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Trump Civil Trial Gets Off To Smashing Start. And He Hasn't Even Taken The Stand Yet!
You can move to Florida, but you can never leave New York.
Donald Trump’s civil trial in New York started this morning, and boy is he mad about it.
According to the Daily Beast’s Jose Pagliery, who was in the courtroom this morning, Trump marched in with a face like thunder and visibly sneered at New York Attorney General Letitia James as he walked by her on his way out for lunch.
AG James has been investigating the former president and his eponymous company for upwards of four years now. Trump, who spends much of his time caterwauling about his legal troubles on social media, complains that the cases are being timed to interfere with the 2024 election. But in fact Trump himself spent years evading discovery, particularly with respect to the New York civil and criminal cases, and bears as much responsibility as the prosecutors for the timing of these trials. Lest we forget, Trump sued Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s predecessor Cyrus Vance, and only cooperated with the investigation when the Supreme Court ordered him to. And in the civil case, he gave two big middle fingers to AG James, and got himself cited for contempt.
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Last week, Trump got himself the corporate “death penalty” when Justice Arthur Engoron granted the state partial summary judgment as to the issue of whether Trump, his two elder sons, and his company were liable as a matter of law for persistent fraudulent conduct. Essentially, the court ruled that the companies no longer exist and their assets have to be put in receivership and sold. The court concluded that the parties submitted false financial statements over a period of years, both to obtain loans at low rates to which they were not entitled, and to satisfy continuing disclosure obligations to banks.
Trump pointed to the appellate court’s ruling that all conduct before 2014 was outside the statute of limitations, arguing that later financial statements “related back” to the original loans and were thus time-barred. But Justice Engoron called this logic “invented” and rejected the claims, ruling that each false declaration was a separate document existing at the time it was signed.
One egregious example of Trump’s hinky valuations was Mar-a-Lago. The court noted:
From 2011-2021, the Palm Beach County Assessor appraised the market value of Mar-a-Lago at between $18 million and $27.6 million.
Notwithstanding, the [Statement of Financial Condition’s] values do not reflect these land use restrictions. Donald Trump's [Statement of Financial Conditions] for 2011-2021 value Mar-a-Lago at between $426,529,614 million and $612,110,496, an overvaluation of at least 2,300%, compared to the assessor’s appraisal.
Trump and his goons have seized on this, claiming that Justice Engoron thinks the Florida club is worth just $18 million. Here’s one of more than a dozen social media posts he’s made on the subject in the past week:
I have a Deranged, Trump Hating Judge, who RAILROADED this FAKE CASE through a NYS Court at a speed never seen before, refusing to let it go to the Commercial Division, where it belongs, denying me everything, No Trial, No Jury. He made up this crazy “KILL TRUMP” decision, assigning insanely low values to properties, despite overwhelming evidence. AS AN EXAMPLE, HE VALUES THE MOST SPECTACULAR PROPERTY IN PALM BEACH, FLORIDA, MAR-A-LAGO, AT $18,000,000, WHEN IT IS WORTH POSSIBLY 100 TIMES THAT AMOUNT. His anger & hatred is politically motivated & unprecedented by those who watched! My actual Net Worth is MUCH GREATER than the number shown on the Financial Statements, a BIG SURPRISE to him & the Racist A.G., Letitia James, who campaigned for office on a get Trump Platform. While murderers roam the sidewalks of New York, my banks are happy, all loans are current, or paid off in full, sometimes early, with no defaults or problems of any kind. There is also an IRONCLAD DISCLAIMER CLAUSE!
In fact, it was Trump himself who argued the property was valued in the low tens of millions in an effort to decrease his tax liability, with his own appraiser valuing the club at just $27 million in 2020. At the same time, Trump was telling lenders it was worth twenty or thirty times that so that he could claim a net worth sufficient to ensure that no one would call his loans or demand more collateral. Which is kind of the point of a fraudulent financial statement!
Similarly, Trump’s lawyers howl that the case is based solely on the word of his discredited former lawyer Michael Cohen. In reality, Cohen’s testimony that Trump routinely cooked his books was the predicate for the investigation. But we are long past that now, with millions of pages of evidence showing that Trump simply made up the numbers on his financial disclosures. No one is resting this or any other case on Michael Cohen’s word.
(Speaking of Cohen, Trump is probably only in court today because he sued Cohen in Florida, and then tried to get out of being deposed this week by claiming he had to appear in court in New York. The gambit only netted him one extra week, since Cohen’s New York lawyers were only delighted to conduct the deposition in the city and save themselves the trouble of flying to Florida.)
Trump’s lawyers, who got sanctioned last week for filing the same motions over and over, even after they’d been rejected by the court, have clearly not learned their lesson. Even today they were still arguing that the court had ruled improperly, which would be an odd tack, even if the appellate court hadn’t affirmed Justice Engoron’s prior holdings. Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba was champing at the bit to depose Cohen, even as she pissed off the court by spewing disrespect and Fox News talking points.
To be fair, the court was well and truly pissed off already after four years of Habba’s shenanigans. Which makes it all the weirder that she never requested a jury trial, leaving her client’s fate in the hands of a jurist whom he attacks constantly on social media. Indeed Habba’s appearance this morning was weird in and of itself, since she theoretically withdrew from the case weeks ago to become Trump’s legal spokeswoman, leaving her associate Michael Madaio to be sanctioned by the court for spamming the docket with duplicative filings.
And the weirdness is likely to continue, as a lawyer for the Trump family promises that we’ll hear testimony from Trump and both his sons during this trial. Surely Trump will display his usual good judgment and self control on the witness stand.
Catch Liz Dye on Opening Arguments podcast.
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