“You can’t deceive people – at least not for long.” he observed in his 1987 bestseller The Art of the Deal. “You can create excitement, you can do wonderful advertising, you can get all kinds of press, and you can throw in a little exaggeration. But if you don’t deliver the goods, people will eventually notice.”
The former president has spent decades trying to generate excitement with grand promotions, attracting all sorts of press and incorporating more than a little hyperbole. But did he have the goods?
This is the central question that Judge Arthur Engoron of the Manhattan Supreme Court has been considering over the past five weeks. On Monday, the fraud trial enters its final, fateful phase. Trump himself will take a stand. It’s about a lot. Although Trump will not go to prison regardless of the outcome because this is a civil case, he is fighting for the future of his corporate empire.
While the case against Trump is inextricably linked to his political rise, it focuses on his business dealings. Hundreds of millions of dollars are at stake as the former real estate tycoon prepares to take the stand.
Letitia James, New York’s attorney general, has accused Trump and key members of his inner circle at the Trump Organization of fraudulently inflating his assets to secure better loans from banks. She demanded $250 million and the suspension of Trump’s business licenses in New York, a move that would end the Trumps’ ability to conduct business in the state.
This is not a jury trial, and Engoron has already made up his mind based on the case and found Trump and his adult sons guilty of financial fraud before the trial began. If an appeals court upholds that ruling, Trump would essentially lose the ability to operate his business in New York – and control of real estate including Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan, from whose golden staircase Trump launched his successful presidential campaign.
“The judge has already found fraud,” said Jed Handelsman Shugerman, a law professor at Boston University. “The question is the scope of liability and remedy. It seems like it’s going in a direction that is a very serious burden and a very serious remedy.”
The court’s attention this week turned to his eldest sons. After all, it is a family business, officially run by Donald Jr. and Eric since their father took over as president.
Both brothers tried to distance themselves of the alleged fraud and insisted it was up to others to ensure the financial records were accurate. “I relied on the accountants to do the accounting,” said Don Jr., executive vice president of the Trump Organization. said. “I never had anything to do with the financial reports,” Eric, also the company’s executive vice president, added hours later.
Her sister Ivanka is also scheduled to be questioned on Wednesday. Unlike Don Jr and Eric, she is not a named defendant in this case. While their lawyers argued She shouldn’t have to testify, that was the request disputed by an appeals court.
While the family appearances dominate all the headlines, Engoron may ultimately be more interested in testimony that could help assess responsibility for the alleged fraud. On Wednesday, Michiel McCarty, chairman and CEO of investment bank MM Dillon & Co, said inflation of Trump’s assets had allowed the Trump Organization to secure better interest rates on loans. He calculated that this caused banks to lose more than $168 million in interest payments.
The media spotlight on this trial was brightest when high-profile witnesses – from Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer-turned-enemy, next week to the former president himself — take a stand. But at the heart of it all are stacks of emails, contracts and financial reports. “There is enough evidence in this case to fill this courtroom,” Engoron noted last month as he rejected another attempt by Trump’s lawyers to seek a speedy ruling.
Gregory Germain, a law professor at Syracuse University, said prosecutors would have to prove that Trump was “unjustly enriched” through fake financial reports. “To accomplish this, the attorney general must prove that someone took these statements at face value, believed them to be true, and made loans at lower interest rates than they should have, or priced an insurance policy at a lower price – anything.” to show that they were harmed by it and enriched by it.”
This element was “completely missing from the earlier stages of the case,” Germain added.
Trump is facing criticism over allegations that documents fraudulently inflated the value of his assets. At the beginning of the trial, for example, the prosecutors written down that his Trump Tower apartment was once listed as 30,000 square feet and valued at $327 million, although other filings — including a 1994 document signed by the former president — said the apartment was actually less than 11,000 square feet was big.
Commentators expect that Trump, like his sons, will try to distance himself from the accounting. However, he is likely to be questioned by prosecutors about allegations that he directly, if not explicitly, instructed executives to inflate his net worth.
Cohen, his former personal lawyer, testified that Trump would scrutinize the value of his assets and declare, “I’m not actually worth $4.5 billion, I’m closer to $6 billion” before sending away senior executives. They would return to him “after we had achieved the desired goal,” said Cohen.
A current Trump Organization employee, Patrick Birney, testified that CFO Allen Weisselberg told him between 2017 and 2019 that Trump – at the time in the White House – wanted to increase his net worth.
Since Engoron’s pretrial ruling, Trump has done this argued He is worth “much more” than shown in his financial statements, which do not include what he describes as his “most valuable” asset: his brand. The Trump Organization had been “slandered and slandered,” he complained, denying that his fortune was exaggerated.
The former real estate mogul will try to make the case in the coming days that his empire has been correctly valued. Even after Engoron decided otherwise, Trump emphasized that no one was lost as a result.
Prosecutors are confident they are close to bringing Trump to justice. They believe – to paraphrase the defendant’s observation some four decades ago – that he did not have the goods, and they are starting to get their way. On Monday we might see who really has what it takes.