Trump family takes the stand: Angry outbursts, memory lapses and ‘gotcha’ moments from the civil fraud trial

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Four members of the Trump family, including the former president, testified over the past week in the $250 million civil fraud case that could inflict serious damage on their family company.

The remarkable spectacle of five days of testimony from the former first family inside Judge Arthur Engoron’s New York courtroom included angry outbursts from Donald Trump, memory lapses from his three oldest children — Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump — and even some “gotcha”-style moments that could ultimately figure into the judge’s verdict.

Only Ivanka Trump, a former senior executive at the Trump Organization who was let out of the case as a defendant by an appeals court, was cross-examined by Trump's lawyers. Trump and his oldest sons, who both now run the company, are expected to be called back as witnesses after the defense begins presenting its case next week. Trump attorney Chris Kise said Thursday that Trump Jr. would be their first witness. Here’s a look at some key moments from their testimony so far.

Fire and fury

The former president has been highly critical of state Attorney General Letitia James for bringing the fraud suit against him, his family and his company, and of the judge for his rulings in the case. Trump kept up those attacks on the witness stand, repeatedly blasting both.

“I think she’s a political hack,” Trump said of James, calling it “a disgrace that a case like this is going on.”

‘This is a political witch hunt, and I think she should be ashamed of herself,” he said.

Trump also complained mightily about Engoron, who will be determining his company’s fate, and took aim at the judge’s pretrial ruling finding Trump liable for “persistent fraud” for grossly overinflating his assets in financial statements. Trump called him a “very hostile judge, extremely hostile judge.”

“He ruled against me and he said I was a fraud before he knew anything about me, nothing about me,” Trump said of Engoron, who has overseen legal disputes between Trump and the attorney general’s office for years.

“It’s a terrible thing you did. You knew nothing about me. You believed this political hack back there,” he told the judge, referring to James, who was sitting in the audience. “And that’s unfortunate.”

Special treatment

The sight of a defendant verbally attacking a judge without any repercussions was unusual on its own, but after complaints from James’ office that Trump was giving speeches instead of answering questions, Trump lawyer Kise argued his client should be given leeway to answer questions however he sees fit.

“I think the court should grant the former president of the United States — and according to The New York Times this morning, perhaps soon to be the future president of the United States — a little latitude to explain himself,” Kise said.

Engoron was unmoved. “So, Mr. Trump, just answer the question. You can attack me, you can do whatever you want, but answer the questions,” the judge said.

At another point, Kise told the judge he should just listen to what his client has to say. Engoron told him Trump’s appearance was “not a political rally.” “I’m not here to hear what he has to say,” the judge said. “I’m here to hear him answer questions.”

‘Very conservative’

While the attorney general's office has accused Trump of inflating his annual statements of financial condition by up to $2 billion a year, Trump maintained that any errors in the statements were "nonmaterial."

"I think that the statements of financial condition were very good, were actually somewhat conservative and in some cases very conservative," Trump said, adding some properties were worth even more than what was listed in his financial statements. He said the documents were prepared by his accountants.

"I mean, people don’t know how good a company I built. You know why? Because people like you go around and try and demean me and try and hurt me," Trump told lawyer Kevin Wallace with the attorney general's office.

The art of the no big deal

Trump also maintained that the financial statements at the heart of the attorney general's case were irrelevant because banks and insurers don't really rely on them for anything.

"Yeah, I would look at them. It was not something that was of great urgency," he said, referring to the statements. "It just wasn’t very important. You have made it important, but it wasn’t important. It wasn’t important financially," he added.

Trump made repeated references to what he called a "disclaimer clause" or "worthless statement clause" in the financial statements that advises that different people may reach different conclusions about the values in it. He said it holds that people should do their own "due diligence."

Engoron had already shot down that defense in a pretrial ruling in September, finding the clause wasn't as broad as Trump was claiming. He told Trump, "If you want to know about the disclaimer clause, read my opinion again, or for the first time, perhaps."

"Well, you are wrong on the opinion," Trump shot back.

Sliding numbers

For a case where he's accused of being sloppy with his financial estimates, Trump didn't seem too concerned with numerical precision.

