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Trump Sons Downplay Involvement With Documents at Center of New York Fraud Trial

Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump downplayed their connection to the financial records at the center of their family’s ongoing civil fraud trial in New York in sworn testimony on Thursday.

Former President Donald Trump’s two eldest sons testified in a Manhattan courtroom that they had limited involvement with the preparation of financial documents that inflated the value of Trump Organization properties and their father’s wealth.

Trump Jr. and Eric Trump both appeared under oath to answer questions about their knowledge of the scheme, which the state alleges netted $250 million over a decade. The judge in the case has already found the Trumps and their company liable for fraud, determining that they manipulated the financial statements to obtain favorable deals with banks and insurers.

The Trump sons took over day-to-day operations at the Trump Organization when their father became president in 2017, and each holds the title of executive vice president. They are both co-defendants in the civil case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, along with the elder Trump, the Trump Organization and several executives. All have denied wrongdoing and alleged the trial is part of a politically motivated effort to damage Trump’s chances at recapturing the White House in next year’s presidential election.

Donald Trump Jr.’s testimony

Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump arrive at New York Supreme Court on Nov. 2, 2023.
Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump arrive at New York Supreme Court on Nov. 2, 2023.TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

Trump Jr.’s testimony began on Wednesday and stretched into Thursday. He fielded questions about his background, work history and responsibilities in the Trump Organization, delivering mostly cordial responses under questioning and occasionally cracking jokes. 

He said he worked in “an all-encompassing developmental role,” but also said he couldn’t recall much about a key moment in the company’s history: when Allen Weisselberg, the chief financial officer and one of his father’s most trusted employees for nearly 50 years, agreed to a $2 million severance earlier this year just before going to jail for fraud.

Trump Jr. ultimately laid the blame for the alleged fraud in this case at the feet of Weisselberg and the company’s outside accountants.

“I signed off on a document that Mazars prepared with intimate knowledge, and as a trustee I have an obligation to listen to those who are experts, who have an expertise of these things,” Trump Jr. said. “So I trust in Allen Weisselberg who is an accountant. I trust Mazars who is a CPA and a big five accounting firm to put together a document of this nature.”

“These people had an incredible, intimate knowledge and I relied on them,” he added later.

Thursday’s testimony began with the attorney general’s lawyer asking Trump Jr. about an inquiry from Forbes magazine in March 2017 as the publication was compiling data for its annual list of richest Americans. The first question from Forbes focused on the square footage of the elder Trump’s penthouse apartment in Trump Tower, noting that Trump previously told the magazine that it encompassed 33,000 square feet, when in reality it was roughly 11,000 square feet.

The state presented evidence that Trump Jr. passed along the questions to an attorney for the Trump Organization, showing an email from Trump Jr. that noted there was an “[i]nsane amount of stuff there.” On the stand, Trump Jr. said he did not remember receiving the questions and that he had “no specific recollection of doing anything with [the email].”

One week later, Trump Jr. signed off on a statement of financial condition that said the penthouse was 30,000 square feet with a value of $327 million, or $10,900 per square foot.

Trump Jr. reiterated his earlier testimony and said he depended on the company’s accountants to vouch for the accuracy of the statements. 

“I relied on Mazars and our accounting team to tell me what is accurate in regards to accounting. That’s why we have accountants,” he said.

Even now, after the company has been found liable for fraud, Trump Jr. said he stands by the statements and his certification of them. Asked if he intended for banks to rely on those statements when negotiating loan terms, Trump Jr. doubled down on being “fine” with it.

“I don’t know that I intended them to do anything, I’m fine with signing off on it. It’s not as simple as yes or no,” Trump Jr. said.

What Eric Trump said on the stand

Eric Trump sits in court during his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on Nov. 2, 2023, in Manhattan.
Eric Trump sits in court during his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on Nov. 2, 2023, in Manhattan.JEENAH MOON / GETTY IMAGES

Eric Trump began his testimony after his brother, and was confronted with many emails and messages showing him discussing various financial matters related to the family business. But he denied involvement with the statements at the heart of the case, testifying that he didn’t think he “ever saw or worked on a statement of financial condition” and “never had anything to do with” them.

Earlier in the trial, a witness who worked for an insurance company testified that when she needed to review the financial statements, she was asked to do so in-person at Trump Tower, and could not have a copy.

Eric Trump was shown a 2012 email exchange with a representative of a North Carolina golf club that the Trump Organization was considering buying. The emails referred to an in-person review, with Eric Trump and another company executive, of “a financial statement prepared by a CPA firm reflecting Donald Trump’s net worth.”

In the email exchange, Eric Trump asked the golf course representative to not share Trump family financial information with club members.

“Sorry to be brash but it was not the intent that a summ[a]ry would be circulated to the members. The point of the exercise, and the intent of our conversation, was to give you and the board comfort that our personal financials have been reviewed,” Eric Trump wrote.

Still, Eric Trump said on the stand he didn’t want to “speculate” that the person was referring specifically to a statement of financial condition, reiterating that he wasn’t involved with those types of documents.

“I don’t want to speculate, there are a lot of financial statements created by a lot of CPAs,” Eric Trump said.

Eric Trump was shown a series of email exchanges with company executives and others referring to “annual financial statements” for his father, or the abbreviation “f/s.” He repeatedly said he understood them to be referring to financial statements, but not necessarily the specific documents at the center of the case.

An attorney for James’ office played several clips from a March deposition Eric Trump gave in the case and tried to pin down discrepancies between his statements then and evidence collected by the office. 

In one particularly testy exchange Thursday, Eric Trump was first shown a series of emails and notes showing his involvement in rejecting and approving outside appraisals at a Westchester property that was later overvalued by more than $200 million, according to James’ office. Eric Trump was then shown a deposition clip in which he said, “I really haven’t been involved with appraisal work on this property.”

Asked if he stood by that statement, Eric Trump said he did.

Pressed more about “the calendar invites, emails, conversations” he had related to the appraisal, Eric Trump conceded some involvement.

“I was clearly involved, but to a very small point,” Eric Trump said.

Toward the end of Eric Trump’s testimony, a trio of Trump lawyers stood up to protest what they called continued “issues” with Judge Arthur Engoron’s law clerk, who was the subject of a derogatory social media post from Donald Trump in early October that prompted the judge to issue a gag order preventing the defendants from making public statements about court staff.

They said she frequently passed notes to Engoron during the proceedings and implied she had political bias. Engoron accused one defense lawyer of “a bit of misogyny” related to his complaints about the law clerk, who is a woman.

“I’m not a misogynist, I’m very happily married and I have a 17-year-old daughter,” the lawyer, Christopher Kise, later said.

The heated exchange began on an unrelated note: an objection to questions being asked of Eric Trump by Andrew Amer, a lawyer from the attorney general’s office, who was accused of repeating questions to get the testimony he wanted.

Amer, at the end, said that he was “happy with” Eric Trump’s “great” testimony.

“This witness’s testimony is extremely favorable to our case,” Amer said.

Source : CBS News