Donald Trump arrived at a New York court just a few miles south of Trump Tower on Monday for the first day of a fraud trial that could see the former US president and his family business paying hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and that has already threatened to end his business career in the city where it started.
New York attorney general Letitia James has accused Mr Trump of using false and misleading financial statements from 2011 to 2021 to make himself and his businesses wealthier, helping him broker deals and obtain financing.
“This is a continuation of the single greatest witch-hunt of all time,” Mr Trump said as he headed into court. He said his financial statements were “phenomenal”, called Ms James, who is black, a “racist” and a “horror show”, and said the case was being overseen by a “rogue judge”.
Ms James, speaking outside the court, said: “My message is simple: No matter how powerful you are, no matter how much money you think you may have, no one is above the law.”
During a three-year investigation, Ms James concluded that Mr Trump had exaggerated the value of 23 of his properties and assets to the tune of hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars. Mr Trump used these financial statements to obtain favourable loans and make his net worth appear higher than it actually was, she says.
She is seeking at least $250 million in fines, a permanent ban against Mr Trump and his sons Donald Jr and Eric from running businesses in New York and a five-year commercial property ban against Mr Trump and the Trump Organization.
The no-jury case will be decided by New York supreme court justice Arthur Engoron.
Because it is a civil trial, Mr Trump will not be sent to prison if he’s found guilty.
Defence attorneys Christopher Kise and Alina Habba showered praise on Mr Trump and said that the lenders were grateful to have done business with him.
There were “no unjust profits, and there were no victims”, Mr Kise said.
The case largely concerns penalties that Mr Trump, his adult sons and 10 of his companies must face after Judge Engoron last week found them liable for fraud.
Judge Engoron said in his ruling that the attorney general’s office wouldi have to provide evidence of “some component of intent and materiality” in Mr Trump’s fraudulent financial statements – meaning proof that he intentionally inflated his assets for financial gain.
The attorney general’s office will have to prove that there should be a disgorgement of profits from the Trump family, meaning they should have to give up the profits they made off their fudged financial statements. Ms James’s office is arguing that Mr Trump received loans using those fraudulent statements to purchase properties like the Trump golf club in Miami, Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago and the Old Post Office building in Washington DC. Any profits from those, the attorney general is arguing, were made off lies.
While Mr Trump and three of his children, including Ivanka Trump, are on the witness list, it is unclear whether they will be called to take the stand. Even if called, they can choose not to appear, though the judge can use that against them when making his decision.
The trial is scheduled to go until December 22nd, though it will likely not last that long as the judge’s pre-trial ruling settled a major question: whether Mr Trump indeed committed fraud. Now the case is focused on how much he will have to pay for it. – Guardian/Reuters