Trump’s NY fraud trial resumes, as Donald Trump Jr. takes the stand
Donald Trump Jr. is the first witness called to the stand by Donald Trump’s lawyers in the New York civil fraud trial. He said he never worked on the annual financial statements at the heart of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit.
| View caption Hide caption
Foiled in their long-shot bid for an early verdict, Donald Trump’s lawyers will start calling witnesses of their own Nov. 13 in the New York civil fraud trial that threatens the former president’s real estate empire.
First up: Donald Trump Jr., who’ll be returning to the witness stand two weeks after state lawyers quizzed him during a major stretch of the trial that also featured testimony from his father and siblings Eric and Ivanka Trump.
Mr. Trump’s oldest son, a Trump Organization executive vice president, originally testified on Nov. 1 and 2. He said he never worked on the annual financial statements at the heart of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit. He said he relied on the company’s longtime finance chief and outside accounts to verify their accuracy.
Ms. James alleges Donald Trump, his company, and executives, including Eric and Donald Jr., exaggerated his wealth by billions of dollars on financial statements given to banks, insurers, and others. The documents were used to secure loans and make deals. She is seeking more than $300 million in what she says were ill-gotten gains and a ban on defendants doing business in New York.
Before the trial, Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that the defendants committed fraud by inflating his net worth and the value of assets on his financial statements. He imposed a punishment that could strip Mr. Trump of marquee properties like Trump Tower, though an appeals court is allowing him to remain in control for now.
The Trumps have denied wrongdoing. Their lawyers contend that the state failed to meet “any legal standard” to prove allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud, and falsifying business records. The state rested its case Nov. 8 after six weeks of testimony from more than two dozen witnesses. Among them: company insiders, accountants, bank officials, and Mr. Trump’s fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen.
The trial is proceeding after Mr. Engoron rebuffed the defense’s request last week to end it early through what’s known as a directed verdict. Mr. Engoron did not rule on the request, but indicated the trial would move ahead as scheduled.
Mr. Trump’s lawyer Christopher Kise, seeking a verdict clearing Mr. Trump and other defendants, argued Nov. 9 that the state’s case involved only “successful and profitable loan transactions” and that “there is no victim. There is no complainant. There is no injury.”
After testifying in early November, Donald Trump Jr. echoed his father’s claims that the case was “purely a political persecution” brought by Ms. James, a Democrat, to blunt Mr. Trump’s chances as the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
“I think it’s a truly scary precedent for New York – for me, for example, before even having a day in court, I’m apparently guilty of fraud for relying on my accountants to do, wait for it: accounting,” Mr. Trump Jr. told reporters on Nov. 2.
On Nov. 13, Mr. Trump Jr. will be questioned first by the defense lawyers representing him, his father, and other defendants. A state lawyer is also expected to question him on cross-examination. Mr. Trump Jr. is expected to testify Nov. 13 and 14, followed by a tax lawyer who also testified as a state witness.
The defense also plans to call several expert witnesses as part of their case in an attempt to refute testimony from state witnesses that Mr. Trump’s financial statements afforded him better loan terms, insurance premiums, and were a factor in dealmaking.
When he became president in 2017, Mr. Trump handed day-to-day management of his company to Eric and Donald Trump Jr. and named Mr. Trump Jr. as a trustee of a trust he established to hold his assets while in office.
In Mr. Trump Jr.’s prior testimony, when asked if he ever worked on his father’s “statement of financial condition,” the scion said: “Not that I recall.” Mr. Trump Jr. said he signed off on statements as a trustee, but left the work to outside accountants and the company’s then-finance chief and co-trustee, Allen Weisselberg.
“I had an obligation to listen to the people with intimate knowledge of those things,” Mr. Trump Jr. testified. “If they put something forward, I wasn’t working on the document, but if they tell me that it’s accurate, based on their accounting assessment of all of the materials. … These people had an incredible intimate knowledge, and I relied on it.”