Trump lawyers go after accountant and appeal major pretrial ruling in New York fraud case
Oct 4, 2023, 7:29 AM | Updated: 9:46 am
NEW YORK (AP) — Warned to mind his out-of-court comments, former President Donald Trump returned to his New York civil fraud trial Wednesday as lawyers on both sides closely questioned an accountant who prepared financial statements at the heart of the case.
Outside the courtroom, Trump’s lawyers appealed a key pretrial ruling.
The civil case, filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, accuses Trump and his business of exaggerating his wealth in financial statements that went to banks, insurers and others.
With accountant Donald Bender on the witness stand, state lawyers sought to show that Trump and others at his company had full control over the preparation of the financial statements. Bender testified Tuesday that the Trump Organization didn’t always supply all the information needed to produce the documents.
Trump denies any wrongdoing, and his defense continued Wednesday to fault Bender for any shortcomings in the statements. Attorney Jesus M. Suarez pointed out that the accounting firm told clients it might need specialists’ help to evaluate such assets as works of art, jewelry, and some types of securities in closely held businesses and real estate.
Suarez then showed video of pretrial testimony in which Bender said he didn’t recall whether he consulted with any specialists when preparing Trump’s financial statements.
Earlier during cross-examination, Bender acknowledged on Tuesday he missed a change in information about the size of the former president’s Trump Tower apartment.
Suarez portrayed that as a major blunder, telling the accountant that Trump’s company and employees were “going through hell” because “you missed it.” Bender retorted that it was the Trump Organization’s mistake, “and we didn’t catch it.”
Trump, the Republican front-runner in the 2024 presidential race, is voluntarily taking time out from the campaign trail to attend the trial. He was back for a third day Wednesday.
Judge Arthur Engoron already has ruled that Trump engaged in fraud by inflating the values of prized assets including his Trump Tower penthouse. The ruling could — if upheld after an appeal filed Wednesday — cost the former president control of his signature skyscraper and some other properties.
Trump, with familiar rhetoric outside court on Wednesday, called James “incompetent,” portrayed her as part of a broader Democratic effort to weaken his 2024 prospects, and termed the trial “a disgrace.”
Trump has frequently vented in the courthouse hallway and on social media about the trial, James and Engoron, also a Democrat.
But after Trump assailed Engoron’s principal law clerk on social media Tuesday, the judge imposed a limited gag order, commanding all participants in the trial not to hurl personal attacks at court staffers. The judge told Trump to delete the “disparaging, untrue and personally identifying post,” and the former president took it down.
The non-jury trial concerns six claims that remained in the lawsuit after Engoron’s pretrial ruling, and the trial is to determine how much Trump might owe in penalties. James is seeking $250 million and a ban on Trump doing business in New York.
Trump plans to testify later in the trial.