On Monday, former US President Donald Trump testified in a civil fraud trial that could determine his future as a businessman in New York. His four hours at the witness stand were marked by a defence of his wealth, outbursts and personal jabs at the judge and prosecution.
Judge Arthur Engoron ruled in September that Trump, a leading Republican presidential contender in 2024 polls, inflated his assets and net worth to secure better loan terms for the Trump Organization. In the current civil case, Engoron will determine damages that Trump and his sons are liable to pay. New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought the case forward, is seeking $250m in damages and restrictions on the family’s business activities.
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Trump’s time at the witness stand followed testimonies from his sons and co-defendants in the case, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr, last week. The duo has been leading the Trump Organization since 2017 as executive vice presidents. Although not a defendant, his daughter Ivanka Trump will close the family’s stretch of testimonies when she takes to the stand on Wednesday.
Here are some highlights from Trump’s day in court:
Trump arrives in court
Shortly after 9am (14:00 GMT), Trump made his way to court from the Trump Organization headquarters in Manhattan.
Donning a navy suit and blue tie, he reached 60 Centre Street – lined with the press – as members of the court walked up the steps of the court.
In the courtroom, Trump ignored Attorney General James as he walked past her to take a seat at the bench in front of Engoron. Sat next to him were lawyers, Christopher Kise and Alina Habba.
At about 10am (15:00 GMT), the tense proceedings began.
Worth more than financial statements
Trump has maintained that while some of the Trump Organization’s assets might have been overvalued, other major properties were undervalued.
Sprawled across the warm coast of Palm Beach, Florida, his Mar-a-Lago resort is “50 to 100 times more” than the $18m value mentioned by prosecutors, claimed Trump.
Engoron has already called for the dissolution of key properties of the Trump Organization, although the order is on hold due to an appeal. The ongoing case’s ruling could strip Trump’s control over his real estate empire.
Trump spent his time at the witness stand avoiding direct answers, instead bragging about his properties and wealth.
“I’m worth billions of dollars more than the financial statements,” he said, according to The Associated Press news agency.
Trump acknowledged that he was involved in some of the financial documents that had inflated values. This was unlike the approach of his sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr, who denied having any knowledge of the documents and blamed accountants for errors in court hearings last week.
“I would maybe on occasion have some suggestions,” said Trump.
He also contested, however, that the documents contained disclaimers the property values were estimates and might not be accurate.
Cash and castles
The longtime businessman added that his lender, Deutsche Bank, cared more about the amount of cash he had on hand. “I’ve had a lot of cash for a long time,” Trump said.
Faced with questioning from New York state lawyer Kevin Wallace about houses he built in Aberdeen, Scotland, after his property value increased, Trump remarked: “I have a castle.”
His promise to create the “greatest golf course in the world” on the Aberdeen coast has long been the subject of criticism. The golf club is valued as if it has nearly 2,500 homes when in fact it has none.
When the prosecution prodded Trump on the accuracy of this assessment, he alluded to his 2024 presidential campaign.
“I just don’t want to build it now. You’ve probably read, I’m doing other things,” he said.
Not a political rally
Trump’s repeated attempts to gloat about his wealth and air out grievances with the US justice system eventually frustrated Engoron.
“Can you control your client,” Engoron asked lawyer Kise. “This is not a political rally. This is a courtroom.”
Trump, a frontrunner for the 2024 election Republican nomination, has been framing Engoron and James as parties to a political “witch hunt” against him.
Outside the courtroom, Trump told the press: “It’s political warfare as you would call it, or political lawfare, you know the name, I got a lot of names for it.”
On multiple occasions, Trump and Engoron went back and forth with raised voices as the judge tried to prevent him from using the court to launch attacks against the judicial system.
“I’m not here to hear what he has to say. I’m here to hear him answer questions. Sit down already,” Engoron told Habba.
Engoron also asked Kise to take Trump to the back of the courtroom and “explain the rules”.
“The former and again soon-to-be president of the United States understands the rules,” Kise responded.
Feud continues outside court
At about 3:30pm (20:30 GMT), the wooden doors of the courtroom opened again, and Trump’s entourage came out, with the businessman-politician in its midst.
Stepping towards reporters as cameras flashed, Trump remarked that the “court went very well” and began to describe the case as a “scam”.
“The court was the fraudster in this case,” said Trump, who remained disgruntled by the suggestion that he is worth less than what he claims.
Outside the steps of the Foley Square court, James also reiterated the prosecution’s stance to reporters and brushed aside Trump’s name-calling and insults as “distractions”.
“I will not be bullied, I will not be harassed, this case will go on,” she said.