- This week, the defense in Trump’s fraud trial called its first seven witnesses.
- One of them was Trump’s son, two were his friends, and one noticed “glaring” discrepancies in Trump’s calculations.
- At stake is a potential fine of $250 million and a ban on Trump running a business in New York.
Last week, lawyers for Donald Trump, his real estate empire and his two oldest sons called the first seven witnesses to testify in a civil fraud case that seeks to drive them all out of the New York business world for good.
How did it go?
Well, the first defense witness in the Manhattan courtroom was Donald Trump Jr.
Junior returned to the stand
The former president’s eldest son spent half a day and displayed more than 100 superlatives (he used the word “amazing” more than 50 times) in a slideshow celebrating his father’s “vision.”
“He’s a real estate artist,” Donald Trump Jr. testified Monday as giant courtroom screens flashed brochure-worthy photos of Trump’s real estate empire, adorned with gold trim, chandeliers and palm trees.
The defense has not yet explained how the Trump Organization’s sons’ ad refutes the state’s fraud claims, which accuse the Trumps of dramatically inflating the valuation of their properties in annual net worth statements to banks and insurers, many of which were signed by Donald Trump Jr.
But the former president’s lawyer, Christopher Kise, has vowed to prove that the elder Trump knows too much about real estate to wildly inflate the value of his properties.
“He literally made a fortune being right about real estate investing,” Kise said in opening statements.
In any case, Monday’s palms were a welcome break from the Excel spreadsheets that usually fill courtroom screens.
First defense expert: Trump megadonor
The third defense witness to take the stand, real estate developer Steven Witkoff, as did Donald Trump Jr. was not an objective source of testimony.
He is a Republican fundraiser and megadonor who took the stand on Tuesday and has given more than $2 million to Trump since May 2021. – reports ProPublica.
Witkoff had never previously testified in court as an expert in any field. But on Tuesday, he became Trump’s first real estate appraisal expert.
“He was a really good friend to me,” Witkoff said of Trump, whom he met in 1986 while online at a Manhattan deli.
“He didn’t have any money,” Witkoff recalled on the stand. “He asked me if I could order him a ham and Swiss sandwich.”
Witkoff testified that grading is a subjective art and even experts “get it wrong.”
During the hearing, Witkoff, whose best-known project is the redevelopment of Manhattan’s historic Woolworth Building, admitted that he is not an appraiser himself.
He also admitted that he never reviewed key documents in the case, including the lease agreement for land at 40 Wall Street in Manhattan that Trump owns.
So three days into the defense hearing, the judge in the non-jury trial heard mostly from non-experts with little objectivity: one of Trump’s sons and one of his donors.
An accounting expert who could have strengthened the case against Trump
But the time has come for perhaps the most important witnesses in Trump’s defense, his accounting expert.
Late Tuesday, the defense called Jason Flemmons, a top-notch expert with impeccable credentials and a former Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement specialist.
Flemmons spent three days on the witness stand, reviewing a decade of Trump’s valuable statements and pointing out the same “glaring” problems, “inconsistencies” and “red flags” that the attorney general complains about, although he blames them all on Trump’s accountants.
When James’ attorney suggested bluntly that the SEC would laugh at the defense by “throwing the accountant under the bus,” the judge upheld the defense’s objection and Flemmons did not have to respond.
Near the end of the hearing, Flemmons dropped one last math question: How much is Trump paying for your testimony?
Real estate expert who has never assessed net worth
Real estate expert Steven Laposa testified Thursday and Friday, telling the judge that the AG’s office underestimated the value of Trump’s properties based on market value, not investment value.
During questioning, Laposa admitted that he had no professional experience in assessing asset declarations. He admitted that he was not a certified appraiser and had never valued commercial or residential real estate.
He also admitted that he had only read one valuation in the Trump case, that of 40 Wall Street.
Trump’s insurance broker and golf buddy
Friday’s week concluded with the hearing of Trump’s seventh defense witness, Gary Giulietti, a Palm Beach-based insurance broker. He said his multibillion-dollar brokerage firm, Lockton Companies, made $1.2 million last year as Trump’s insurance broker.
Giulietti testified that Trump did not commit insurance fraud because the former president’s former broker would not have relied on asset declarations to determine insurance terms.
That company, Zurich Insurance Group, relied on “gibbles and sorcery” rather than asset declarations to set terms, Giulietti said in pretrial testimony, and he stood by that assessment on Friday.
Again, as with the mega-donor who was Trump’s real estate appraisal expert, Giulietti was not the most disinterested or objective witness.
When asked about his friendship with Trump, he replied: “I play golf with him occasionally, I go to lunch with him occasionally.”
He said he didn’t have a real estate license – he didn’t need it to be a real estate agent, he explained.
The trial will continue Monday with more defense testimony, starting with testimony from yet another insurance and underwriting expert.