Donald Trump’s NYC civil fraud trial enters week 2 with CFO Allen Weisselberg and Michael Cohen set to take the stand

Donald Trump’s first week on trial in New York Attorney General Tish James’ case against his family real estate empire saw the former president sulking inside the courtroom and screaming “witch hunt!” outside it, a gag order from the judge on the second day, and his legal team in overdrive by Friday.

The Republican presidential frontrunner, facing four criminal cases and a slew of lawsuits, on Friday failed to pause the trial while he appeals the greatest legal setback he’s yet faced. Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron’s ruling the week before the trial began found him and his top executives — including sons Don Jr. and Eric — liable on James’ top fraud claim for exaggerating Trump Organization assets by up to $2.2 billion from 2014 to the final year of his presidency.

Engoron also stripped him of his New York business licenses, setting him up to lose the prized jewels in his real estate portfolio like his self-named Fifth Ave. tower.

Judge Arthur Engoron presides over former President Donald Trump's fraud trial in New York Supreme Court on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2023, in New York. (Dave Sanders/Pool Photo via AP)
Judge Arthur Engoron presides over Donald Trump’s fraud trial in New York Supreme Court on  Oct. 3 in New York. (Dave Sanders/Pool Photo via AP)

In his opening, AG lawyer Kevin Wallace said Engoron’s determination that Trump and his execs submitted fake numbers in business deals left the government to show why they lied about the value of Trump-owned assets — and the amount to be paid as punishment. James is seeking at least $250 million.

“We will show the defendants made these false entries with the intent to defraud,” Wallace said.

In his blistering pretrial ruling, Engoron found that the defense offered by the former president — that the value of buildings is in the beholder’s eye — was absurd and “wholly without basis in law or fact.” But Trump lawyers hammered on with the argument.

“Real estate is malleable, your Honor. Real estate changes,” Trump lawyer Alina Habba said. “The values change, but there was absolutely no fraud, no intent to defraud, no conspiracy.”

Donald Bender leaves the courtroom during a lunch break in a civil business fraud trial against former President Donald Trump, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, in New York. Bender is an accountant testifying in the case. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

AP Photo/Mary Altaffer

Donald Bender leaves the courtroom during a lunch break in the fraud trial against former Trump on Oct. 4. Bender is an accountant testifying in the case. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Trump’s lawyers sought to pin the blame for any inaccuracies in the financial statements on the first witness, Donald Bender, from the firm Mazars. The former accountant, who prepared the yearly statements central to the AG’s case, maintained during three days on the stand that his job was to compile information Trump gave him — not to audit it. Bender said he tried to be thorough, but “they were not getting us all the documents.”

After Bender’s testimony, Trump Org controller and defendant Jeff McConney took the stand. He admitted to regularly committing tax fraud and submitting fake numbers in banking and insurance deals that bloated the value of Trump’s Seven Springs estate in Westchester by more than $100 million. The valuations were based on seven mansions son Eric Trump planned but never built.

McConney answered “yes” when asked whether he broke the law at work because he was afraid Trump Org CFO Allen Weisselberg would fire him.

Weisselberg, a co-defendant in the fraud trial who served 99 days on Rikers Island earlier this year after his conviction for keeping two sets of books, is expected to take the stand Tuesday.

Trump Organization Ex-CFO Allen Weisselberg’s Criminal Tax Fraud Trial Continues

Former CFO Allen Weisselberg leaves the courtroom for a lunch recess during a trial at the New York Supreme Court on November 17, 2022 in New York City.

Michael M Santiago/GettyImages/Getty Images

Former CFO Allen Weisselberg leaves the courtroom for a lunch recess at New York Supreme Court on Nov. 17. (Michael M Santiago/GettyImages/Getty Images)

Despite his incendiary words outside court — calling Engoron a pawn “run by the Democrats” and James “a political animal” —Trump barely interacted with either of them. Engoron did not react to Trump’s constant jabs, but he drew the line at Trump’s Truth Social attack on his principal law clerk, alleging she was dating Sen. Chuck Schumer and dictating the case against him.

After learning of the online post, the judge issued a limited gag order prohibiting everyone in the case from publicly commenting on his court staff.

By the end of the week, Trump’s lawyers appeared to be working overtime to shave down their legal work. On Friday, he voluntarily dropped an appeals court petition challenging Engoron and James’ authority.

Attorney General Letitia James leaves the courtroom during a break at Manhattan Supreme Court on Monday, Oct. 2, 2023 in New York City. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News)

Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News

Attorney General Letitia James leaves the courtroom during a break at Manhattan Supreme Court on Oct. 2. (Luiz C. Ribeiro for New York Daily News)

The night before, he dropped his $500 million lawsuit against his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen. Trump was scheduled to be at a deposition with Cohen and his lawyer on the first day of the fraud trial. The sit-down would have marked their first face-to-face in the five years since Cohen told the world about what he witnessed working as Trump’s fixer and went to prison for doing his dirty work.

cohen

Michael Cohen

Barry Williams/for New York Daily News

Michael Cohen

It’s not clear whether Trump will return to the trial unless he’s called to testify. But Cohen, slated to be one of the next witnesses in the AG case, said he hopes a reunion with his old boss might still happen.

“I want him to look me in the face as he faces accountability for his actions for the very first time in his life.”

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