(NEW YORK) — Former President Donald Trump is on trial in New York in a $250 million civil lawsuit that could alter the personal fortune and real estate empire that helped propel Trump to the White House.
Trump, his sons Eric Trump and and Donald Trump Jr., and other top Trump Organization executives are accused by New York Attorney General Letitia James of engaging in a decade-long scheme in which they used “numerous acts of fraud and misrepresentation” to inflate Trump’s net worth in order get more favorable loan terms. The trial comes after the judge in the case ruled in a partial summary judgment that Trump had submitted “fraudulent valuations” for his assets, leaving the trial to determine additional actions and what penalty, if any, the defendants should receive.
The former president has denied all wrongdoing and his attorneys have argued that Trump’s alleged inflated valuations were a product of his business skill.
Here’s how the news is developing. All times Eastern:
Dec 13, 9:14 AM EST
Accounting expert to testify in state’s rebuttal case
A day after Donald Trump’s lawyers rested their defense case that featured numerous expert witnesses, New York Attorney General Letitia James is set to call her own accounting expert as part of the state’s rebuttal case.
Cornell professor Eric Lewis was qualified as an accounting expert over the objections of Trump’s attorneys yesterday, and his direct examination is scheduled to begin this morning.
Lewis will likely address some of the findings reached by the defense’s accounting experts, Jason Flemmons and Eli Bartov, whose testimony that Trump had adequate disclaimers on his financial statements is at the center of the defense’s case.
Trump’s lawyer Chris Kise aggressively criticized Lewis’ qualifications during a lengthy voir dire session yesterday, but Judge Arthur Engoron remained convinced about Lewis’ ability to testify as an accounting expert.
Dec 12, 6:10 PM EST
Defense attorney blasts expert witness in rebuttal case
Donald Trump’s attorney Chris Kise unloaded on the second rebuttal witness called by New York Attorney General Letitia James after the defense had rested its case.
“The reason they brought this witness in here is, there is no one in the actual profession who would sustain the opinions they are asking of the witness,” Kise argued about Cornell professor of practice Eric Lewis, who Judge Engoron qualified as an expert in accounting.
Kise exasperatedly questioned Lewis during a prolonged voir dire about his qualifications, criticizing his experience while knocking Engoron in the process.
“You are a professor of practice with no practice in the field of accounting,” Kise told Lewis. “I probably have more experience in the practice of accounting than this witness.”
Engoron nevertheless deemed Lewis an expert in accounting over Kise’s objections that his expertise was “too broad” for the circumstances.
“I am not sure if anything will change a decision in this courtroom,” Kise argued.
Engoron appeared worn out by Kise’s lengthy attacks.
“Stop making speeches every time we have to discuss something,” Engoron said for the umpteenth time.
Court was subsequently adjourned for the day, with the state’s rebuttal case set to resume on Wednesday.
Dec 12, 4:36 PM EST
Ex-CFO inflated size of Trump’s penthouse, rebuttal witness says
With the defense having rested its case, state attorneys began what they expect to be a brief rebuttal case by calling to the stand Kevin Sneddon, a managing director at Trump International Realty between 2011 and 2012.
State attorneys asked Sneddon about one of the centerpieces of the attorney general’s complaint: Trump’s penthouse apartment in Trump Tower, which Trump claimed on his statements of financial condition was 30,000 square feet in size when the actual dimensions are a third of that. The overstated size allowed Trump to inflate the value of the apartment by over $200 million, Judge Arthur Engoron decided in his partial summary judgment.
During the defense’s case, a former Trump Organization executive blamed Sneddon for the error.
“The person running Trump International Realty at the time, Kevin Sneddon, sent me an email that the triplex was 30,000 square feet,” former Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney testified.
Sneddon, however, testified that he received the 30,000 square foot figure directly from Trump’s main deputy: co-defendant and former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg.
Sneddon said that he received a phone call directly Weisselberg, who requested that he value Trump’s penthouse.
“I just knew it was the penthouse. I didn’t know much about the apartment itself,” Sneddon testified.
“I asked if I could see it. He said that was not possible. I asked if there was a floor plan or any specs. He said he did not have any of that information,” Sneddon said. “He said, ‘It’s quite large. I think it’s around 30,000 square feet.'”
When McConney emailed him in September 2012 to ask for help valuing Trump’s penthouse, Sneddon said he relied on the figure Weisselberg provided him — unknowingly providing inaccurate information to McConney.
“I already valued DJT’s triplex for Allen,” Sneddon wrote in an email shown at trial. “At 30,000 sq. ft., DJT’s triplex is worth between 4K and 6K per ft – or 120MM to 180MM.”
Trump’s attorney Chris Kise fiercely objected to most of Sneddon’s brief testimony, describing the questioning as a “free for all.”
During a short cross-examination, defense attorney Clifford Robert attempted to discredit the testimony of Sneddon — who did not testify in the state’s case — by suggesting Sneddon was primed by state attorneys so his testimony would align with the state’s theory of the case.
Dec 12, 3:30 PM EST
Defense rests its case, makes 5th motion to end trial
Donald Trump’s lawyers rested their case in the former president’s civil fraud trial, as New York Attorney General Letitia James watched from the gallery.
Defense attorneys undertook several “housekeeping items” before concluding their case, including adding expert reports to the trial record “for appellate purposes.”
“You’re going to appeal,” Judge Engoron deadpanned before breaking into laughter.
Both parties were argumentative until the end, squabbling over minor issues that threatened to draw out the defense’s case.
“We don’t want additional time, we want the case to end,” said state attorney Kevin Wallace.
With all housekeeping finished, Trump attorney Chris Kise announced, “We do rest.” He then made the defense’s fifth motion for a directed verdict to end the case, saying he planned to submit a written motion on Friday.
