Donald Trump’s eldest son returned two weeks after state lawyers quizzed him during a longstretch of the trial that also featured testimony from the former president and Don Jr.'s siblings Eric and Ivanka Trump.
"You thought you were rid of me, your honor," he quipped as he took the stand.
Trump Jr., a Trump Organization executive vice president, originally testified on Nov. 1 and 2. He said he never worked on the annual financial statements at the heart of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit. He said he relied on the company’s longtime finance chief and outside accountants to verify their accuracy.
James alleges that Donald Trump, his company and executives including his sons exaggerated his wealth by billions of dollars on financial statements given to banks, insurers and others. The documents were used to secure loans and make deals. James is seeking more than $300 million in what she says were ill-gotten gains and a ban on defendants doing business in New York.
Before the trial, Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that the defendants committed fraud by inflating his net worth and the value of assets on his financial statements. He imposed a punishment that could strip Trump of marquee properties like Trump Tower, though an appeals court is allowing the former president to remain in control for now.
The Trumps have denied wrongdoing. Their lawyers contend that the state failed to meet "any legal standard" to prove allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. The state rested its case last Wednesday after six weeks of testimony from more than two dozen witnesses. Among them: company insiders, accountants, bank officials and Trump’s fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen.
The trial is proceeding after Engoron rebuffed the defense’s request last week to end it early through what's known as a directed verdict. Engoron did not rule on the request, but indicated the trial would move ahead as scheduled.
Trump lawyer Christopher Kise, seeking a verdict clearing Trump and other defendants, argued last Thursday that the state’s case involved only "successful and profitable loan transactions" and that "there is no victim. There is no complainant. There is no injury."
After testifying in early November, Donald Trump Jr. echoed his father’s claims that the case was "purely a political persecution" brought by James, a Democrat, to blunt Trump’s chances as the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
"I think it’s a truly scary precedent for New York — for me, for example, before even having a day in court, I’m apparently guilty of fraud for relying on my accountants to do, wait for it: accounting," Trump Jr. told reporters on Nov. 2.
On Monday, Trump Jr. was to be questioned first by the defense lawyers representing him, his father and other defendants. A state lawyer is also expected to question him on cross-examination. Trump Jr. is expected to testify Monday and Tuesday, followed by a tax lawyer who also testified as a state witness.
The defense also plans to call several expert witnesses as part of their case in an attempt to refute testimony from state witnesses that Trump’s financial statements afforded him better loan terms and insurance premiums and were a factor in dealmaking.
When he became president in 2017, Donald Trump handed day-to-day management of his company to Eric and Donald Trump Jr. and named Trump Jr. as a trustee of a trust he established to hold his assets while in office.
In Donald Trump Jr.’s prior testimony, when asked if he ever worked on his father’s "statement of financial condition," the scion said: "Not that I recall." Trump Jr. said he signed off on statements as a trustee, but left the work to outside accountants and the company’s then-finance chief and co-trustee, Allen Weisselberg.
"I had an obligation to listen to the people with intimate knowledge of those things," Trump Jr. testified. "If they put something forward, I wasn’t working on the document, but if they tell me that it’s accurate, based on their accounting assessment of all of the materials. ... These people had an incredible intimate knowledge, and I relied on it."