Trump's New York fraud trial ends

Roughly half a century ago, the top Republican on the Senate committee investigating the Watergate scandal asked a question that would spell the downfall of the leader of his party: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?”

The query hovered over the congressional probe into then-President Richard Nixon, ultimately leading to his resignation from the White House.

On Thursday, New York Attorney General Letitia James’s attorney Kevin Wallace echoed that inquiry, only with a former president now out of office and defending his ability to participate in the New York real estate industry upon which he built his legacy. Wallace said that the evidence was clear: that Trump, his sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., and ex-business associates Jeff McConney and Allen Weisselberg all knew the figures inside the former president fraudulently inflated his wealth by billions on financial statements for years. 

"You certainly did not hear that the numbers the defendants used were accurate," Wallace told the judge. 

Trump denies the allegations, delivering a courtroom tirade earlier on Thursday claiming the proceedings themselves were the fraud. For the better part of three hours, his attorneys argued that only the attorney general’s office accused them of fraud, and the allegedly defrauded banks and insurance companies at issue in the trial made money. 

The defense attorneys also blamed Trump’s longtime accounting firm Mazars, which disavowed a decade’s worth of the former president’s financial statements, for any inaccuracies in the statements. 

Wallace scoffed at this as one of Trump’s "undead arguments," and he took on what he described as the defense’s “Murderers’ Row of experts.”

Trump’s lead attorney Christopher Kise furiously objected to the analogy.

"To use that caustic term, that's outrageous," Kise declared, noting that the judge set ground rules for the defense emphasizing civility. 

"I take it to be poetic license, not literal," Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron responded.

The judge then asked Wallace if he meant to accuse Trump’s witnesses of murder. 

"No, I was accusing them of being the '27 Yankees," Wallace said, to laughter in the court.

Trump sought a directed verdict ending the case in his favor after testimony by defense experts Jason Flemmons and Eli Bartov, the latter of whom testified that he charged roughly $900,000 for his research and testimony. Engoron noted that the state also pays experts, but Wallace argued that the state’s testimony was supported by the evidence.

The AG’s other counsel Andrew Amer pointed to McConney’s testimony to support the proposition that the defendants knew their actions were fraudulent. 

On the witness stand, McConney noted thatTrump’s accountant informed him about the meaning of non-liquid assets.

“One year, I included Mr. Trump’s foundation cash, Mr. Trump’s foundation’s cash on that spreadsheet. Donald Bender said, ‘I can’t do that, it’s not controlled by Mr. Trump, it’s controlled the foundation,’ so I took that off,” McConney testified late last year.

But McConney also testified that he listed Vornado realty assets as liquid, even though Trump could not immediately access it, according to a transcript passage displayed by Amer.

In September, Engoron found Trump liable for fraudulently inflating his assets from hundreds of millions of dollars to billions of dollars for a number of years. The judge imposed the “corporate death penalty” on the first of seven counts of the attorney general’s lawsuit, and the trial will determine the outcome of the remaining six. Trump may have to pay roughly $370 million in ill-gotten gains and face court orders hobbling his future in New York real estate.

Among the alleged financial sleights-of-hand, the attorney general says Trump wrongly valued Mar-a-Lago as a private residence, despite the deed's restrictions on its use as a private club. The Trump Organization treated rent stabilized units in its Park Avenue property as potentially unrestricted, if the current tenants left.

On that point, Engoron pressed Amer on how the state could conclude that McConney — the Trump Organization's then-controller — knew those stabilized units were restricted.

"Because he's not an idiot," Amer one-lined.

Trump, McConney and ex-chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg face a potential lifetime ban from the New York real estate industry if found liable on the six remaining claims that weren't decided late last year. The former president's sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. face as a possible five-year ban, and all of the defendants may be liable for the disgorgement of "ill-gotten gains."

Amer suggested that Eric Trump falsely denied knowledge about his father's financial statements, showing a slide of the emails and other evidence contradicting the proposition.

Confronted with that information, "Eric Trump was forced to recant," according to Amer.

Asked whether that evidence showed he knew about his father's 2013 financial statement, Eric Trump replied: "It appears that way, yes."

But Engoron appeared skeptical that the sons had an intent to fraud, even if they knew about the statements.

“What evidence do you have — I haven’t seen it — that they knew that there was fraud?” the judge asked.

Amer replied that the law does not allow a "stick-your-head-in-the-stand" defense, a legal principle often described as conscious avoidance.

"It’s either that you intended to defraud or you engaged in, frankly, gross recklessness," Amer said.

Turning to the penalties, his co-counsel Wallace urged Engoron to avoid allowing a perception of impunity for the powerful.

“Well, if you’re rich enough, you can be allowed to do it,” Wallace said.

Engoron ended the proceedings without a ruling, adding that he hoped — but would not "guarantee" — that he would reach a decision by Jan. 31, 2024.

Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher (aka HP Pundit) is not a Democrat or Republican. He is a free thinking independent bringing you news and commentary with a dose of much needed common sense.

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