Donald Trump attacked New York’s attorney general and the judge overseeing his civil fraud trial as it began on Monday, and a state lawyer accused the former president of generating more than $100 million US by lying about his real estate empire.
Attorney General Letitia James is seeking at least $250 million US in fines, a permanent ban against Trump and his sons Donald Jr. and Eric from running businesses in New York and a five-year restriction on commercial real estate activities by Trump and his flagship Trump Organization.
Testimony in the Manhattan courtroom began following opening statements, with Donald Bender, a partner at Mazars USA and longtime accountant for Trump’s businesses, as the state’s first witness.
Trump told reporters outside the courtroom before the day’s proceedings began that the case was a “scam,” a “sham” and a political vendetta by James, calling the Democrat “a corrupt person, a terrible person. Driving people out of New York.”
Trump kept up his verbal attacks on the judge. Trump accused Justice Arthur Engoron of being a partisan Democrat who is using the case to interfere with the 2024 presidential election, where Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination.
“This is a judge that should be disbarred,” Trump said to reporters during Monday’s lunch break. “This is a judge that should be out of office.”
WATCH | Trump goes after judge on Day 1 of fraud trial:
‘This is really now getting dirty’: Trump criticizes judge, trial
Former U.S. president Donald Trump had some sharp words regarding Justice Arthur Engoron and New York Attorney General Letitia James, who are overseeing his civil fraud trial as it began on Monday. He called for Engoron’s disbarment and accused James of being elected solely to ‘take him down.’
Trump’s election campaign used the start of the trial for fundraising, saying he was defending his family and reputation from New York Democrats it called “corrupt tyrants.”
The case� concerns accusations by the state attorney general that Trump inflated his assets and his own net worth from 2011 to 2021 to obtain favourable bank loans and lower insurance premiums.
James has accused Trump of materially overvaluing assets including his Trump Tower penthouse apartment in Manhattan, his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and various office towers and golf clubs, and inflating his own fortune by as much as $2.2 billion US.
‘Mona Lisa properties’
Trump looked on with his arms crossed as Kevin Wallace, a lawyer in James’ office, called Trump “materially inaccurate” in describing his finances to banks and insurers.
“This isn’t business as usual, and this isn’t how sophisticated parties deal with each other,” Wallace said. “These are not victimless crimes.”
Christopher Kise, a lawyer for Trump, countered in his opening statement that the financials for Trump and the Trump Organization were entirely legal.
“It is one of the most highly successful brands in the world, and he has made a fortune literally being right about real estate investments,” Kise said. “There was no intent to defraud, there was no illegality, there was no default, there was no breach, there was no reliance from the banks, there were no unjust profits, and there were no victims.”
Alina Habba, another lawyer, separately told Engoron that Trump’s assets were “Mona Lisa properties” that could fetch premium prices if Trump sold them.
‘No one is above the law’
James said her office was ready to prove its case.
“No matter how much money you think you may have, no one is above the law,” James told reporters before entering the courtroom. “The law is both powerful and fragile. And today in court will prove our case.”
During his deposition earlier this year, Trump testified some of the practices his company engaged in with respect to valuations were typical for large real estate firms.
Engoron is hearing evidence without a jury.
Last week, the judge found Trump, his adult sons and 10 of his companies liable for fraud, describing in scathing terms how the defendants made up valuations.
He said these included valuing the Trump Tower apartment as if it were three times its actual size and worth $327 million US, and estimating that Mar-a-Lago was worth up to $739 million US though its assessed value was no more than $28 million US.
WATCH | What could happen if Trump loses?
Trump faces huge financial hit if he loses N.Y. fraud case, ex-prosecutor says
Former U.S. president Donald Trump went on trial in New York on Monday accused of generating more than $1 billion US by lying about his real estate empire. Beyond the $250 million US in fines sought by state Attorney General Letitia James, the case could also cost Trump his prized N.Y. properties, says former U.S. prosecutor Joseph Moreno.
Trump calls judge ‘deranged’
Trump at one point suggested under oath in his deposition that the valuations were fine because he could find a “buyer from Saudi Arabia” to pay whatever he wanted.
“This statement may suggest influence-buying more than savvy investing,” Engoron wrote.
The judge cancelled business certificates for companies controlling pillars of Trump’s empire, and said he would appoint receivers to oversee their dissolution.
Trump responded at the time by calling Engoron “deranged.”
The trial will review six additional claims including falsifying business records, insurance fraud and conspiracy, and address how much in penalties the defendants should pay.
Before opening arguments, Engoron described himself as a generalist on the law.
“One thing I know a lot about is the definition of fraud,” he said.
In his testimony, Bender said he relied on information provided by Trump and his companies when compiling Trump’s personal financial statements.
“If I saw something that stuck out at me at a high level … I would go back to them and ask them a question, but I did no audit or review procedures,” Bender said.
WATCH l Breaking down the different Trump criminal indictments:
Trump’s indictments explained: Why Georgia is charging him like a ‘Mob boss’ | About That
Former U.S. president Donald Trump is facing criminal charges for the fourth time, after a Georgia grand jury issued a sweeping indictment accusing him of trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Joe Biden and of running a ‘criminal enterprise.’ Andrew Chang explains all of the charges, and why the latest are so significant.
Weeks-long trial likely
The trial is scheduled to run through early December. More than 150 people including Trump are listed as potential witnesses, but much of the trial will likely be a battle of experts opining on financial documents.
Among them are former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who highlighted the variableness of Trump Organization valuations in congressional testimony in early 2019.
“It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes,” Cohen told the House committee.
The civil trial is not related to the four criminal indictments Trump is confronting in as many jurisdictions. He faces 91 criminal counts overall, accused of unlawful retention of government documents, falsifying business records in order to cover up hush money payments and for attempts to prevent his election defeat in 2020.
The earliest criminal trial date Trump faces is scheduled for March 2024, at the height of the Republican presidential primary campaign.