Buenos dias. It’s Monday. We’ll find out what to listen to today when Donald Trump testifies in his civil trial in Manhattan.
Today, the 24th witness in Donald Trump’s civil trial in Manhattan will take the stand: It’s Trump himself.
He will try to preserve the business holdings that are at the heart of his public persona. The trial is about whether Trump should pay a penalty for committing fraud. The judge, Arthur Engoron, has already ruled that Trump’s annual financial statements “clearly contain fraudulent valuations.” The state attorney general, Letitia James, who brought the case, says that Trump overvalued his holdings by as much as $2.2 billion. She says the penalty should be $250 million.
I asked Susanne Craig, who shared a Pulitzer Prize for reporting on Trump’s finances and taxes and who has been covering the trial, what to expect when Trump testifies.
What will you be listening to?
If you think of the story of Donald Trump, it’s the story of his money. It’s his essence, and that is why he is so agitated about this trial. He has been lying about his net worth for so long, I think he has come to believe the false narrative he has laid down.
His first defense is likely to be he was busy building buildings, flying around in helicopters and signing autographs and didn’t have time for the minute of appraisals and submitting forms to banks. He left that to his accountants and his lawyers.
He’s also likely to say that there were disclaimers in the financial statements that effectively make them meaningless.
And, of course, you will hear his assets aren’t just worth a lot; many of them are priceless.
Trump was testy when Justice Engoron called him to the stand before issuing a gag order during the first week of the trial. How snappish will Trump be today?
We have no reason to believe we’re not going to see that side of Donald Trump. We’ve seen it pretty much every time he has come to court.
Almost since the trial started, Trump has been attacking the judge’s law clerk. He thinks she is a biased Democratic Party operative. The judge hit him with a gag order for doing this, and he has been fined twice for violating it. Last week, Trump’s lawyers again attacked the law clerk, prompting the judge to issue a gag order barring them from making public statements about his communications with his staff. Team Trump could well continue their attacks, and I will be watching for that.
Doesn’t that risk angering the judge and overshadowing the current case?
It does, and that may well be the point. On Friday, the debate about the law clerk overshadowed Eric Trump’s testimony. It plays well with the former president’s primary audience, his supporters.
What about the banks that the financial statements were submitted to?
He’ll say that the banks should have read the disclaimers, and anyway, they do their own due diligence.
Another point he’s probably going to make — and this is not unpersuasive to a larger audience, I would think — is there were no here victims. It’s not required that there be victims in this case, but all the loans at issue were performing loans, so the banks got paid.
To be sure, there’s an argument they would have gotten more money because the interest rates they charged would have been higher if he hadn’t submitted false documents. But he’ll claim that there’s no harm, no foul.
In our reporting since 2016, we have looked at different types of asset manipulation that we have engaged in for financial gain. He got away with it for decades, whether submitting statements of financial condition to banks to get loans, or inflating his assets for magazines, or making his assets look less valuable when he came to certain dealings with the Internal Revenue Service.
How will the questioning differ from the questioning of Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. last week?
One thing that will separate his testimony from his sons’ time on the witness stand is that Donald Trump doesn’t use email — we haven’t seen any emails from him in evidence. Anything that references the former president will come in emails or notes from someone else who is referring to him. Or from his signature on documents, but that is not as powerful as email.
What was persuasive about the attorney general’s direct examination of Eric Trump last week was lawyers for the attorney general put email after email after email up on the screen and questioned him about this appraisal of this property and that appraisal of that property. The repetitive nature of the questioning made a strong impression and undermined Eric Trump’s claims that he wasn’t involved in the minutia of the business and the valuations at the heart of this case.
Do you expect Trump to follow the path laid out by his lawyer, who said earlier in the trial that a statement of value is an estimate, not an absolute?
Arriving at a valuation is an art, not a science, but you can’t take it to an extreme.
The attorney general is not just saying there was a huge range. The evidence is n’t just “Oh, I’ve inflated his numbers to a bit.” There is evidence the inputs that went into the valuations were faulty. Things like: Did the Trump Organization have comparables that were actually comparable?
For example, in putting a value of an apartment with a view of Central Park, did they compare it to a smaller apartment blocks away with no view, or to a comparable apartment nearby?
What will Trump say if he’s questioned about Michael Cohen’s testimony that Trump had a net worth figure in mind and wanted Cohen to “reverse engineer” the statements, inflating the numbers to get to that figure?
Michael Cohen said Trump didn’t specifically tell him to inflate the numbers. He likened Trump’s actions to a mob boss telling you what he wants without directly telling you. Trump is going to seize on this, if asked, saying he didn’t explicitly order Cohen to do anything.
Expect a mostly sunny day, with temperatures reaching into the high 50s. In the evening, there should be a slight chance of rain and a temperature dip to the low 50s.
In effect until Tuesday (Election Day).
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It was a summer evening in 1974, and I was on my way to visit my boyfriend, who lived on Ocean Avenue near Avenue J in Brooklyn.
I had come from Queens and was reading a paperback novel, “Green Mansions” by William Henry Hudson, while waiting for the M train on an elevated platform.
At one point, I took a step, and the book fell out of my hands onto the tracks.
Suddenly, a tall young man jumped down, retrieved it, climbed back up and handed it to me with a smile on his face.