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Trump clashes with judge, defends business record in testimony at New York fraud trial

Trump takes stand in New York fraud trial
Trump takes stand in New York fraud trial 03:58

Testifying under oath in a New York courtroom with the fate of his family's business empire on the line, former President Donald Trump lashed out against the judicial forces that put him there.

Trump has already been found liable for fraud, a word he lobbed at the judge overseeing the civil trial against him. He said New York Attorney General Letitia James "should be ashamed of herself."

Over the course of four hours on the stand on Monday, Trump repeatedly strayed from the questions, earning reprimands from New York Judge Arthur Engoron on several occasions. The judge, who was seated just feet away from Trump, will decide the outcome of the bench trial himself.

The case stems from a $250 million civil lawsuit filed by James' office, which accused Trump, his two oldest sons, the Trump Organization and several executives of a yearslong fraud scheme. The state alleges the defendants inflated the value of the company's assets and Trump's personal wealth to obtain better terms on loans and insurance. The attorney general is seeking to recoup $250 million and limit the Trumps' ability to do business in New York. The defendants have all denied wrongdoing, and Trump has repeatedly accused James of pursuing him for political reasons.

In his testimony, the former president and current front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination stood by the valuations of various Trump properties that other co-defendants have sought to distance themselves from.

"The numbers of my net worth are substantially more than the numbers reflected on the financial statements," he said in one exchange. "Therefore you have no case."

Trump's testimony

Former President Donald Trump waits to take the witness stand at New York Supreme Court on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in New York.
Former President Donald Trump waits to take the witness stand at New York Supreme Court on Monday, Nov. 6, 2023. Eduardo Munoz Alvarez / AP

Trump arrived at the courthouse in lower Manhattan shortly before 10 a.m. and made brief remarks, reiterating his criticism of the trial. 

"It's a terrible, terrible thing. These are political operatives that I'm going to be dealing with right now," Trump said. "It's a very sad situation for our country."

Outside the courtroom, James predicted Trump would "engage in name-calling, taunts and race-baiting," but said, "At the end of the day, the only thing that matters are the facts and the numbers, and numbers, my friend, don't lie."

Trump then took the stand. Kevin Wallace, a lawyer from the attorney general's office, kicked off the questioning by asking Trump about a trust he established to manage his assets before he entered the White House. When he left office in 2021, he took control of the trust, only to relinquish it again in July 2021. He testified that he did so because of increasing legal pressure from a number of fronts.

"You and about every other Democrat district attorney, A.G., and U.S. attorney were coming at me from 15 different sides, all Democrats, Trump haters," Trump said, adding that he had "great confidence" in his son to manage his assets.

Trump repeatedly gave long-winded answers to questions about the valuations of various Trump Organization properties, and Engoron's patience soon wore thin. Christopher Kise, one of Trump's attorneys, encouraged Engoron to allow Trump to give answers in his own way.

"With this witness I would suggest it's far more efficient to listen to what he has to say and take it in," Kise said, prompting laughter from Wallace.

Engoron's voice rose as his anger seemed to boil over, and his microphone struggled to handle the sudden change in volume.

"No, I'm not here to hear what he has to say," Engoron said, his voice rising. "I'm here to hear him answer questions. Sit down!"

Engoron said he was considering drawing negative conclusions from Trump's testimony.

"We got another speech. I beseech you to control him if you can. If you can't, I will. I will excuse him and draw every negative inference that I can," Engoron said.

After a break, Wallace posed questions about the valuations of Trump's and his company's properties, including Mar-a-Lago, Trump Tower in Manhattan and an upstate New York estate known as Seven Springs. Trump defended the financial statements listing their supposed value, saying that even those valuations that have been determined to be inflated were too low. He added that he would not be willing to sell several properties because they were worth so much.

James' office says the documents, known as statements of financial condition, inflated his net worth by billions. Trump said the documents included a disclaimer that absolved him of responsibility for inaccuracies.

"The disclaimer clause says if there's a mistake, if there's something, don't rely on it," Trump said. "[The disclaimers] always hold up in court, except maybe this court."

Trump also insisted that increases in property values over time justified overvaluations in the past, an argument Engoron has previously rejected. Discussing property valuations for 2014, Trump said, "If you carry that forward to 2021, all of those valuations were low."

Trump became particularly animated during discussion of Mar-a-Lago, the Florida club where he resides for most of the year. Engoron's pretrial ruling finding Trump liable for fraud noted that the local assessor valued Mar-a-Lago at $18 million, while in documents Trump valued it at hundreds of millions more. The former president said in his testimony that he believes it's worth as much as $1.5 billion.

A court sketch of former President Donald Trump being questioned by Kevin Wallace.
A court sketch of former President Donald Trump being questioned by Kevin Wallace.  Jane Rosenberg

The property is "deed-restricted" and cannot be used as a residence, which experts previously told CBS News limits its value. Trump said he agreed to the deed restriction for tax purposes, acknowledging that the lower assessed value limits the property's tax burden. He then described a hypothetical scheme in which a person calls their own home a club to save money on taxes.

"There are a lot of advantages to the club status, the smartest thing to do would be to have a club and have one member," Trump said.

He later argued about whether it was accurate to value one of his Scottish golf clubs as if he has built nearly 2,500 new homes on it, when in fact he has built none and is limited by contract to just under 1,500.

"At some point maybe in my very old age I'll go there and do the most beautiful thing you've ever seen," the 77-year-old said.

Later in the day, Trump described a loan related to Chicago property as having been "long since gone." Pressed on that detail, he conceded it was actually paid off "very recently."

Wallace then asked, "Are you aware that the Trump Chicago loan was paid off last week?"

Trump said he was, and that, "my son recommended it," referring to Eric Trump, who testified about that and other properties on Nov. 2 and 3.

Trump said his company has begun looking into whether it needs to change internal policies as a result of the state's investigation.

"There will be recommendations made, and we will perhaps let you know what those recommendations are, it wouldn't bother me to let you know about it. But we have asked," Trump said, adding that Eric Trump has been in charge of communicating with accountants and lawyers about that process.

He was excused from the witness stand shortly before 3:30 p.m., with the defense team declining to pose questions.

The fraud trial

Trump is accused in the civil suit of being the primary beneficiary of a scheme to fraudulently portray his wealth as far greater than it is, and his properties as far more valuable, in order to get undeservedly favorable loan and insurance terms. The judge in the case has already found Trump, his two adult sons and their company liable for fraud, determining that the scheme led to hundreds of millions in unearned profits.

The trial is focused on other allegations, including falsification of business records, conspiracy and insurance fraud, as well as disgorgement — the exact amount of "ill-gotten gains" the Trumps must pay the state. 

Trump and his company have for more than a year blamed their former outside accountants, Mazars USA, for any inaccuracies in their statements of financial condition, essentially a snapshot of Trump's wealth. Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump reiterated that defense in testimony last week, saying they "trusted" internal and external accounting teams.

But their former Mazars accountant testified in October that his firm merely compiled reams of financial information provided to them by the Trumps and their company.

The lawsuit is seeking $250 million and sanctions designed to limit the Trumps' ability to do business in New York, including permanently barring Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump from serving as an officer or director in any business in the state.

Reporting contributed by Katrina Kaufman.

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