Donald Trump returned to his New York civil trial on Thursday as an accounting expert told the court there was “no evidence whatsoever” that the former US president and his family company committed fraud.
It was the first time that Trump had attended the $250m fraud trial in over a month. Outside the court, Trump called the witness “one of the greatest experts in the country.”
“We did nothing wrong. There were no victims. The bank loves us,” Trump said.
Eli Bartov, an accounting professor at New York University, told the court: “My main finding is that there is no evidence whatsoever of any accounting fraud.”
New York attorney general Letitia James has accused Trump, his adult sons and other company executives of manipulating the value of the company’s assets to obtain more favorable loans from banks.
In one instance, the value of Trump’s Manhattan triplex apartment was nearly tripled from $80m to $180m in one year. Bartov said his reading of the documents suggested this was an error and not an attempt to mislead. “There is no evidence here of concealment,” Bartov said. “It’s true this is an error. But it is no fraud.”
Bartov argued that the Trump organization’s outside auditors had a duty to spot the errors, adding: “My analysis shows the statements of financial condition for all the years were not materially misstated.”
Asked if he thought the case had no merit, Bartov replied: “This is absolutely my opinion.”
Trump is set to testify in the case for a second time on Monday and has been gagged from attacking the judge’s staff. Ahead of his arrival at court, Trump once again attacked Judge Arthur Engoron and the New York attorney general, Letitia James.
“Heading to a Witch Hunt with a Crooked Judge and a Bats.. t CRAZY (and Racist!), A. G. This case was decided against me before it even started,” he wrote on Truth Social.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and said James, an elected Democrat, is biased against him.
The trial largely concerns damages, because Engoron has already found that Trump’s financial statements were fraudulent.
Engoron imposed gag orders in the case restricting Trump and his lawyers from speaking publicly about court staff after Trump published a photo of the judge’s main law clerk with the Democratic US senator Chuck Schumer on social media and falsely called the clerk Schumer’s “girlfriend”.
Engoron said the post left the court “inundated” with threats from Trump supporters. Trump is appealing the gag orders.
James is seeking $250m in penalties, and wants Trump banned from New York state real estate business.
Over the past several weeks, bankers and others who did business with the Trump Organization have testified for the defense that they did not rely solely on Trump’s valuations in deciding to deal with his company.
Trump faces four unrelated federal and state criminal indictments, including two over his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.
He has pleaded not guilty in all of those cases.
None of them have dented his commanding lead in the Republican race to challenge President Joe Biden in next November’s election.
Trump is set to testify in the case for the second time on Monday. This week his lawyers attempted to delay his appearance but were denied by Engoron. “Absolutely not. No way. No how. It’s a non-starter,” Engoron told Trump’s lawyer Christopher Kise.
Reuters contributed to this story