Trump fraud trial defence witness was paid nearly $900,000 for testimony

The final defence expert witness for Donald Trump and his co-defendants in a trial stemming from a blockbuster fraud lawsuit was paid nearly $900,000 for his testimony.

Across two days of testimony inside New York County Supreme Court this week, New York University accounting professor Eli Bartov labeled the complaint against the former president, his adult sons and associates under the Trump Organization umbrella “absurd”.

On Thursday, he told the court that he went through New York Attorney General Letitia James’s complaint “allegation by allegation” to “try to find at least something, some proof, that would provide some basis” for them.

“Most of their claims were simply unsupported,” he said. “My main finding is that there is no evidence whatsoever of any accounting fraud.”

On his Truth Social account before Mr Bartov’s second day of testimony on Friday, the former president once again trashed the case against him, touting testimony from the “highly acclaimed finance EXPERT” who “powerfully stated that I did NOTHING WRONG, AND THAT I BUILT A GREAT COMPANY.”

On Thursday, Mr Bartov also snapped at a lawyer for the attorney general’s office after he suggested that Mr Bartov was being paid to say what Mr Trump’s team wanted.

“You make up allegations that never existed,” Mr Bartov said. “I’m here to tell the truth … Shame on yourself, talking to me like that.”

According to a transcript of his pretrial deposition from earlier this year, Mr Bartov said he was paid roughly $520,000 for his testimony from both the Trump Organization and his affiliated Save America PAC, the primary campaign fundraising arm for the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican nomination.

During his testimony on Friday, Mr Bartov said he charged $1,350 an hour for roughly 650 hours of total work on the case, amounting to roughly $877,500.

It is not uncommon for expert witnesses to be paid for their participation, nor is it unusual to be questioned about the reliability of that testimony.

In his deposition, Mr Bartov said he was initially tapped as an expert witness to talk about “generally accepted accounting principles,” the guidelines for crafting statements of financial condition that are at the centre of the case. He said he was “not really familiar” with those guidelines.

During his testimony on Thursday, Mr Bartov said he “couldn’t find a single GAAP provision that was violated” in Mr Trump’s documents. “I couldn’t find one.”

Eli Bartov, left, testifies during Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial in New York under questioning from defence attorney Jesus Suarez on 7 December. (REUTERS)
Eli Bartov, left, testifies during Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial in New York under questioning from defence attorney Jesus Suarez on 7 December. (REUTERS)

Mr Trump, who has broadly smeared the multiple criminal and civil cases against him as a Democratic conspiracy against him, appeared in court for the first time in more than a month on Thursday to watch Mr Bartov’s testimony.

“This is a highly respected man,” Mr Trump told reporters outside the courtroom. “I don’t know him, but he’s an expert witness, and he found no fraud whatsoever.”

Mr Bartov was among the only defence witnesses to explicitly say that the case should be thrown out, echoing some of Mr Trump’s own rhetoric surrounding the trial.

The professor is expected to return to the witness stand on 12 December to finish his testimony under cross-examination from the attorney general’s office.

Mr Trump also will return to the court on 11 December to testify a second time as a final witness for the defence before the trial – entering its 11th week – draws to a close.

The lawsuit from Ms James accuses the defendants of defrauding financial institutions with grossly inflated estimates of his net worth and assets over a decade.

New York Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron has already found the defendants liable for fraud. The trial is set to determine what damages they could face – a ruling that could see tens of millions of dollars in fines and imperil the family’s business and real estate empire in the state – and whether the attorney general succeeds on other claims against the defendants, including insurance fraud and conspiracy.