Former US President Trump Confronts New York Fraud Claims On First Day Of Trial

On Monday, Donald Trump faced his adult sons, former lieutenants, and even himself as the first day of his civil fraud trial opened in spectacular fashion in a Manhattan court.

Kevin Wallace, a lawyer for New York’s attorney general, delivered the opening argument, which included clips from recent video depositions of Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization’s former chief financial officer who served a five-month prison sentence after being convicted of tax fraud.

The former president, who was present in person, peered into a video monitor to watch his own testimony from April, in which he was asked under oath whether Weisselberg was responsible for ensuring that his personal financial statements complied with generally accepted accounting principles: “I would say, yes,” Trump replied in the videotaped deposition.

“Were you lying then or are you lying now?” Wallace said on Monday.

The trial judge, Arthur Engoron, decided last week that Trump and his co-defendants had committed systematic fraud by misrepresenting the worth of his assets for years. He ruled that Trump’s companies lose their business licenses in New York and that receivers be appointed to oversee their dissolution.

The trial, which began on Monday, will evaluate new accusations brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, including insurance fraud and fabrication of company records. It will also determine if Trump will pay any financial penalties and whether he and his co-defendants will be allowed to operate a business in the state again. James is suing for up to $250 million in damages.

The former president faces no prison time under civil law, but his financial empire is at risk of being dissolved.

On Monday morning, Trump entered the courtroom with a sour grimace on his face. He was dressed formally in a dark suit with a blue shirt and tie. Eric, his son, sat in the first row of the gallery behind him. Meanwhile, Trump focused his attention on Engoron, whom he has previously described as “deranged.”

Engoron, who was folksy and affable, seemed unconcerned, portraying himself as “a generalist” who knows a little about a lot of subjects.

Wallace contended in his opening statement that Trump and his co-defendants willfully lied about Trump’s net worth, inflating it by up to $2.2 billion each year, in order to receive bank loans on favorable terms from Deutsche Bank and other lenders.

“The defendants knew that a high net worth was necessary to obtain and maintain certain financial benefits,” Wallace said, estimating the lower interest rates had saved the Trumps tens of millions of dollars a year.

Williams showed a video deposition of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, in which he detailed the methods used to calculate the former president’s net worth. “It was basically backing in numbers . . . to obtain the number Mr Trump wanted,” Cohen said.

In another video, a beaming Donald Trump Jr claimed that he knew very little about generally accepted accounting standards, other than that they were “generally accepted.”

Trump’s lawyer, Christopher Kise, argued in his rebuttal that his client’s financial records “were true and accurate in all material respects” and that there had been no intent to cheat.

“There are many ways to value assets, and all are accurate even if they give different results,” Kise stated, claiming that “current market value” was not the sole way to evaluate a property.

Kise pointed out that Trump’s claims were full of qualifiers, and that Deutsche had conducted its own investigation into the assets. He called Cohen a habitual liar after he was sentenced to three years in jail after pleading guilty to a variety of charges, including a conspiracy to arrange payments just before the 2016 presidential election to quiet two women who claimed to have had relationships with Trump.

Kise also defended his client’s business acumen, saying: “President Trump has made billions of dollars building one of the most successful real estate empires in the world.”

Trump appeared serious as the debate progressed. He put his arms across his chest and spoke with his lawyers on occasion. “This is the continuation of the single greatest witch hunt in history,” he declared as he approached the courthouse.

Donald Bender, a retired accountant from Mazars, testified in court that the firm had simply gathered financial information provided by the Trump Organization, whose obligation it was to guarantee accuracy and compliance with accounting standards.

The trial is set to go through the end of December. It is only one judicial process that will absorb Trump as he campaigns for re-election to the presidency.

He is also facing criminal accusations for allegedly attempting to change the 2020 election results and mishandling classified government information after leaving office.

Outside the courthouse, Trump slammed Engoron and James, who was in attendance for opening arguments, calling her a “disgrace.” He also appeared to take offense at the allegation that his business success had been exaggerated, saying: “I built a great company.”

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