Donald Trump showed up in court Monday for the first day of his civil fraud trial in New York.
AG lawyers showed videos of him, Eric, and Donald Jr. shirking responsibility for fudged numbers.
Trump avoided another deposition by coming to court.
Lawyers from the New York attorney general's office confronted former President Donald Trump in court Monday, showing a previously unseen deposition video in which he denied responsibility for the property valuations in his own company.
In the video, shown on the enormous TV screens in the downtown Manhattan courtroom, Trump was asked who at the Trump Organization was tasked with making sure the family company's financial statements abided by generally accepted accounting principles.
Was it Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's chief financial officer?
"I would say yes," Trump answered.
It was Weisselberg who made sure properties were valued according to GAAP, he said.
Moments earlier, Kevin C. Wallace, the attorney general's office lawyer presenting the opening statement, had shown a different deposition video of Weisselberg. Another lawyer from the attorney general's office asked whether he was familiar with GAAP.
"I never took the CPA exam, never studied for it," Weisselberg said, explaining he wasn't familiar with GAAP. "So I don't know all the components for it."
The juxtaposition got to the heart of New York Attorney General Letitia James' lawsuit against Trump, Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Weisselberg, and their fellow executive Jeff McConney. The attorney general's lawsuit says someone is lying about how the financial statements were prepared, and that proves the defendants were acting with an intent to defraud.
By appearing in court, Trump is dodging another deposition
Trump's personal appearance in the courtroom was arranged at the last minute. Aside from his four criminal arraignments and bookings in which he was required to appear in court or in jail, he has avoided showing up at hearings and trials for his numerous legal cases. Even during his civil trial this spring, where a federal jury in New York found him liable for sexually abusing and defaming E. Jean Carroll, Trump did not personally show up.
With his appearance in the New York court, Trump has been able to dodge — for now — a deposition he was scheduled to take in a lawsuit against Michael Cohen, a former company executive and personal lawyer, now turned bitter enemy. Cohen is scheduled to testify as a witness against Trump later in the New York trial, which is set to last until December 22.
Before entering the courtroom Monday morning, Trump stood outside and derided James' case as politically motivated, saying the case was a "scam."
"We have a racist attorney general who is a horror show, who ran on the basis that she was going to get Trump before she even knew anything about me," he said.
A few moments later, he walked into the room, where James sat in the front row of the gallery. Trump clutched his stomach after walking by.
Joining the former president in person was Eric Trump, who runs day-to-day operations at the Trump Organization, as well as a passel of Trumpworld characters, including his 2024 presidential campaign staffers Jason Miller and Steven Cheung. The two appeared to fidget with their hands and doze off during the morning's legal arguments from Wallace and Chris Kise, the former solicitor general of Florida who presented Trump's opening statement. New York Justice Arthur Engoron, who's presiding over the case, largely banned cellphone use in the courtroom.
The attorney general's lawsuit alleges Trump, along with his two eldest sons and other executives of the Trump Organization, participated in a fraud scheme by inflating the values of the company's properties, which enabled them to get favorable bank loans.
James asked the judge to disgorge them of ill-gotten gains, issue $250 million in penalties, and permanently bar the former president, as well as Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, from running a New York-based corporation ever again.
Much of the lawsuit was resolved in late September when Engoron issued a summary judgment decision that granted James victories in much of her case, but there are still six counts to be decided during the trial. Transcripts of large swathes of the depositions were included in the motions for summary judgment over the past several weeks.
A family affair
During Wallace's opening argument, he also showed deposition videos of Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.
Though he has largely taken over the company since his father took office in 2017, Eric Trump said he couldn't remember working on financial statements, which were crucial for getting loans from banks.
"I don't think I have had any involvement in statements of financial condition, to the best of my knowledge," he said in his deposition.
Donald Trump Jr. said in his deposition he "probably" became familiar with GAAP during "Accounting 101 at Wharton."
Asked what he remembered about those generally accepted accounting principles, he smiled.
"That they're generally accepted," he said to laughter.
The Trump Organization executive said he'd never been employed in a position that required him to apply GAAP to his work.
Speaking before the opening statements, Engoron gave a preview of the case. The trial is being conducted without a jury, meaning Engoron is expected to personally decide whether Trump and his posse would be held liable and what any punishment would be.
"This case has esteemed counsel. On one side, we have an attorney general. On the other, a former solicitor general," he quipped. "In the middle, we have me, a generalist, someone who knows a little about a lot."
But he added he did know a lot about fraud and would be paying close attention to each side's arguments.
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