective.

But Engoron’s September bombshell only addressed a portion of James’ 222-page legal complaint accusing Trump and others of persistent and repeated fraud.

Potential Penalties Loom Large

James not only wants to permanently block Trump and his two oldest sons from running a New York business, but also to impose a 5-year ban on the father and the Trump Organization from buying New York real estate or applying for loans from banks in the state.

The attorney general’s office has asked Engoron to force the defendants to forfeit any profits stemming from the alleged fraudβ€”a penalty that could reach a quarter billion dollars.

If the penalties are imposed, it would deal a major blow to the Trump business empire centered around real estate and hospitality holdings. Trump Tower on Fifth Avenue is one of Trump’s most iconic properties, and the Trump Organization owns several other high-profile buildings in Manhattan.

Barring the company from doing business in New York could also severely restrict its ability to operate nationally and globally.

Trump Fighting Back

The former president is not going down without a fight. He has relentlessly attacked James and the judge overseeing the trial through public statements and social media posts.

Trump has called the trial a “witch hunt” and the proposed penalties the “corporate death penalty.” He insists his financial statements are accurate and claims his true net worth is “substantially more” than reported.

The 2024 Republican presidential frontrunner has slammed James as politically motivated and said Engoron is a “radical Trump hater” who is biased against him.

His legal team has vowed to appeal any verdict against Trump and continue challenging the case in court. But the state has presented hundreds of documents and called several witnesses alleging persistent fraud by Trump and his associates.

Monday’s testimony represents Trump’s chance to counter the state’s claims under oath. What he says on the stand could greatly influence the outcome of this pivotal trial.

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Emma Grant is a highly regarded legal news expert with a deep understanding of constitutional law and its implications in contemporary society. With her extensive background in legal journalism and analysis, Emma Grant has established herself as a trusted authority on the intersection of law, policy, and society.