Trump lawyers go after accountant, appeal pretrial ruling in NY fraud case

Donald Trump

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 his defense lawyers 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 that Trump engaged in fraud by inflating the values of prized assets including his Trump Tower penthouse.

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.

RELATED: Trump seethes through the start of trial in New York lawsuit

RELATED: Judge issues limited gag order after Trump’s post about court clerk

With accountant Donald Bender on the witness stand, state lawyers have 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.”

As the cross-examination wore on Wednesday with painstaking queries about specific aspects of individual financial statements, Judge Arthur Engoron pounded his fist and said the defense was ignoring his instructions to streamline the questioning.

“This is ridiculous,” said the judge, who’s hearing the case without a jury because state law doesn’t allow for one in this type of lawsuit.

Trump’s lawyers complained that the judge was compromising their ability to defend the former president and his real estate empire.

“I’ve never had to negotiate how to ask questions as a lawyer,” defense attorney Christopher Kise said.

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.

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 case “fake” and the trial “a disgrace.”

“Why attend? Because I want to point it out to the press, how corrupt it is,” he said as he left court during its lunch break. He was next expected to return to the courtroom when he’s called to testify, likely several weeks from now.

James later described his comments as offensive, baseless and “devoid of any facts and/or any evidence.”

“The Donald Trump is show is over. This was nothing more than a political stunt. A fundraising stop. Now, we can continue to go forward with our trial, and we are confident that justice will be served,” James told reporters outside court.

Trump has frequently vented in the courthouse hallway and on social media about the trial, James and Engoron, also a Democrat.

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 members of his staff. The judge told Trump to delete the “disparaging, untrue and personally identifying post,” and the former president took it down.

The 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.


Top Local Stories