Donald Trump attacked the judge and New York prosecutors who have charged him with orchestrating a years-long fraud on Monday as state prosecutors accused the former president of using the scam to inflate his wealth by as much as $2.2bn.
Trump arrived at a New York court just a few miles south of Trump Tower on Monday for the first day of a fraud trial that could see the former president and his family business paying hundreds of millions of dollars in damages and that has already threatened to end his business career in the city where it started.
The New York attorney general, Letitia James, has accused Trump of using false and misleading financial statements from 2011 to 2021 to make himself and his businesses wealthier, helping him broker deals and obtain financing. Based on her office’s three-year investigation, James is arguing that Trump owes at least $250m for committing fraud.
A mass of TV cameras and reporters lined up outside the courthouse anticipating the arrival of Trump.
“This is a continuation of the single greatest witch-hunt of all time,” Trump said as he headed into court. He said his financial statements were “phenomenal”, called James, who is Black, a “racist” and a “horror show” and said the case was being overseen by a “rogue judge”.
“My message is simple: No matter how powerful you are, no matter how much money you think you may have, no one is above the law,” James said outside the court.
During the three-year investigation, James found that Trump had exaggerated the value of 23 of his properties and assets to the tune of hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars. Trump used these financial statements to obtain favorable loans and make his net worth appear higher than it actually was.
The trial is a bench trial, meaning there will be no jury. The New York supreme court justice Arthur Engoron, who is presiding over the case, will be the sole decider. Because this is a civil trial, Trump will not be sent to prison if he is found guilty nor does he have to make an appearance in court.
In his opening remarks, Engoron said that while he is someone who knows a little about a lot of things, “one thing I know about is the legal definition of fraud.” Engoron outlined the components of fraud, including knowledge that a statement is false and justifying lies.
The state prosecutor Kevin Wallace outlined the government’s case against Trump. Wallace said that Trump and the other defendants violated the law by “presenting the statements as true while knowing they were false”.
“They claim they weren’t involved in the valuation process,” Wallace said, but “there is ample evidence of intent.”
Last week Engoron said James had submitted “conclusive evidence” that Trump had overstated his net worth by between $812m and $2.2bn.
Speaking for the Trumps, the defense attorneys Christopher Kise and Alina Habba showered praise on Trump and said that the lenders were grateful to have done business with him.
“President Trump has made billions of dollars building the most successful real estate empire in the world,” Kise said. The financial statements “represent a fraction of the overall business transaction of the overall business empire”.
There were “no unjust profits, and there were no victims”, Kise said.
Things have not gone well for the Trump camp so far. Last Tuesday, Engoron found Trump guilty of fraud, saying that documents submitted as evidence showed persistent use of faulty financial statements. Trump, he said, was working within a “fantasy world, not a real world”.
Engoron said in his ruling that the attorney general’s office will have to provide evidence of “some component of intent and materiality” in Trump’s fraudulent financial statements – meaning proof that he intentionally inflated his assets for financial gain.
The judge delivered a dramatic punishment to Trump, along with his adult sons, Donald Trump Jr and Eric Trump, who will see their business certificates canceled. This will make it nearly impossible for them to continue doing business in New York.
What could make things even worse is a hefty fine. The attorney general’s office will have to prove that there should be a disgorgement of profits from the Trump family, meaning they should have to give up the profits they made off their fudged financial statements. James’s office is arguing that Trump received loans using those fraudulent statements to purchase properties like the Trump golf club in Miami, Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago and the Old Post Office building in Washington DC. Any profits from those, the attorney general is arguing, were made off lies.
While Trump and three of his children, including Ivanka Trump, are on the witness list, it is unclear whether they will be called to take the stand. Even if called, they can choose not to appear, though the judge can use that against them when making his decision.
The trial is scheduled to run until 22 December , though it will likely not last that long as the judge’s pre-trial ruling settled a major question: whether Trump indeed committed fraud. Now the case is focused on how much he will have to pay for it.