Ex-president testifies in New York fraud case
Former U.S. President Donald Trump, center, sits in the courtroom during his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court, in New York City, on Nov. 6, 2023.
Jabin Botsford | Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump on Monday sounded off from the witness stand against the judge presiding over the $250 million civil fraud trial that threatens his family’s business empire.
Trump railed at length against Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron, claiming he undervalued Trump’s properties and called the ex-president a “fraud” — all while sitting directly next to the judge.
The rant came shortly after noon under questioning from a lawyer for New York Attorney General Letitia James, who accuses Trump, his two adult sons and his company of falsely inflating the values of his assets for financial perks.
Trump also laced into James during his rant, calling her a “political hack” and other insults, while he defended the values that were reported on the financial records at the heart of the case.
“There’s a disclaimer clause, so if there is a mistake … you don’t get sued by the attorney general’s office,” Trump said at one point.
It was Trump’s most dramatic display of anger from the witness stand, though not his first.
In his opening minutes on the witness stand Monday morning, Trump lashed out at the lawyer questioning him and his other Democratic antagonists, calling them “all haters.”
He also griped that Engoron “always rules against me,” prompting the judge to respond that that comment “isn’t true.”
At times, Engoron seemed frustrated by Trump’s testimony and his attorneys’ interruptions. He repeatedly warned Trump to answer questions directly and not give “speeches,” and warned the defense team that Trump’s outbursts and tangents could weaken his legal case.
“This is a very unfair trial,” Trump said at one point.
Trump was excused from the stand after 3 p.m. ET. His eldest daughter, Ivanka Trump, is expected to be called to testify in the case Wednesday.
James seeks to permanently bar Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump from running a business in the Empire State because, she says, they have engaged in years of financial fraud. Ivanka was previously dismissed as a co-defendant by a New York appeals court.
James’ lawsuit alleges that the Trumps intentionally misstated the values of his assets on financial statements to falsely inflate Trump’s net worth and obtain tax benefits and better loan and insurance terms.
“At the end of the day, the only thing that matters are the facts,” James said before entering the courthouse Monday morning. “And numbers, my friends, don’t lie.”
Trump’s at-times unwieldy and rambling turn on the witness stand came amid his campaign for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. He claimed inside and outside Engoron’s court that James’ lawsuit was a form of “election interference” aimed at undermining his latest White House bid. Trump, the clear front-runner in polls for the GOP primary, is facing four separate criminal cases in addition to James’ civil suit.
Trump insists the financial statements at the heart of the case were never meant to be definitive.
New York Attorney General Letitia James arrives at New York Supreme Court, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in New York.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez | AP
“My worth is far greater than on financial statements, plus they contain a full disclaimer clause telling readers of this information to do their own due diligence,” Trump posted on Truth Social on Nov. 2.
But Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has accused him in court of directing executives to falsely manipulate his net worth.
The first time Trump was questioned under oath in this case, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 440 times during a deposition with James’ attorneys, in August 2022.
Legal experts say that unlike a criminal case, where a defendant’s opting to take the Fifth cannot be held against them, in a civil case, a judge can draw an adverse inference from a witness’ refusal to testify.
Read more of CNBC’s politics coverage:
Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump testified last week that they relied on the company accountants who helped prepare the annual financial statements.
Engoron, who will deliver verdicts in the no-jury trial, has already found the defendants liable for fraud and ordered the cancellation of their New York business certificates. The trial, which is scheduled to last until late December, addresses six other claims alleged by James.
Trump is appealing Engoron’s pretrial ruling, which is on hold as the trial takes place. He consistently denies all wrongdoing and often repeats a laundry list of public defenses, including that his financial records contained an absolute disclaimer clause, and that the banks who approved his loans ultimately made money.
This is developing news. Please check back for updates.