Trump rants that New York civil trial is a ‘fraud on me’ after judge allows him to speak during closing arguments
An angry Donald Trump told the judge presiding over his New York civil fraud trial Thursday that the case is “a fraud on me,” while lawyers from the state attorney general’s office painted the former president as a remorseless fraudster who intentionally lied about his net worth in a successful scheme to line his pockets with even more money.
Trump spoke on the final day of his trial. State Judge Arthur Engoron said immediately after closing arguments that he hopes to issue a ruling by the end of the month.
“It’s up to me now, and will do my best to have a final decision by Jan. 31st,” Engoron said after hours of closing statements in a case that could cost Trump up to $370 million and permanently ban him from the New York real estate industry where he made his name.
Engoron didn’t indicate how he would rule, but he voiced some skepticism about the level of involvement of Trump’s sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. in the alleged scheme. Both are co-defendants, along with the Trump Organization.
The trial started Oct. 2, and testimony wrapped up in mid-December. Engoron will decide the case, because it is a bench trial with no jury.
Trump wound up directly addressing the judge Thursday after his attorney Chris Kise asked whether he could speak for two to three minutes during closing arguments. “No one is more affected” in the case than Trump, Kise told Engoron.
Engoron had rejected a similar request in an email Wednesday after Kise and Trump didn’t agree to refrain from personal attacks in Trump’s proposed closing statement. Engoron told Trump on Thursday after his lawyers had finished their summations that he could speak for up to five minutes but that he had to “focus on the facts” of the case. Trump immediately started talking without agreeing.
“We have a situation where I’m an innocent man,” Trump told Engoron. “They should pay me for what I’ve gone through.”
“This is not consumer fraud,” he added. “This is no fraud. It is a fraud on me.”
Despite Engoron’s warning, Trump wrapped in some insults against him and New York Attorney General Letitia James. “I know this is boring to you. I know you have your own agenda,” Trump angrily told Engoron at one point as he spoke while seated at the defense table. He suggested James “hates” him and “doesn’t want me to get elected,” and he called the case a “persecution,” leading Engoron to warn Kise to “please control your client.”
James, who was in court, told reporters afterward that the case “has never been about politics.”
“This case is about the facts and the law, and Mr. Donald Trump violated the law,” she said.
Kevin Wallace of the AG’s office said in his closing statement that Trump’s financial statements were “false every year” from 2011 to 2021 by “over a billion dollars.” Wallace said that “what the trial is all about is ‘what did the defendants know and when did they know it?'”
“Were they acting with intent when they manipulated their annual financial statements as part of a conspiracy? … Did they know it? And the answer is yes,” Wallace said.
Another lawyer from the AG’s office, Andrew Amer, pointed to several examples of what he described as intentional fraud, including Trump’s valuing his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida as a private residence despite an agreement that it could be used only as a social club. Trump also claimed his Trump Tower triplex apartment was three times its size and estimated value, and Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg signed off on a financial statement that continued to value the apartment at over $300 million even after he had been alerted that it was 10,000 square feet instead of 30,000.
“That screams of an intent to defraud,” Amer said.
The AG’s office contends that Trump and his company used inflated statements to land bank loans and insurance policies at rates they wouldn’t otherwise have been entitled to.
Trump, Amer said, was the one responsible for the preparation of the documents, “and the buck stops with him.”
Trump wasn’t present for closing arguments from the AG’s office. He held a news conference simultaneously at his nearby 40 Wall St. property — one of the key buildings in the case. He told reporters there that James is a “political hack” and that “we’ve proven the case so conclusively.”
Engoron’s verdict could dramatically affect Trump’s business. The case is just one of several legal issues surrounding the former president, who is seeking another term in the White House. Trump faces the prospect of up to four criminal trials this year and a multimillion-dollar damages trial related to writer E. Jean Carroll’s defamation suit.
Addressing reporters on his way into the courtroom, Trump denied any wrongdoing and said the case was “election interference at the highest level.”
Protesters gathered outside the courthouse Thursday morning ahead of the final day of the trial, chanting, “Thank you, Tish!” and holding a banner that read, “No Dictators in the USA.”
Arguments started shortly after 10 a.m. ET. Kise spoke first and said that during the 44 days of trial testimony, “not one witness said there was fraud or identified a material misstatement” in Trump’s financial statements — a claim the AG’s office pushed back against. “There is direct evidence of an intent to defraud,” Amer said.
Kise acknowledged there was one witness who testified that Trump knew he was committing fraud — his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen. But Kise ripped him as “a serial liar” who acknowledged on the witness stand that he had lied under oath previously.
“He is making up a story based on something that is convenient,” Kise said of Cohen. “He hates President Trump, and he makes money trashing President Trump. What better reason to come here and create lies and gin up a bunch of media attention for his blogs?”
Kise also minimized the overall importance of the financial statements, saying they had been prepared by Trump’s trusted accountants and had no impact on the favorable interest rates Trump was able to get from banks he was borrowing from. He said that the banks knew Trump and “rolled out the red carpet” for him and that the AG should be “praising President Trump as a business success.”
Kise was followed by lawyer Alina Habba, who was representing the Trump Organization. She said that the two Trump employees who were most responsible for the financial statements, Weisselberg and former senior vice president Jeff McConney, weren’t accountants and that they relied on the accounting firm they hired for guidance. She said Cohen had portrayed the pair and Trump as being “like the mob” and engaging in “collusion.”
“There’s no proof” of that, she said.
Her brief presentation was followed by that of attorney Cliff Robert, who is representing Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., the Trump sons who are now running the company. He said there was a “lack of evidence” for the AG when it comes to the pair.
“There is no case. There’s nothing there,” Robert said. “There’s no there there.”
James is seeking to have both sons barred from the real estate industry in New York for five years. The bans on their father, Weisselberg and McConney that the AG is seeking would be lifetime bans.
“They have not expressed any remorse,” Wallace said of Trump and his former executives. As for Trump, “nothing is his fault. Everything is a conspiracy and unjust. He’s the victim.”
Engoron questioned whether the AG had shown the Trump sons had an intent to defraud. Amer said that the pair signed off on the company’s financial statements after Trump was inaugurated in 2017 and that at the very least they “did not do anything to fulfill their responsibilities” to make sure the statements were accurate.
Engoron then said a recent court filing from the AG’s office didn’t lay out much evidence the pair were aware of fraud, either.
James filed her $250 million suit against Trump, the Trump Organization and its top executives in 2022 after years of investigation into their business practices. Engoron found before the trial that Trump and his executives had engaged in repeated and persistent fraud. Among the outstanding issues is whether they’d had an intent to defraud.
Trump maintains his properties were worth even more than the inflated financial statements showed. He has also repeatedly argued he shouldn’t have to pay any damages because he never defaulted on any of his loans or insurance policies.