After saying the value of his Mar-a-Lago club was lower on his financial forms than it should have been — the AG maintained it was massively overvalued and falsely portrayed as being able to be used as a single residence — Trump offered his own widely ranging current estimates.

"The judge had it at $18 million. And it is worth, say, I say from 50 to 100 times more than that. So I don’t know how you got those numbers," Trump said. Later, he was asked if he'd previously said the property, which has been assessed for tax purposes at between $18 million and $28 million, was worth $1.5 billion. "I think between a billion and a billion five," Trump answered.

Who’s in charge here?

Trump ceded control of his company to Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and then-Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg when he entered the White House. Documents shown during Donald Trump Jr.'s testimony showed the senior Trump reclaimed control of the trust that owned the property on Jan. 15, 2021 — five days before he left office.

Trump stepped down and made Trump Jr. the trustee again on July 7, 2021, according to documents the attorney general's office showed in court. That was just days after Weisselberg and the company were hit with tax fraud charges by the Manhattan district attorney's office.

Wallace, of the AG's office, asked Trump if there was "anything in particular" that was "happening in July of 2021 that led to that decision."

"Well other than you and about every other Democrat, district attorney, AG and U.S. attorneys, et cetera, were coming after me from 15 different sides, all Democrats, all Trump haters — and all cases that are not good, that are inappropriate and not good. Weaponization they call it. But I felt Donald would do a good job. He would be running the business with Eric. And I had great confidence in him," Trump said.

Weisselberg later pleaded guilty to the charges and the company was convicted at trial.

Good kids

Trump praised his sons early on in his testimony. Asked why he made Trump Jr. a trustee of his trust when he went into the White House, Trump said, "He is a hardworking boy, you know, young man, and he has done a very good job; as has Eric. Eric was very busy running the company, and I thought that putting Don in would be good. He is smart. He is a very honorable guy."

I don’t remember, I don’t recall

The attorney general's office grilled the Trump children on phone calls, conversations and emails in some cases going back over 10 years. The most common responses to those questions were that they could not remember anything about them. Each of the adult children offered dozens of variations of "I don't remember" or "I don't recall" during their testimony.

The AG's office was clearly skeptical of some of those answers during Eric Trump's testimony, including when he was asked about a 2021 a video phone call he had with his brother and others about the financial statements after they were already aware of the AG's investigation.

Pressed about the call on his second day on the witness stand, Eric Trump said, "I’m testifying that I don’t recall a specific call out of thousands of calls on every single day. There isn’t a question there were conversations in the organization about the statement of financial condition after this action started."

Oh, those financial statements

Eric Trump maintained early in his testimony that he had never seen or worked on the company's financial statements prior to taking over. "I don't believe I would have had knowledge of it," he said, adding later that "I didn't know anything about it really until this case came into fruition."

Andrew Amer of the AG's office then presented him with emails showing he had used his father's financial statements in connection with a deal he was working on in 2012, and another showing a Trump Organization executive asking him to weigh in on the valuation of a specific property for the statement the next year.

"So you did know about your father's annual financial statement as of Aug. 20, 2013, didn't you?" Amer asked.

"It appears that way, yes," he replied.

He was then shown emails where he was asked for information for the statements in future years as well.

Accountants are accountable

When Donald Trump was in the White House, the financial statements were signed by the Trump sons. They both testified they had little to nothing to do with the statements before that, and that they essentially rubber-stamped them when they were in charge.

Trump Jr. said he didn't question the figures in the statements because they came from the accounting firm they'd hired. "I rely on the accountants," he said. "They were intimately involved in every aspect" of the statements.

Asked about what due diligence he performed on the financial statements, Eric Trump said, "I relied on a very big accounting office. I relied on one of the biggest accounting firms in the country. And I relied on a great legal team, and when they gave me comfort that the statement was perfect, I was more than happy to execute it."

Ivanka Trump said she was not involved with her father's financial statements and had no insight into how they were prepared.

"I would assume he would have personal financial statements that he would work on with his own accountants, but those weren't things that I was privy to," she said, adding that "it was not something that I was involved in."

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