November 8, 2023

Trump Testifies

A defiant Donald Trump sparred with a New York judge and slammed the state attorney general suing him Monday, using the witness stand at his civil fraud trial to defend his riches and lash out at a case that imperils his real estate empire…

“Trump’s long-awaited testimony about property valuations and financial statements was punctuated by personal jabs at state Judge Arthur Engoron, who he said was biased against him, and New York Attorney General Letitia James, whom he derided as a ‘political hack.’ He proudly boasted of his real estate business — ‘I’m worth billions of dollars more than the financial statements’ — and disputed claims that he had deceived banks and insurers.” AP News

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From the Left

The left is critical of Trump’s testimony, arguing that he failed to justify the inflated assets.

“That Trump was engaged in such inflation is not surprising, coming from a guy who claimed at the outset of his 2016 campaign to be worth two to three times what independent observers calculated and who had, in the past, boasted that he tallied his personal value based on his own emotions. What was a bit surprising was the scale of the overstatements Trump and his company made, often telling potential lenders that a property was worth huge multiples of what independent (and even some internal) assessments established…

“Trump presented a defense of this overstatement while on the stand on Monday: The assessments were accompanied by a disclaimer that, in his assessment, absolved him of any culpability for inaccuracy…

“[The disclaimer] asserts that ‘use of different market assumptions and/or estimation methodologies may have a material effect on the estimated current value amounts.’ Trump argued, in essence, that this gave him carte blanche to present any valuation he saw fit, applying the principle of caveat emptor to the whole process.”

Philip Bump, Washington Post

“Bank and insurance company executives have testified that they indeed gave him better rates based on his fraudulent numbers. So it was particularly important that, on Monday, Trump acknowledged that he did play a role in coming up with the numbers his company submitted to banks. ‘I would look at them, I would see them, and I would maybe on occasion have some suggestions,’ Trump testified…

“In his testimony—when he wasn’t complaining about how unfair he believes the case to be—Trump appeared to be trying to spin a complex and not entirely coherent story, alternately describing himself as an uninterested, high-level executive who thought the financial statements were unimportant, and as someone who was very sure that the statements were inaccurate because they didn’t show him to be wealthy enough. Neither tactic seemed very successful.”

Russ Choma, Mother Jones

“Outside the courtroom, Mr. Trump’s lawyers appeared flustered by their inability to help their fabulist client run the show or to manage him. ‘The only thing they want are facts that are bad for Trump,’ one lawyer, Alina Habba, said to the assembled media. Well, yes. That’s how litigation works: The state makes its best case using facts and arguments that are bad for the defendant, while the defendant’s lawyers do their best to poke holes in that case…

“At one point, Mr. Trump called the trial ‘silly’ because, he claimed, no victims were involved. He seems to feel it’s fine to break New York’s financial laws if the banks do not complain. In his mind, he is the only victim, the perennial quarry of a ruthless Democratic establishment. Rather than interminably complain, Mr. Trump might consider using this trial as practice. Over the coming months, he is scheduled to face four more trials.”

Jesse Wegman, New York Times

From the Right

The right is critical of the case, arguing that banks were not fooled and that there were no victims.

The right is critical of the case, arguing that banks were not fooled and that there were no victims.

“If Donald Trump had defrauded banks out of $168 million in interest payments, don’t you suppose those banks would have sued Trump? Of course they would have. But they never did… Banks in high-end lending are sophisticated financial actors who do not take the debtor’s word for it when it comes to valuing assets — they have entire departments of experienced appraisers assessing values…

“If there were proof that Trump had ripped banks off in this manner and to this extent, this would have been a huge criminal case that no prosecutor’s office would pass up — certainly not the famously aggressive feds in the Southern District of New York… and certainly not the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which twice litigated all the way to the Supreme Court to get Trump’s financial records, and which was not too embarrassed to bring a ludicrous indictment over the comparative chump change ($130,000) in hush-money Trump paid to a porn star…

“The state has never before sued under §63(12) on a theory of overvalued assets (which is hardly unusual behavior) where no counterparty claims to have been defrauded — the first ever such case just happens to be this one, brought against the Democrats’ archnemesis by an elected Democratic AG who campaigned for office in heavily Democratic New York on a vow to get Trump on . . . something — anything.”

Andrew C. McCarthy, National Review

“James's vendetta against Trump, enabled by a happily willing Engoron, is a deeply troubling event. ‘I could find no case anywhere like this,’ George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley said recently on Fox News. ‘A lot of people wouldn't object if the attorney general was seeking some fine because there were inflated numbers. You know, inflated numbers in the real estate business in New York are a ubiquitous problem. And if you want to fine him, fine. But [James] is going for total annihilation. She is asking to take this iconic figure and effectively ban him from business in New York.’”

Byron York, Washington Examiner

“James is seeking a $250 million penalty; the court could dissolve the ex-prez’s businesses… This is the same judge who blocked a real-estate project because he disliked its ‘huge towers’ and ‘you can’t just do this because the zoning allows it.’ In fact, you can, which is why his wacky ruling was tossed…

“Proof that New York has an arbitrary ‘corporate death penalty’ has a chilling effect: ‘Canceling business certificates is carte blanche to go after anyone for anything,’ frets one developer. ‘It’s a little scary.’ It’s not just developers who need to worry; no business can feel safe when zealous AGs can exploit unjust, open-ended laws to make life hell for their chosen targets — usually of a different ideological belief — and capricious judges are ready to disregard any laws that should protect those targets.”

Editorial Board, New York Post

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