Trump shows up at NY civil trial as case winds down

By Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Donald Trump arrived at a New York court on Thursday to attend his ongoing civil fraud trial, where his defense team is arguing that the former U.S. president’s family company did not manipulate the value of its properties to win favorable financing.

The trial, which kicked off in October, is one of several legal challenges the former president faces as he mounts a comeback bid for the White House.

The judge overseeing the trial, Arthur Engoron, has already ruled that Trump and his adult sons manipulated financial statements to dupe banks and insurers into providing better loan and insurance terms.

New York Attorney General Letitia James is seeking $250 million in penalties and wants Trump banned from New York state real estate business.

Trump is expected to testify as the final defense witness on Monday. He has denied wrongdoing and says James, an elected Democrat, is biased against him.

“This whole case is a fraud. What they’ve done is they’ve weaponized justice,” he told news media outside the courtroom.

Over the past several weeks, Trump’s team has called bankers and others who did business with the Trump Organization to testify that they did not rely solely on Trump’s valuations in deciding to lend to his company.

On Thursday, New York University accounting professor Eli Bartov, who does not work for Trump’s company, testified that he found that the company had made an accounting error in one of its valuations. But he said he did not see any evidence of accounting fraud.

“There was no justification for any of these allegations,” he testified.

Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has appeared as a witness once already. In defiant and rambling testimony last month, he complained of unfair treatment and acknowledged that he was involved in some of the documents at the heart of the fraud case.

He has also turned up at the trial on other occasions to glower at participants from the defendant’s chair and air his grievances to TV cameras outside the courtroom.

Engoron has imposed gag orders in the case restricting Trump and his lawyers from speaking publicly about court staff, after Trump published a photo of the judge’s main law clerk with Democratic U.S. Senator Chuck Schumer on social media and falsely called the clerk Schumer’s “girlfriend.”

Engoron said the post left the court “inundated” with threats from Trump supporters. Trump is appealing the gag orders.

Over the past several weeks, bankers and others who did business with the Trump Organization have testified for the defense that they did not rely solely on Trump’s valuations in deciding to deal with his company.

Trump says the questionable valuations did no harm.

“We did nothing wrong, there were no victims. The bank loves us,” he said.

Trump faces four unrelated federal and state criminal indictments, including two over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.

He has pleaded not guilty in all of those cases.

None of them have dented his commanding lead in the race to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in next November’s election.

(Reporting by Luc Cohen in New York; additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Andy Sullivan in Washington; Writing by Andy SullivanEditing by Noeleen Walder and Nick Zieminski)