“This is a judge that should be disbarred. This is a judge that should be out of office. This is a judge that some people say could be charged criminally for what he’s doing. He’s interfering with an election, and it’s a disgrace,” Trump said, echoing similar attacks on Engoron he has launched on social media in recent weeks.
The lawsuit centers on a subject that is core to Trump’s public identity: his net worth.
Last week, Engoron delivered a potentially devastating ruling for Trump’s family business, finding Trump liable for widespread fraud by inflating his net worth and revoking the licenses for some of his flagship properties, including Trump Tower and the Trump International Hotel.
The trial will address what Trump and others did with that false information, including, according to James, using it to commit insurance fraud, and to gain tax benefits. And Engoron’s ruling means the trial will focus in part on the punishments Trump will now face. James is asking for $250 million and a ban on Trump running businesses in the state.
James herself attended the trial Monday, sitting in the first row of spectators. Trump, wearing a navy suit and bright blue tie, walked directly in front of James as he entered the courtroom, but didn’t look at her or interact with her.
The former president’s son Eric Trump, a defendant in the case, also appeared in court.
The attorney general’s office told the judge in an opening statement Monday that it would produce evidence to show Trump overvalued his properties in order to boost the final total in his financial statements.
“While it may be one thing to exaggerate with Forbes magazine or a television audience, you cannot do it while conducting business in the state of New York,” a lawyer for the attorney general’s office, Kevin Wallace, said.
Central to the attorney general’s case is witness Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer. During opening statements, the attorney general’s office played an excerpt from Cohen’s videotaped deposition in which he said Trump would pick a number for his net worth that would place him higher on the Forbes “richest people” list. It would be the job of Cohen and former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, another one of the defendants, to value the properties in a way that would add up to Trump’s desired total, Cohen said.
“Mr. Trump would call Allen and I into the office,” Cohen said. “Let’s say he was worth $6 billion, but he wanted to be higher on the Forbes list. So he would say I’m not worth $6 billion, I’m worth 7 or 8. Allen and I were taking the assets, increasing each of the asset classes in order to accommodate that $8 billion number.”
In their opening statements, lawyers for Trump and the other defendants seized on the mention of Cohen, repeatedly referring to him as a liar and a convicted felon.
“He’s lied to courts, he’s lied to Congress, he’s lied to everyone and anyone he’s come into contact with,” said Trump attorney Chris Kise.
Another defense attorney, Alina Habba, in somewhat exaggerated delivery and what she said were unplanned remarks, told the judge that Trump and the others had, in fact, undervalued their properties and were being sued for standard business practices.
“We are attacking a sitting president and two of his children and his employees for a statement of financial condition that is frankly worth less than what they are worth,” Habba said.
“The value is what someone is willing to pay,” she told the court, describing Trump buildings as “Mona Lisa properties.”
Referencing one of Trump’s properties, she told the court: “I assure you, there is a person out there who would buy that property for over a billion dollars. That is not fraud, that is real estate.”
Before entering the courtroom Monday morning, Trump himself defended his conduct, telling reporters, “Everything was perfect. There was no crime.” He also lashed out at James, calling her “racist” and “a horror show who ran on the basis she would get Trump before she even knew anything about me.”
During the latter half of the day, the attorney general’s office called its first witness: Donald Bender, a longtime accountant for the Trump Organization, who testified that Weisselberg, a defendant in the case, supplied Bender with information he used to issue the company’s statements of financial condition.
Trump’s last appearance in a New York courthouse was in April for his arraignment on criminal charges related to hush money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels. He is scheduled to go to trial in that case next year and is also under criminal indictment in three other cases in Florida, Georgia and Washington, D.C.
A smattering of protesters appeared outside the courthouse Monday, some of them chanting, “Trump lies all the time.”