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What to remember from the first week of Trump’s defense in the $250 million civil fraud trial

Stephen Voss for CNN

A doorman stands in front of Trump Tower, in New York, New York, April 3, 2023.

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Donald Trump’s legal team wrapped up the first week of his defense in the New York civil fraud trial by continuing to build the former president’s defense around experts who offered a different interpretation of the rules than the prosecutor general said Trump and his company had violated. fraud.

Trump’s team presented six expert witnesses on topics including accounting, real estate and surety insurance to combat the attorney general’s allegations — and Judge Arthur Engoron’s earlier ruling — that the company had committed fraud.

Engoron, as he indicated, rejected Trump’s request for a mistrial.

However, Engoron has frequently ruled in Trump’s favor in the courtroom this week, allowing testimony and presentations of evidence over objections from the New York attorney general’s office.

Engoron often attributed the lenient rulings to his efforts to avoid a reversal or retrial of the case.

“There is no jury, there is no bias,” the judge said. “Allow them to present their defense.”

And in a victory for Trump, a New York appeals court temporarily blocked Engoron’s gag order on the parties, which prevented them from talking about his staff.

Here’s what you need to know from the week in court:

Donald Trump Jr. returns to the helm

Donald Trump Jr. on Monday was the first defense witness to return to the stand for the second time at trial.

Trump Jr., who is also a named defendant, presented the court with a colorful history of the Trump Organization, drawn primarily from promotional materials posted on the company’s website.

Lawyers for the attorney general argued that much of the photo-laden promotional testimony was irrelevant, but Engoron dismissed the objections, saying it was relevant and interesting.

In Trump Jr.’s telling, his father built the family business by taking over dilapidated properties and using his “visionary” skills to turn it into one of the best in the city, the country and, in some cases, of the world.

“He’s an artist with real estate. He sees things that other people don’t see,” Trump Jr. said of his father.

In a victory for Donald Trump, an appeals judge on Thursday granted a stay temporarily blocking Engoron’s gag order that barred him and his lawyers from speaking about the judge’s staff.

“In view of the constitutional and statutory rights at issue, an interim stay is granted,” Associate Judge David Friedman of the First Judicial Department wrote in a summary statement after an emergency hearing held Thursday afternoon.

Engoron had previously fined the former president twice, totaling $15,000, for his public complaints about the jurist who sits next to the judge on the bench and passes notes to him during the trial.

Accounting Expert Says Methods Used in Trump’s Statements Were Compliant and Disclosed

Accountant Jason Flemmons testified that there are multiple ways to calculate asset valuations under current accounting principles and that Donald Trump’s financial statements used compliant methodologies – and to the extent that it was not Where applicable, information on these deviations from accounting standards was included in the reports, which also made them compliant.

Flemmons, a certified fraud examiner who previously worked for the Securities and Exchange Commission’s enforcement division, said that even though 95% of the assets listed in Donald Trump’s 2014 personal financial statements are deviated from generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP), the statements correctly disclosed the deviations on these statements.

01:24 – Source: CNN

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“I do not believe I identified any GAAP deviations in these supporting documents that would not have been covered by the information provided in the accountant’s report (or) in the notes to the final financial statements,” Flemmons said.

Flemmons said Mazars, the Trump Organization’s longtime accounting firm, was required under accounting standards to understand the company’s methodology for valuing assets and identify discrepancies, an apparent attempt to transfer responsibility. He also said Mazars would have had enough information from the Trump Organization about the asset calculation to flag any concerns at the time.

Steven Collins, a contracting expert, also testified briefly Thursday about Donald Trump’s winning bid for the General Services Administration contract for the Old Post Office building in Washington, D.C., which he converted into a hotel. Collins said records show GSA officials knew Donald Trump’s financial statements contained GAAP deviations but awarded the contract to the Trump Organization anyway.

The former president’s longtime friend and luxury real estate developer Steve Witkoff testified as a real estate development expert earlier this week.

The two men first met in the 1980s, when Witkoff bought Donald Trump a ham and Swiss cheese sandwich at a New York deli at 3 a.m. because he didn’t have money on him, Witkoff testified.

Donald Trump’s lawyers said Witkoff’s testimony as a developer who values ​​assets in his daily business practices should lend credibility to how the former president said he addressed the value of his own assets in his personal financial statements. Witkoff testified that he values ​​assets primarily based on their cash flow and what can be done with the property in the future.

It approaches the value of a project with an “opportunistic angle” that focuses on the value that can be added to the property.

Dr. Steven Laposa said he believes the attorney general’s civil fraud complaint is “flawed” because it alleges that Donald Trump used inflated asset valuations on his financial statements, based on the he claim that market value assessments are “real” benchmarks without considering investment values ​​as such. a possibility.

An investment value is based on an investor’s or entity’s investment requirements rather than market standards. They may therefore differ from the market value because they depend on a set of investment criteria which are not necessarily typical of the market.

Asset valuations can vary widely, he said, and it is “very common” for appraisers to disagree on the value of the same property, according to an expert witness in real estate market analysis – a point that the former president’s team has maintained throughout the affair.

02:18 – Source: CNN

Donald Trump Jr. testifies for the second time in civil fraud trial

But during cross-examination Friday, Assistant Attorney General Louis Solomon highlighted the expert’s assertion that the complaint was “biased” and “erroneous” because the definition of estimated current market value and market value are the same.

And Donald Trump’s financial statements indicate that asset valuations in the financial statements are based on estimated current values.

Laposa said he had never seen that page of the former president’s financial statements before Solomon showed it to him on the stand Friday.

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