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Trump’s defense at N.Y. fraud trial begins with Donald Trump Jr. testimony

Former president Donald Trump signs papers to be on the 2024 primary ballot in New Hampshire on Oct. 23.  (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
By Shayna Jacobs and Mark Berman Washington Post

NEW YORK – The defense team representing Donald Trump in a civil trial accusing him and his business of fraud began presenting its case Monday, with co-defendant Donald Trump Jr. testifying in glowing, ecstatic terms about the company’s properties.

Under questioning from the defense, Trump Jr. went through dozens of pages of Trump Organization promotional material, complete with glamorous photos of mansions, hotels and golf resorts that are or were in the Trump portfolio.

He seemed relaxed and made jokes while on the witness stand, using words like “amazing,” “iconic” and “spectacular” to describe these assets. Regarding Trump World Tower, a luxury high-rise condo building near the United Nations in New York, he described his father’s development as “a very sexy place.”

New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, sued the former president, his two adult sons, two other executives and his namesake business last year, alleging a yearslong fraud that involved falsely inflating the values of assets on financial documents to get better terms from lenders and insurance firms.

Trump Jr. testified two weeks ago as the state attorney general’s lawyers presented their case, distancing himself from those financial statements.

At that time, he was questioned about the financial statements at issue in the case and said that they were the work of the company’s accountants. His brother, Eric Trump, also a defendant, similarly disclaimed any involvement in the statements.

“If they assured me in their expert opinion that these things were fine, I would have been fine with that and signed off accordingly,” Trump Jr. said during his earlier testimony.

On Monday, he was not asked about the financial statements and instead focused on touting various Trump locations. The remarks appeared aimed at bolstering the defense’s argument that the asset valuations on financial statements were not false but, instead, reflected the properties’ real values.

Trump Jr. testified that his father was uniquely skilled at developing run-down assets that other developers had overlooked.

“He just sees things that other people don’t,” Trump Jr. said.

After his testimony, Trump Jr. spoke to reporters outside the courthouse. He said his brief cross-examination by James’ side was “boring” and criticized the case.

“I think they understand that they have nothing as it relates to a case, other than, I guess, an overzealous attorney general who would destroy all of New York business by going after transactions where there are no victims,” he said.

Trump Jr. said he was arriving at court Monday morning when he learned his aunt – Maryanne Trump Barry, the former president’s older sister and a former federal judge – had died.

James’ side rested last week after calling the adult Trump sons, their sister Ivanka, who is not a defendant, and their father to the stand. The civil case seeks to demonstrate that the defendants used inaccurate values put on Trump’s annual financial statements.

The defense, in turn, has denied any wrongdoing, saying that no fraud took place and that no one was victimized. Asset valuations are subjective, they say, and no banks were duped.

In a pretrial ruling in the case, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron – who is overseeing the trial without a jury and will decide its outcome – concluded that the company’s financial statements were fraudulent. He ordered that Trump business certificates in New York for entities associated with the case be canceled, though the precise wording in the order has left experts debating about what it specifically means for the company.

Donald Trump, for his part, has long attacked the trial. Despite being under no obligation to attend on days when he was not testifying, Trump repeatedly showed up in person and has assailed the case, Engoron and James.

Trump is running as a Republican candidate for president again, and on top of this lawsuit, he faces four pending criminal prosecutions. He has denied wrongdoing on all fronts and said he is being politically targeted.

Last week, he testified in the New York case and clashed with Engoron, who admonished him and urged one of Trump’s attorneys to control his behavior. During his testimony, Trump said that the financial statements included disclaimers, which he said “totally protected” him and warned banks to “do your due diligence.”

Trump also said his wealth was higher than what was reported in the financial statements in part because preparers did not factor in his “brand value.”