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Trump testifying in civil trial targeting his New York empire

Donald Trump was in a New York court on Monday (Nov 6) to testify in a civil fraud case threatening to cripple his real estate empire, the first former president to take the stand as a defendant in more than a century.

The 77-year-old Republican arrived shortly before 3pm GMT (11pm, Singapore time) to testify in the Manhattan courtroom before Judge Arthur Engoron.

Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, denounced the case as “very unfair” as he arrived for his testimony, calling it “political lawfare” and “election interference”.

“It’s a very sad situation for our country,” he said. “It usually takes place in third world countries.”

Trump and his two eldest sons, Don Jr and Eric, and other Trump Organization executives are accused of exaggerating the value of its real estate assets by billions of dollars to obtain more favourable bank loans and insurance terms.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, speaking to reporters before Trump’s arrival, said the real estate tycoon “consistently misrepresented and inflated the value of his assets”.

“Before he takes the stand, I am certain that he will engage in name-calling and taunts and race-baiting and call this a witch hunt,” James said. “But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters are the facts and the numbers.”

“And numbers, my friends, don’t lie.”

Trump has repeatedly attacked James, who is Black, and the judge overseeing the case calling him “unhinged” and a “Trump-hating radical left, Democrat operative”.

Engoron has responded by slapping Trump with two fines – one for US$5,000, another for US$10,000 – when he ruled the onetime reality television star had violated a partial gag order imposed after he bashed the judge’s clerk on social media.

Trump’s testimony follows that of his sons Don Jr and Eric, who took the stand last week and blamed accountants for the financial statements of the company.

According to The Washington Post, the last former president to testify publicly as a defendant was Theodore Roosevelt, who took the stand during a 1915 libel trial.

Trump has already given testimony twice in connection with this case, both times in depositions behind closed doors.

In excerpts from the first deposition, he called the proceedings “the greatest witch hunt in the history of our country”, and called the Democratic attorney general an “out-of-control prosecutor”.

During the second deposition, he argued the whole case was “crazy” because “banks were all paid” and “made a lot of money” off his business.

Related:

Eric Trump says he relied on others to verify documents in NY fraud trial

Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr say they were not aware of fraud at NY trial

Trump fined US$10,000 for violating gag order in US civil trial

FIRST OF SEVERAL TRIALS

Trump and his sons do not risk going to jail but face up to US$250 million in penalties and potential removal from the management of the family company.

Even before opening arguments, Engoron ruled that James’ office had already shown “conclusive evidence” that Trump had overstated his net worth on financial documents by between US$812 million and US$2.2 billion between 2014 and 2021.

As a result, the judge ordered the liquidation of the companies managing the assets in question, such as the Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street skyscrapers in Manhattan and the opulent Seven Springs private estate in the suburbs.

That order is on hold pending appeal, but its potentially sweeping consequences highlight the high stakes for the former president.

The tycoon’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, who left the Trump Organization in 2017 to become a White House advisor to her father, is not a codefendant in the case but has also been ordered to testify, possibly as soon as Wednesday.

The civil fraud trial is one of several legal battles Trump faces as he seeks to recapture the presidency.

In March, Trump – who was impeached twice while in the White House, though never convicted – is expected in federal court in Washington for the start of his trial on charges that he conspired to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to President Joe Biden.

Thus far, the media circus surrounding his legal woes has not dented his popularity in the polls.

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