NEW YORK (AP) — Former President Donald Trump returned to a New York City courtroom Tuesday to watch the civil fraud trial that threatens to disrupt his real estate empire, renewing his claims that the case is a baseless and politically targeted distraction from his 2024 campaign.
After attending the trial’s first three days earlier this month, the Republican front-runner initially planned a return to coincide with testimony by Michael Cohen, his attorney turned foe. But Cohen’s planned appearance on the witness stand was delayed until at least next week.
Instead, Trump sat in on testimony from one of his company’s accountants, Donna Kidder.
New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit against Trump alleges that he and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and inflating his net worth in paperwork used in making deals and securing financing.
Trump denies any wrongdoing, says his assets were actually undervalued and maintains that disclaimers on his financial statements essentially told banks and other recipients to check the numbers out for themselves.
“We built a great company — a lot of cash, it’s got a lot of great assets, some of the greatest real estate assets anywhere in the world,” he said as he headed into court, dismissing the lawsuit as “a witch hunt by a radical lunatic attorney general” bent on dragging down his presidential run. While he’s attending the trial by choice, Trump complained it was taking him off the campaign trail.
The attorney general, a Democrat, started investigating Trump in 2019 after Cohen testified to Congress that the billionaire politician had a history of misrepresenting the value of assets to gain favorable loan terms and tax benefits. She didn’t comment as she arrived Tuesday.
Cohen said Monday on X, formerly known as Twitter, that he isn’t dodging Trump. In a text message, he said he has an “incredibly painful” medical condition but anticipates testifying as soon as the pain subsides.
“When I do testify, I am certain Donald will be in attendance, sitting with his lawyers at the defendant’s table,” Cohen wrote.
On Tuesday, Trump heard Kidder discuss his company’s finances, including a mention of a prior tangle with New York state’s lawyers: former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s 2013 lawsuit over the now-defunct Trump University real estate seminar program. In explaining a spreadsheet, Kidder noted an entry about a loan that the Trump Organization took out to pay a $25 million settlement of lawsuits from Schneiderman and others alleging that Trump University defrauded students.
State lawyers on Tuesday are also expected to call Jack Weisselberg, the son of former longtime Trump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg. The son arranged financing for Trump while an executive at Ladder Capital.
Outside court, Trump recapped his various criticisms of the case and about Judge Arthur Engoron, a Democrat who’s hearing it without jurors. The suit was brought under a state law that doesn’t allow for a jury.
Trump used his Truth Social media platform early Tuesday to blast Engoron as radical and “highly political,” but the former president took a more temperate tone outside the judge’s courtroom doors a few hours later. Trump said that he had come to like and respect Engoron but believed that Democrats were “pushing him around like a pinball.”
After Trump maligned a key court staffer on social media during the trial’s first days, the judge called him into a closed-door meeting and issued a limited gag order, warning participants in the case not to smear members of his staff. The judge also ordered Trump to delete the post.
Trump also faces a narrow gag order in his Washington, D.C., election interference criminal case. Imposed Monday, the order bars the former president from making statements targeting prosecutors, possible witnesses and court staff. Trump has said he will appeal the restriction, and he complained Tuesday that “my speech been taken away from me.”
In a pretrial decision in the New York civil case last month, Engoron resolved the top claim, ruling that Trump and his company committed years of fraud by exaggerating the value of Trump’s assets and net worth on his financial statements.
As punishment, Engoron ordered that a court-appointed receiver take control of some Trump companies, putting the future oversight of Trump Tower and other marquee properties in question. An appeals court has since blocked enforcement of that aspect of the ruling for now.
The trial concerns six remaining claims in the lawsuit, including allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records.