Trump civil fraud trial in New York begins

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Former President Donald Trump speaks at a Manhattan courthouse, where he attends the trial of himself, his adult sons, the Trump Organization and others in a civil fraud case brought by state Attorney General Letitia James, in New York City, on Monday. Brendan McDermid/Reuters

Former President Donald Trump was in attendance at a Manhattan courtroom for the opening day of the New York civil case against him and his namesake company.

Even though he didn’t have to appear, Trump’s presence turned the courthouse into an extension of the campaign trail, where he has railed against the four criminal indictments against him, and now, a civil case where Judge Arthur Engoron ruled last week that Trump and his co-defendants were liable for fraud.

Inside the courtroom, Trump’s attorneys also sparred with the judge as opening statements began, a sign that they’re likely to take a combative approach with a trial that the judge expects to last into December.

Here’s what to know from the first day of Trump’s trial:

Trump labels it a “witch hunt”: In front of the cameras and on his social media site, Trump attacked New York Attorney General Letitia James for bringing the case against him. He attacked the judge for the ruling last week. And he sought to tie them to special counsel Jack Smith’s criminal indictments, even though they are unconnected.

“This has to do with election interference, plain and simple,” Trump said before walking into the courtroom. “They’re trying to damage me, so I don’t do as well as I’m doing in the election.”

Attorney general asks to ban Trump from doing business in New York: Kevin Wallace, with the attorney general’s office, alleged that Trump and his co-defendants conspired to commit persistent and repeated fraud and that Trump’s financial statements convinced banks to take on hidden risk “to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars.”

The opening statement underscored the risk the case poses to Trump and the Trump Organization, the former president’s business in New York, where Trump built up his name and image before he launched the political campaign that led him to the White House in 2016.

Trump’s lawyers say this is how real estate works: With the former president looking on, Trump’s lawyers argued Monday that the attorney general’s case was flawed, saying that the differences in valuations were just part of the commercial real estate business.

Trump’s attorney Christopher Kise argued there was no intent to defraud and “no victims” in the case.

Kise pointed to documents from Deutsche Bank showing the bank valued Trump’s net worth $2 billion less than Trump did — but still underwrote the loan for Trump.

Judge spars with Trump attorneys: The judge noted that the defense team already had tried to dismiss the case by claiming James brought it as a “witch hunt” against Trump. He had already denied the motion, Engoron said, and his ruling had been affirmed by a New York appellate court.

The judge also sparred with Trump attorney Alina Habba over a discussion about an accounting disclaimer for Mazars, Trump’s former accounting firm. The disclaimer essentially said, “We’re relying on the Trump Organization,” Engoron said. “That’s how I read it.”

“No, your honor,” Habba responded, arguing that the Trump Organization relied on Mazars and “they’re the accountants.”

The exchanges underscored how the upcoming trial is going to be contested — especially when the judge, and not a jury, will decide the outcome.

Read more takeaways here


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