Trump’s civil fraud trial begins in a case he calls a ‘witch hunt’
Donald Trump went on trial on Monday for fraud, in a civil case against him and his family business that could deal a major blow to the former U.S. president’s real estate empire.
Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, is accused by Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James of inflating the value of his assets by billions of dollars to secure better loan and insurance terms.
“This is a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time,” Trump said before entering the courtroom at a state court in downtown Manhattan.
“We have a great company. I built a great company. It’s tremendous,” he continued. “It’s got some of the greatest real estate assets in the world. And now I have to go in before a rogue judge.”
Trump, wearing a dark blue suit, a brighter blue tie and an American flag pin on his lapel, again called James, who is Black, “racist,” and said the Democrat had a vendetta against him.
The former president plans to attend the first week of trial, according to a court filing in an unrelated case. He is expected to testify later in the case, a spokesman said.
“No matter how much money you think you may have, no one is above the law,” James told reporters before entering the courtroom. “The law is both powerful and fragile. And today in court will prove our case.”
Alina Habba, a lawyer who has represented Trump, said before entering the courtroom: “We will continue to fight in hopes that there is some level of law and order.. Although my faith in the system is wary, I do have faith in Donald Trump.”
The trial comes a week after the judge presiding over the case found Trump liable for fraud, and will largely concern the penalties he must face.
James is seeking at least $250 million in fines, a permanent ban against Trump and his sons Donald Jr and Eric from running businesses in New York and a five-year restriction on commercial real estate activities by Trump and his flagship Trump Organization.
Trump has said the case is part of a political witch-hunt.
Justice Arthur Engoron ruled last week that James had proven her fraud case against Trump, his two adult sons and 10 of his companies.
Engoron described in scathing terms how they made up valuations. That included Trump calculating the value of his apartment in Trump Tower as if it were three times its actual size.
“A discrepancy of this order of magnitude, by a real estate developer sizing up his own living space of decades, can only be considered fraud,” he said.
Trump on Truth Social called the judge’s valuations fraudulent.
Engoron canceled business certificates for companies controlling pillars of Trump’s empire – including Trump Tower and his golf clubs in New York – and said he would appoint receivers to oversee their dissolution.
The ruling covers only a handful of the roughly 500 entities in Trump’s portfolio but includes some of his most valuable properties.
Specifics of how that order would be implemented have not been decided, but the loss of those prized assets would be a major blow to Trump’s finances. If Engoron tacked on fines and business restrictions, that damage would compound.
The trial is scheduled to run through early December. More than 150 people including Trump are listed as potential witnesses, but much of the trial will likely be a battle of experts opining on financial documents.
James alleges Trump reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten savings by “grossly” inflating the values of his assets to get better deals from lenders and insurers.
That included listing his Mar-a-Lago club and residence in Florida as being worth up to $739 million even though deed restrictions capped it at $28 million, James said.
The case is one of several legal headaches Trump faces as he campaigns to retake the White House in the 2024 election.
None has dented his commanding lead over rivals for the Republican nomination, though they have been a financial drain.
Trump, the first sitting or former U.S. president to be criminally charged, is under indictment in four separate cases.
He has been charged in Florida over his handling of classified documents upon leaving office, in Washington D.C. over his efforts to undo his loss in the 2020 presidential election, in Georgia over moves to reverse election results there, and in New York over hush money payments to a porn star.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty in all four cases.