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Donald Trump Jr. returns to witness stand as New York fraud trial enters new phase

Trump Jr. on stand, notes father's "genius"
Donald Trump Jr. takes fraud trial stand again, notes father's "genius" 03:13

In his civil fraud trial in New York, former President Donald Trump is accused of purposefully overvaluing his assets and Trump Organization properties to get better terms in deals, an alleged scheme that the state says netted him and his co-defendants $250 million.

But to hear his son Donald Trump Jr. tell the story, the former president is a "genius" and an "artist" whose keen eye for real estate allowed him to unlock hidden value in properties that others were unable to see.

Trump Jr. appeared on the witness stand for the second time on Monday as the trial, now in its second month, entered a new phase. New York Attorney General Letitia James' office rested the state's case last week, giving defense attorneys their chance to call their own witnesses for the first time.

In addition to being the former president's son, Trump Jr. is a top executive at the Trump Organization. He previously testified in the trial earlier this month, when James' office called him to the stand to face questions about financial statements at the heart of the case. He returned as a witness for the defense on Monday.

"I'd say it's good to be here, Your Honor, but I'm afraid the attorney general would sue me for perjury," Trump Jr. said at one point.

Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony

In his early testimony Monday, Trump Jr. touted the family company and what he called his father's "genius." Responding to prompts from a lengthy slideshow presented by the defense team, Trump Jr. discussed the Trump Organization's history and many of the properties Donald Trump has bought or developed.

"He's an artist with real estate," Trump Jr. said of his father, later adding, "That is his canvas that he creates. He is a creative guy, and he's also good at building."

Trump Jr. repeatedly invoked the "artist" label for his father, saying he turned "eyesores" into "jewels." On multiple occasions, he cited what he said was his father's unusual "vision" toward projects.

Lawyers for the state objected to the defense's presentation, which included dozens of slides, but New York Judge Arthur Engoron rejected their effort. "I think it is relevant to get the historical perspective. I want no further objections on that," the judge said.

Earlier in the case, and during pretrial hearings, attorneys for the Trumps sought to explain seemingly inflated valuations as a product of Donald Trump's "extraordinary" real estate vision. They said his valuations were ultimately shown to be accurate as properties grew in value. Trump Jr. offered up a similar explanation Monday.

Donald Trump Jr. sits in the courtroom for his family's civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on Nov. 13, 2023.
Donald Trump Jr. sits in the courtroom for his family's civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on Nov. 13, 2023. Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

"My father was on the leading edge of creating" value, Trump Jr. said. 

He described a series of properties that he said were in disrepair when Trump bought them, saying his father "saw the potential" in them. The judge in the case has previously rejected an argument put forward by the defense that Trump's inflated valuations were justified because the properties later became more valuable.

As in Trump Jr.'s previous appearance during the testimony, he joked frequently, stopping to comment on the court sketch artist's work and remarking on the stand about photos of himself and brother Eric Trump. 

"I would have so much fun with that picture, but I will refrain. A lot of Photoshop," he said at one point, when Eric Trump was shown on the screen, about 70 slides in. 

James' team objected to an exhibit entered by Trump Jr.'s attorney, Clifford Robert — a valuation of Trump's Doral Club in Florida completed by the real estate firm Newmark in 2022. The company told the Trumps the property was worth $1.3 billion, far higher than the attorney general believes it was worth between 2011 and 2021, the years in question at trial.

One lawyer for James' office called the document "a draft marketing brochure." Another called it "stupid." The judge said it was "irrelevant" to the case, but allowed it to be entered into evidence.

Robert said there would be more testimony on the document to come.

"We're actually going to hear testimony tomorrow that [a Newmark employee] thinks [the valuation] is too low," Robert said.

Trump Jr. ultimately walked the court through more than 100 slides during the defense's questioning, explaining how he believes the Trump Organization improved various properties and made them more valuable.

Once the defense was finished, Colleen Faherty, a lawyer for James, questioned Trump Jr. very briefly, highlighting several instances that might contrast with elements of his testimony.

She pointed to Trump Jr.'s assertion that the building at 40 Wall St. in New York has a 90% occupancy rate. Faherty pulled up a recent news article listing it at 77%, down from 98% in 2015.

"Isn't it true that 40 Wall St. was just placed on the servicer's watch list?" she asked, citing an article which said the family's loan on the building had been transferred to a special servicer.

"I don't know that for sure," Trump Jr. replied.

Faherty concluded her questioning by pointing to another article about a Trump-branded hotel in Waikiki, Hawaii. The owner is buying out the Trumps' management contract, and converting the property into a Hilton.

"Is it correct that it is ditching the Trump name?" she asked. 

Trump Jr. insisted that the move was a win for the Trumps. "If they want to buy it out for millions of dollars, I'm OK with that," he said.

Trump Jr.'s earlier testimony

Trump Jr. was previously called to the stand on Nov. 2 and Nov. 3, when he testified that he relied on the Trump Organization's accountants to prepare the so-called statements of financial condition detailing his father's assets.

The defense did not question Trump Jr. at the time. His siblings Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump, and father, former President Donald Trump, were also called to the stand after Trump Jr.'s first appearance.

On Monday, a defense attorney indicated they will call Eric Trump back to the stand later in the trial, which is expected to last through mid-December.

The younger Trumps downplayed their roles in preparing the financial statements. Engoron concluded in a pretrial ruling in September that the documents fraudulently overstated Donald Trump's wealth by billions of dollars, and the value of certain properties by hundreds of millions of dollars. James' office is arguing that doing so allowed his family and company to cut deals with banks and insurers for significantly better terms than the Trumps otherwise would have received.

Trump and his co-defendants have all denied wrongdoing. The trial is proceeding on other allegations in the state's civil suit, including falsification of business records and conspiracy. The judge is also being asked to determine "disgorgement," or the amount the state should receive for "ill-gotten" gains.

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