When Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial broke for lunch in Manhattan on Wednesday, the former president didn’t come back.
(Bloomberg) — When Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial broke for lunch in Manhattan on Wednesday, the former president didn’t come back.
Trump, accused of inflating the value of his assets by billions of dollars a year to dupe banks and insurers, isn’t required to attend the trial. But after unexpectedly showing up the first 2 1/2 days, he decided to fly back to Florida, according to a person familiar with his plans.
New York Attorney General Letitia James, who filed the suit and has been attacked by Trump all week, signaled she was glad to see him go. In a brief statement outside the courtroom after lunch, James, who is Black, criticized recent remarks he made about her as “offensive” and “race baiting.”
“I will not be bullied,” she said, calling Trump’s attendance a “fundraising stop” as he campaigns to return to the White House next year. She added: “Mr. Trump is no longer here. The Donald Trump show is over.”
Trump, who is expected to testify later, is accused of exaggerating his net worth to get better terms on loans, reaping $250 million in “illegal profit” along the way. It’s one of six trials the former president is facing, all of which he claims are part of a Democratic-led “witch hunt.”
Trump appeared to be galvanized by the media attention during the three days he was present in court. He used it to repeat many of his past insults about James, mocking her failed bid to be governor and baselessly calling her “racist.” His mood appeared to sour somewhat Wednesday after he was hit with a gag order for attacking the judge’s law clerk on social media.
“They’ve weaponized justice in this country,” Trump told a crowd of reporters outside the courtroom during a short break. “This trial is a disgrace. A thing like this has never happened before.”
Trump, 77, had told a judge in an unrelated Florida case, in which he sued his former lawyer Michael Cohen for $500 million, that he had to attend the first week of the Manhattan trial. The judge delayed by a week his deposition in that case so he could show up.
Trump spoke out in apparent irritation after his lawyer complained he couldn’t hear the testimony of the state’s first witness, former Mazars USA LLP accountant Donald Bender, who often lowered his voice and mumbled answers. Trump’s lawyers also complained that Bender needed to speak into the microphone.
“I can’t hear,” Trump complained to the judge, raising his palms upward and then pointing to his right ear. He also shook his head repeatedly as Bender testified.
Trump’s lawyer Jesus M. Suarez grilled Bender about the years of accounting work he did for Trump’s company, eliciting testimony suggesting he never saw any red flags.
Under that cross-examination, Bender testified that he signed off on years of Trump Organization financial statements because nothing obviously erroneous jumped out at him. The defense was seeking to undercut the state’s claims that the assets were wildly overvalued for more than a decade.
“Did any assets strike you as being presented at an obviously inappropriate value?” Suarez repeatedly asked Bender for each of the statements he signed from 2011 to 2021.
“No, sir,” Bender said.
James had called Bender as the first witness to illustrate that Trump’s longtime accountant was allegedly misled about the appraisals of his properties. Bender testified Tuesday that he became aware in 2021, during an interview with the Manhattan district attorney, that Trump had withheld internal appraisals of his properties that conflicted with what he reported to Mazars.
The accountant said he wouldn’t have signed off on the financial statements if he had known. Bender said under the terms of their contract with Trump, Mazars wasn’t required to verify the appraisals and relied instead upon the submissions made by the Trump Organization.
Justice Arthur Engoron, who is overseeing the non-jury trial, grew irritated with the lawyer and repeatedly warned Suarez to refrain from painstakingly questioning Bender over each property listed on Trump’s financial statements.
“Mr. Bender’s not on trial here,” the judge said.
“I would very much disagree with that,” Trump’s lawyer Chris Kise said.
At one point the judge ran out of patience.
“I’m pounding the bench again!” he said. “This is ridiculous!”
Also on Wednesday, Trump filed a notice informing the court that he is appealing a pre-trial ruling in which Engoron found him liable for fraud. In that order, the judge canceled certificates for many of Trump’s companies holding the assets at issue. That left the trial to focus on on the state’s six remaining claims, including issuing false financial statements and conspiring to falsify business records. James is also seeking $250 million in penalties.
After the lunch break the judge announced it was the birthday of Kevin Wallace, one of the state’s lawyers in the case, and the attorney general’s team erupted in applause.
“Thank you, judge,” Wallace said. “It’s a living nightmare.”
The case is New York v. Trump, 452564/2022, New York State Supreme Court (Manhattan).
(Updates with details from trial.)
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