Former president Donald Trump is in the second week of a civil fraud trial in New York, which could fraught his business empire.
The trial was brought on by state Attorney General Letitia James, who has accused Trump of fraudulently inflating the value and/or size of assets to secure favorable financial loans and insurance deals. The attorney general is seeking $250 million in punitive damages, along with a ban for the former president and his sons from running businesses in New York.
Before the trial even began, Judge Arthur Engoron – who will decide on the case without a jury due to legal mandate – ruled that Trump and the other defendants were liable for fraud and that Trump’s business licenses in New York should be canceled. This was later paused by appeals court judge Peter Moulton, who declined to fulfill the defense’s request to halt the trial.
Trump, who has denied all wrongdoing and believes the case to be part of a politically motivated “witch hunt”, attended the first three days of the trial and is expected to attend next week. In the opening arguments, Kevin Wallace argued that employees of the Trump Organization had arbitrarily assigned values to assets to meet the Republican frontrunner’s desired net worth. Christopher Kise, a Trump attorney, responded that the assets had no objective value, highlighting that different estimations are the norm in real estate.
Allen Weisselberg, former chief financial officer for the Trump Organization, acknowledged his role in the manipulation of Trump’s assets, adding that the Republican frontrunner reviewed financial statements himself.
Later in the week, the court heard from Nicolas Haigh, a former employee at Deutsche Bank. Haigh reviewed loan applications from the Trump Organization during his time at the bank, and said he assumed the valuations were “broadly accurate.” However, he added that Deutsche Bank also performed its own research, and did not rely solely on Trump’s figures.
Yesterday, Attorney General James questioned Patrick Birney, an assistant vice president at Trump’s firm, who told the court that Weisselberg and Jeffrey McConney, the Trump Organization’s former controller, were the final deciders on valuations of company assets. Moreover, Trump’s former accountant Donald Bender testified that the Trump Organization did not always follow its responsibility of standard accounting practice, while Camron Harris, an accountant who also worked with Trump, said McConney compiled the valuations before they were handed to Bender to compile.
What Happens Next for Donald Trump?
Birney continued his testimony on Friday morning. Next week, Attorney General James is expected to call the chief accounting officer of Trump Hotels, Mark Hawthorn, as well as Trump Organization accountant Donna Kidder.
Next week is also likely to see the highly anticipated testimony of Michael Cohen, Trump’s ex-fixer who’s become his arch nemesis in recent years.
Shay Bottomley is a British journalist based in Canada. He has written for the Western Standard, Maidenhead Advertiser, Slough Express, Windsor Express, Berkshire Live and Southend Echo, and has covered notable events including the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee.