By Jack Queen
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. both testified on Thursday that they had no involvement with documents that a judge has ruled were fraudulently manipulated to inflate the value of their father Donald Trump’s business.
In back-to-back appearances in a New York courtroom, Trump’s adult sons both said they were not involved in the questionable valuations that now threaten to hobble the real estate empire that vaulted Trump to prominence. Trump put the two in charge of the business while he served as U.S. president from 2017 to 2021.
Eric Trump said he was not even aware of the financial statements that were used to secure loans and insurance that allowed the company to keep functioning.
However, he grew frustrated as state lawyer Andrew Amer presented emails, video calls and other evidence that showed him discussing financial estimates of some of the company’s trophy properties, including changes to the valuation methodology for a golf course. He said he did not remember many of those communications.
“Certainly I was aware of it, but I don’t think I was the main person involved, or even very involved,” he said of an appraisal of the family’s Seven Springs estate north of New York City.
Donald Jr. blamed accountants, both inside and outside the company.
“They had more information and details on all of this than I would have,” he said.
Evidence submitted at trial shows that both sons signed statements certifying that they had provided accurate information to Mazars, the outside accounting firm that prepared the financial statements.
Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled that Trump, his two adult sons and the company fraudulently inflated asset values to win favorable financing terms. The trial largely concerns damages.
Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen has testified that Trump directed them to exaggerate the value of assets like Trump Tower in Manhattan in order to win better financing terms and bolster his reported net worth.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and has kept up a steady stream of attacks against Engoron and New York Attorney General Letitia James, who has brought the case.
“So sad to see my sons being PERSECUTED in a political Witch Hunt,” he wrote on social media.
‘MAKE ME LOOK SEXY’
Donald Jr.’s genial, sometimes self-deprecating testimony on Wednesday and Thursday stood in contrast to the aggressive persona he assumes in political appearances. “Make me look sexy,” he told the courtroom sketch artist as he left the witness stand.
Trump himself is scheduled to testify on Monday and his daughter Ivanka, who is not a defendant in the case, on Wednesday. For the former president, it would be the latest in courtroom appearance by the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2024 U.S. election.
James is seeking at least $250 million in damages, as well as a permanent ban on Trump, Donald Jr. and Eric from running businesses in the state.
Engoron has ordered the dissolution of companies that control pillars of Trump’s real estate portfolio, including Trump Tower. That ruling is on hold while Trump appeals.
The trial is one of many legal troubles Trump must contend with as he campaigns to regain the presidency. He faces a total of 91 felony charges in four separate criminal prosecutions, including two cases stemming from his attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
The former president has appeared several times to observe the proceedings and complain about the case to the TV cameras assembled in the hallway outside. Last week, he sat glowering at the defendant’s table during Cohen’s testimony.
Trump has not faced sanctions for those attacks, but Engoron has fined him $15,000 for twice violating a limited gag order that bars him from speaking publicly about court staff.
He is also under a limited gag order for the federal election subversion trial in Washington. Trump has alleged that both violate his right to free speech.
(Reporting by Jack Queen; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Scott Malone, Will Dunham, Lisa Shumaker and Jonathan Oatis)