NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump Jr. returned to court Monday as something of a character witness for his father’s real estate empire, waxing exuberantly about the former president’s “incredible vision” and portfolio of “great, iconic projects" at the New York civil fraud trial now threatening his company’s future.
Donald Trump’s eldest son made an encore appearance at the Manhattan trial as defense lawyers started calling their own witnesses. Trump Jr. first testified two weeks ago, in the last phase of the state’s case, which also featured testimony from his father and siblings Eric and Ivanka Trump. Eric Trump is also expected to testify in the defense case.
“I’d say it’s good to be here, your honor, but I have a feeling that the attorney general would sue me for perjury if I said that,” he joked before embarking on a detailed history of his father’s company.
State Attorney General Letitia James alleges Donald Trump, his company and top executives including Eric and Donald Trump Jr. exaggerated his wealth by billions of dollars on his annual financial statements. The documents were given to banks, insurers and others to secure loans and make deals. James is seeking more than $300 million in what she says were ill-gotten gains and a ban on defendants doing business in New York.
Trump Jr.’s testimony Monday set the tone for a defense case that’s expected to last into mid-December. After a six-week state case that delved heavily into the financial statements, spreadsheets and loan deals at the heart of the case, the scion aimed at humanizing the Trump Organization in the mind of the judge who’ll decide its fate.
Questioned by his own lawyer, he spent more than an hour narrating a slideshow titled “The Trump Story," complete with a timeline of the company’s evolution and photographs of golf courses, hotels and other major projects. He spoke glowingly about his father’s early years as a Manhattan developer, his work turning eyesores into thriving skyscrapers, and the “vision he had to do things differently."
“He’s an artist with real estate. He sees the things other people don’t," Trump Jr. testified, playing up his father’s accomplishments while skipping over his casino bankruptcies and other failures. "He has incredible vision that other people don’t.”
Trump Jr., a Trump Organization executive vice president, originally testified during the state’s case on Nov. 1 and 2. He said then that he never worked on the annual financial statements at the heart of James’ lawsuit. He said he relied on the company’s longtime finance chief and outside accountants to verify their accuracy.
At times, his testimony Monday had the feel of a real estate pitch or an episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous." State lawyer Colleen Faherty tried to forestall the superlative-laced spiel, arguing Trump Jr.'s amped testimony was “unfocused to anything relevant” to the case. The judge disagreed, saying he found it interesting.
After Trump Jr. finished his sunny portrait, Faherty noted some clouds he'd left out: a Bloomberg report Friday that the company’s loan for a Wall Street office building was sent to a special servicer, a sign it could be at risk of default; and the announcement Friday that the owner of a Trump-branded and managed hotel in Honolulu was buying out the agreement and renaming the resort.
Trump’s lawyers blamed the loan issue on the civil case. His company said it's never missed a payment and was fully complying with the loan terms. Asked about the demise of the Hawaii deal, which Trump Jr. had spearheaded and touted as “a great project,” he saw an upside there too.
“It is ditching the Trump name?” Faherty asked.
“If they want to buy it out for millions of dollars, I’m OK with that,” Trump Jr. replied.
Before the trial, Judge Arthur Engoron ruled Trump and other defendants committed fraud by inflating his net worth and the value of assets on his financial statements. He imposed a punishment that could strip Trump of some marquee properties, though an appeals court is keeping him in control for now.
The Trumps have denied wrongdoing. Their lawyers contend that the state failed to meet “any legal standard” to prove allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. The state rested after calling more than two dozen witnesses, including company insiders, accountants, bank officials and Trump’s fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen.
The trial is proceeding after Engoron rebuffed the defense’s request last week to end it early through what's known as a directed verdict. Engoron did not rule on the request, but indicated the trial would move ahead as scheduled.
Trump lawyer Christopher Kise, seeking a verdict clearing Trump and other defendants, argued last Thursday that the state’s case involved only “successful and profitable loan transactions" and that “there is no victim. There is no complainant. There is no injury.”
When he became president in 2017, Donald Trump handed day-to-day management of his company to Eric and Donald Trump Jr. and named Trump Jr. as a trustee of a trust he established to hold his assets while in office.
In Donald Trump Jr.’s prior testimony, when asked if he ever worked on his father’s “statement of financial condition," the scion said: “Not that I recall.” Trump Jr. said he signed off on statements as a trustee, but left the work to outside accountants and the company’s then-finance chief and co-trustee, Allen Weisselberg.
“I had an obligation to listen to the people with intimate knowledge of those things,” Trump Jr. testified. “If they put something forward, I wasn’t working on the document, but if they tell me that it’s accurate, based on their accounting assessment of all of the materials. ... These people had an incredible intimate knowledge, and I relied on it.”
Asked Monday about his vision of the Trump Organization’s future, Trump Jr. said with a chuckle: “I guess a lot of that depends on what happens next November. We’ll probably be put on hold a little while, for the foreseeable future, and sued to oblivion. But after that, we’ll keep doing what we do.”
Michael R. Sisak And Jennifer Peltz, The Associated Press