“There is no way I am going to grant that,” Judge Engoron responded. “You’d be wasting your time.”
Wallace criticized Kise’s plan to submit a written motion as “silly” and a “colossal waste of resources.”
“We have already won on summary judgment,” Wallace said in reference to Engoron’s pretrial ruling. “I don’t know what we are pretending is happening here.”
Dec 12, 2:33 PM EST
NY AG in attendance for conclusion of defense’s case
New York Attorney General Letitia James is attending the afternoon session of Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial.
Sitting in the gallery with her staff, James briefly walked into Judge Engoron’s chambers before the trial resumed following the midday break.
Trump’s legal spokesperson, Alina Habba, was also spotted entering the judge’s chambers for a separate meeting.
Court then resumed with defense attorneys conducting their redirect examination of accounting expert Eli Bartov.
Bartov is expected to be the defense’s last witness before they rest their case, which will likely be followed by a brief rebuttal case by the state.
Dec 12, 12:37 PM EST
State highlights ‘unpersuasive’ past testimony of defense expert
In an effort to discredit the defense’s accounting expert, state attorney Louis Solomon highlighted that Eli Bartov’s testimony was rejected by a judge when he testified as an expert for the New York attorney general in her trial against Exxon Mobil in 2019.
The judge in that case wrote in his ruling that Bartov’s testimony during that trial was “unpersuasive” and was “flatly contradicted by the weight of the evidence,” according to Solomon’s reading of the ruling in court.
Bartov said he was unaware of the ruling, and defense attorney Chris Kise objected to the line of questioning as irrelevant.
Bartov largely stuck to his initial testimony during two hours of cross-examination this morning, defending his overall finding while acknowledging his analysis found that Trump’s statements included some marginal overstatements that “did not impact significantly Deutsche Bank’s decision to extend loans.”
While Bartov agreed that, in the real estate business, “price gets set first, then valuation follows” he said he saw no evidence to support the attorney general’s allegation that Trump’s statements were reverse engineered to provide support for the values determined by Trump and his executives.
“Do you know if they were reverse engineered?” Solomon asked.
“I have no knowledge of that,” Bartov responded.
Present in the courtroom for Bartov’s testimony was Eric Trump, who made a surprise appearance in the gallery. Like his father, Eric Trump initially planned to take the stand during the defense’s case, but canceled his testimony.
Dec 12, 11:13 AM EST
Trump cites limited gag order for decision to not testify
In a social media post this morning, Donald Trump claimed he “wanted to testify on Monday” but blamed his decision not to testify on the trial’s limited gag order, which prohibits Trump from commenting on Judge Engoron’s staff.
When Trump on Sunday pulled out of his testimony, he touted the strength of his evidence and previous testimony as the reasons he decided not to take the stand.
“Anyway, the Judge, Arthur Engoron, put a GAG ORDER on me, even when I testify, totally taking away my constitutional right to defend myself. We are appealing, but how would you like to be a witness and not be allowed free snd [sic] honest speech,” Trump wrote today.
In a statement to ABC News on Monday, Trump attorney Chris Kise also partially blamed the limited gag order for his client’s decision not to testify.
“There is really nothing more to say to a Judge who has imposed an unconstitutional gag order and thus far appears to have ignored President Trump’s testimony and that of everyone else involved in the complex financial transactions at issue in the case,” Kise said.
In a court filing last week, Engoron’s attorney wrote that the limited gag order “does not prevent statements about Justice Engoron himself, not the Attorney General or her staff, not the substance of the claims and allegations against petitioners, not the facts or evidence or witness testimony, not the judicial process, nor any other topic concerning the underlying action.”
Dec 12, 10:41 AM EST
Trump attorney accuses state of withholding witnesses
Judge Arthur Engoron will allow the New York attorney general to call two witnesses during the state’s rebuttal case once the defense rests its case — over the objection of Trump attorney Chris Kise.
“The government has held these witnesses back,” Kise said, arguing against the decision.
While state attorney Kevin Wallace maintained that their two rebuttal witnesses — Cornell professor Eric Lewis and former Trump Organization executive Kevin Sneddon — would only address arguments already made in court, Kise argued that the witnesses would be used to backfill evidence that the defense team would not be able to address fully.
“It’s not rebuttal. It’s filling a hole,” Kise said, accusing the state of “gamesmanship” by withholding evidence.
Unconvinced by Kise’s argument, Engoron ruled that the witnesses would still be permitted to testify.
“I see no reason not to allow these two purported experts to testify,” Engoron said.
In response, Trump’s defense attorneys suggested they might attempt to present an additional witness after the state’s rebuttal case.
Dec 12, 9:36 AM EST
Trump’s defense expected to rest its case today
After presenting four weeks of testimony, Donald Trump’s lawyers are scheduled to rest their case in the former president’s civil fraud trial today.
With Trump no longer testifying as a defense witness, New York University accounting professor Eli Bartov will be Trump’s final witness.
Resuming his cross-examination this morning, Bartov is likely to face questions about inconsistencies and potential bias in his analysis of Trump’s financial statements. Paid an hourly rate of $1,350 for 650 hours of work, Bartov said last week that he received payments from both the Trump Organization and Trump’s Save America PAC.
Bartov strongly defended Trump’s statements of financial condition, the documents at the center of the New York attorney general’s case, during his testimony last week, saying that he could find “no evidence whatsoever for any accounting fraud.” Bartov also argued the documents were insignificant to the banks that loaned Trump money, which he said used their own analysis to make their loan decisions.
“It is impossible to argue — it is really absurd to argue — that Deutsche Bank or any bank or any lender would make lending decisions based on the statements of financial condition,” Bartov said. “This should close the book on this case.”
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