NEW YORK — A New York judge rejected the attempt by Donald Trump’s lawyers to end the civil fraud trial that could jeopardize the former president’s real estate business.
The judge did not grant the request, but he confirmed that the trial will resume on Monday with Donald Trump Jr. as the first witness for the defense.
Trump’s lawyers had asked Judge Arthur Engoron to dismiss the case and declare Trump, his company and senior executives including Trump Jr. innocent.
They made the request after the first half of the trial of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit, claiming that state lawyers had not shown any evidence of their case. James accuses Trump and other defendants of cheating banks, insurers and others by exaggerating his wealth on financial statements.
Engoron said he would consider the defense’s arguments for what’s called a directed verdict and did not comment on them further when he came back to court Thursday afternoon to decide on another issue.
In that decision, Engoron gave Trump’s lawyers a win, allowing them to bring in several expert witnesses to challenge the testimony that Trump’s financial statements helped him get better loans, insurance rates and deals.
The judge, who has often ruled against Trump, has shown interest in finishing the trial, asking defense lawyers for their witness list and setting closing arguments near Christmas.
In trying to end the case early, Trump lawyer Christopher Kise said that state lawyers had not met “any legal standard” to prove charges of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. “There’s no victim. There’s no complainant. There’s no injury. All of that is proven now by the evidence,” Kise said.
State lawyer Kevin Wallace disagreed and said there was no reason to stop the trial, saying the evidence is “more than enough to go to final verdict.”
Trump, on the stand Monday and insulting his opponents, denied any wrongdoing and said lenders were “very happy” to work with him. He also said that his financial statements underestimated his wealth and the value of properties like his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
Kise urged Engoron to trust Trump’s testimony, citing the ex-president’s years of experience as a real estate developer. When talking real estate, “if I had to choose between Donald Trump or Attorney General James, respectfully, I would choose Donald Trump,” Kise said.”
He claimed that the Democratic attorney general, who was targeting a political rival, wanted to “replace her opinion with that of the banks and, honestly, with that of someone who has been in the real estate business for 50 years.”
Defense lawyer Clifford Robert urged the judge to throw out the allegations against Trump’s older sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr. The lawyer argued that the state attorneys did not show that the sons, who were appointed by Trump to run his company when he became president in 2017, worked on the former president’s financial statements.
The sons, who approved some documents that confirmed their father’s financial strength, said that they relied on accountants and lawyers to make sure the papers were correct. Robert said they “did the right thing” by doing so.
“My clients have been pulled into what is basically a dispute between the attorney general and their father, but here we are,” Robert said. “The time has come that we need to stop it.”
Wallace responded that Trump and his sons each signed documents that stated that they were in charge of the preparation and honest presentation of the financial statements, which Engoron had already decided were false and deceptive.
Thursday’s arguments followed a day after Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump testified as the state’s final witness. She had unsuccessfully resisted a subpoena.
Directed verdict requests are usual in civil trials, though they’re not often granted. In Trump’s trial, Engoron is determining the result, instead of a jury.
Before the trial, Engoron decided that Trump, his company and other defendants committed fraud by inflating his net worth and the value of assets on his financial statements, which were used to get loans and make deals.
Engoron’s pretrial fraud decision came with conditions that could take away the former president’s such prominent properties as Trump Tower, though an appeals court is letting him keep control of his holdings for now.
The state ended its case Wednesday after six weeks of testimony from more than two dozen witnesses. James is asking for the return of what she says is more than $300 million in illegal profits and a ban on Trump and other defendants from doing business in New York.
Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump testified last week. When Trump Jr. comes back to the stand on Monday, he’ll be questioned by defense lawyers including his own. Trump company executives, outside accountants who worked on Trump’s financial statements and bank executives who worked on his loans also have testified as state witnesses.
Kise stressed that lender Deutsche Bank made its own changes to the asset values listed on Trump’s financial statements, giving “discounts” to the estimates for Trump Tower and other properties, and decided to lend him hundreds of millions of dollars anyway. Changes amounted to $2 billion in some years, documents showed.
Kise also criticized Trump lawyer-turned-enemy Michael Cohen’s reliability. He said Cohen’s “pitiful performance” weakened the state’s case when he changed his initial testimony that Trump had told him to increase the value of assets to “whatever number Trump told us to.”
Pushed on cross-examination during his Oct. 25 testimony, Cohen admitted that Trump never told him to raise the numbers on his personal statement — though Cohen later said Trump hinted it indirectly, and “we knew what he wanted.” Robert asked at that point for an immediate directed verdict, which Engoron refused.