UNITED STATES NEWS

Donald Trump goes from calm to indignant in newly released deposition video of civil fraud lawsuit

Jan 19, 2024, 4:01 PM | Updated: 9:42 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — Months before Donald Trump’s defiant turn as a witness at his New York civil fraud trial, the former president came face-to-face with the state attorney general who is suing him when he sat for a deposition last year at her Manhattan office.

Video made public Friday of the seven-hour, closed-door session last April shows the Republican presidential frontrunner’s demeanor going from calm and cool to indignant — at one point ripping Attorney General Letitia James lawsuit against him as a “disgrace” and “a terrible thing.”

Sitting with arms folded, an incredulous Trump complained to the state lawyer questioning him that he was being forced to “justify myself to you” after decades of success building a real estate empire that’s now threatened by the court case.

Trump, who contends James’ lawsuit is part of a politically motivated “witch hunt” was demonstrative from the outset. The video shows him smirking and pouting his lips as the attorney general, a Democrat, introduced herself and told him that she was “committed to a fair and impartial legal process.”

James’ office released the video Friday in response to requests from media outlets under New York’s Freedom of Information Law. Trump’s lawyers previously posted a transcript of his remarks to the trial docket in August.

James’ lawsuit accuses Trump, his company and top executives of defrauding banks, insurers and others by inflating his wealth and exaggerating the value of assets on annual financial statements used to secure loans and make deals.

Judge Arthur Engoron, who will decide the case because a jury is not allowed in this type of lawsuit, has said he hopes to have a ruling by the end of January.

Friday’s video is a rare chance for the public at large to see Trump as a witness.

Cameras were not permitted in the courtroom when Trump testified on Nov. 6, nor were they allowed for closing arguments in the case on Jan. 11, where Trump defied the judge and gave a six-minute diatribe after his lawyers spoke.

Here are the highlights from Trump’s videotaped deposition:

‘YOU DON’T HAVE A CASE’

Telling James and her staff, “you don’t have a case,” Trump insisted the banks she alleges were snookered with lofty valuations suffered no harm, got paid in his deals, and “to this day have no complaints.”

“Do you know the banks made a lot of money?” Trump asked, previewing his later trial testimony. “Do you know I don’t believe I ever got even a default notice and, even during COVID, the banks were all paid. And yet you’re suing on behalf of banks, I guess. It’s crazy. The whole case is crazy.”

Banks “want to do business with me because I’m rich,” Trump told James. “But, you know what, they’re petrified to do business because of you.”

Trump complained New York authorities “spend all their time investigating me, instead of stopping violent crime in the streets.”

He said they’d put his recently jailed ex-finance chief Allen Weisselberg “through hell and back” for dodging taxes on company-paid perks.

At a previous deposition in the case, in August 2022, Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege against self-incrimination and refused to answer questions more than 400 times. He said he did so because he was certain his answers would be used as a basis for criminal charges.

DON’T TAKE MY WORD FOR IT

Trump said he never felt his financial statements “would be taken very seriously,” and that people who did business with him were given ample warning not to trust them.

Trump described the statements as “a fairly good compilation of properties” rather than a true representation of their value. Some numbers, he noted, were “guesstimates.”

Trump claimed the statements were mainly for his use, though he conceded financial institutions sometimes asked for them. Even then, he insisted it didn’t matter legally if they were accurate or not, because they came with a disclaimer.

“I have a clause in there that says, ’Don’t believe the statement. Go out and do your own work,” Trump testified. “You’re supposed to pay no credence to what we say whatsoever.”

WHAT’S IN A NAME? $10 BILLION

Trump estimated that his “brand” alone is worth “maybe $10 billion.”

He called it “the most valuable asset I have” and attributed his political success to the ubiquity of his name and persona.

“I became president because of the brand, OK,” Trump said. “I became president. I think it’s the hottest brand in the world.”

‘MOST IMPORTANT JOB IN THE WORLD’

After Trump was elected, he put the Trump Organization into a trust overseen by his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., and longtime finance chief, Weisselberg.

Trump claimed he did so not because it was required but because he wanted to be a “legitimate president” and avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

Plus, Trump said, he was busy solving the world’s problems — like preventing North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un from launching a nuclear attack.

“I considered this the most important job in the world, saving millions of lives,” Trump testified. “I think you would have nuclear holocaust if I didn’t deal with North Korea. I think you would have a nuclear war, if I weren’t elected. And I think you might have a nuclear war now, if you want to know the truth.”

OBSTRUCTED VIEW

In one of his more animated moments, Trump urged his inquisitors to look right out the window for a view of his 40 Wall Street office tower — just across the street from James’ office where he testified.

Asked how the building was doing, financially, Trump gestured toward the building with his thumb and answered: “Good. It’s right here. Would you like to see it?”

“I don’t think we’re allowed to open the windows,” state lawyer Kevin Wallace said.

“Open the curtain,” Trump suggested, bobbing his head around waiting for someone to oblige.

“No,” Wallace said.

“Open the curtain, go ahead,” Trump said. “It’s right here. I just looked out the window.”

“Can’t open it?” defense lawyer Clifford Robert asked, after a beat.

“I wouldn’t,” Wallace said.

‘BEAUTIFUL’ AND ’INCREDIBLE’

Trump showed off his knack for superlatives, uttering the words “beautiful” and “incredible” 15 times each and “phenomenal” six times as he described his properties.

Trump called his Turnberry, Scotland, golf course “one of the most iconic places in the world,” and the renovated villas at his Doral golf resort near Miami “the most beautiful rooms you’ve ever seen.”

Trump described his 213-acre Seven Springs estate north of New York City as “the greatest house in New York State.”

His golf courses in Aberdeen, Scotland? “Really incredible.” Jupiter, Florida? “An incredible facility.” Just outside Los Angeles? “An incredible property … an unbelievable property … a phenomenal property that fronts on the ocean.”

“I don’t want to sell any of them,” Trump testified. “But if I ever sold them — if I ever put some of these things up for sale — I would get numbers that were staggering.”

He said he could get $1.5 billion for his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida and maybe $2.5 billion for Doral.

Trump suggested he could get “a fortune” from the Saudi Arabia-backed LIV golf league for the Turnberry course, a former British Open site.

“There would be people that would do anything to own Doral. There are people that would do anything to own Turnberry or Mar-a-Lago or … Trump Tower or 40 Wall Street.”

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Donald Trump goes from calm to indignant in newly released deposition video of civil fraud lawsuit