The fraud case against Donald Trump, his two oldest sons, and the Trump Organization continued on Thursday. This time there were no witnesses, but that doesn’t mean the courtroom wasn’t filled with disputes, acrimony, and outrageous statements as Trump’s legal team made another attempt to have the whole case thrown out.
The state attorney general’s office wrapped up testimony from their witnesses on Wednesday following the appearance of Ivanka Trump. The defense is slated to begin calling witnesses on Monday. A former accountant for the Trump Organization was scheduled to take the stand, but at the last minute on Thursday, the defense surprised everyone by announcing they would be calling Donald Trump Jr. back to the stand.
Thursday was set aside as a day to hear motions from both sides. The defense started with a doozy, asking Judge Arthur Engoron for a directed verdict in Trump’s favor. Trump’s legal teams had already made such motions twice in this trial, and the last time they did, Engoron shot down the motion quickly. But on Thursday, the judge seemed shockingly open to the defense’s statements.
Most of the morning was devoted to the defense motion to end the trial with a verdict in favor of Trump. That would essentially negate Engoron’s earlier finding of fraud and eliminate any potential penalties against Trump, Donald Trump Jr., or Eric Trump.
The arguments that the defense, headed by lead attorney Chris Kise, made on Thursday were no real surprise. They broke down into the “no harm, no foul” and “the statements didn’t matter” arguments that Trump’s team has been making since before the trial began.
First, Kise argued that since the lenders had been paid back for their loans, some had worked with Trump on additional deals, and others had expressed excitement about working with Trump, or even (as Ivanka testified on Wednesday) tried to benefit from their connection to Trump, there was no victim in this case.
Second, Kise insisted that Trump and his sons had no real involvement in the statements of financial condition that were given to the banks to secure loans. These were, according to Trump’s defense team, the products of lawyers and accountants rather than being numbers and statements directly generated by the trustees of the Trump Organization. According to Kise, it was wrong to hold Trump responsible for their content and any errors in these documents were immaterial and unintentional.
On two previous occasions, the defense has lodged similar objections and made calls for a directed verdict. The last such motion followed the testimony of former Trump attorney Michael Cohen. However, on those past occasions, Engoron swiftly denied these motions, making it clear there was an abundance of evidence of fraud.
On Thursday morning, Kise included a slideshow along with his motion, going step by step through the reasons that he believed Trump deserved an immediate end to the trial.
Some portions of the presentation involved demeaning the testimony of the experts that the state has produced over the last month. In particular, Kise challenged the experts Attorney General Letitia James’ office called to testify to the value of properties. Instead, Kise insisted that Trump was the real expert as to the value of his properties, and that “any court in this country” would recognize Trump as an expert on real estate.
For the most part, Engoron seemed surprisingly attentive to Kise’s arguments. At one point, Engoron even turned to state’s attorney Kevin Wallace and challenged him about his tax forms, asking if he double-checked the accountants before signing and submitting the forms. The moment was a bit spoiled when Wallace replied that he did his own taxes, but he did remind the court that whether or not someone checked these documents didn’t matter.
However, not all the slides were particularly helpful to Trump’s case. For example, Kise brought up one slide that used a selectively edited statement to make it seem like Engoron was not open to hearing testimony from Trump. The judge was not pleased to see that false claim repeated in court.
Kise also argued that Cohen’s testimony should be thrown out because Cohen has committed perjury in the past and because of Cohen’s statements that Trump gave orders “in code.” Engoron’s response didn’t please Kise, since it included a mention of Trump’s infamous call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy as an example of Trump’s code talk.
Overall, Engoron seemed surprisingly patient and sympathetic with the presentation given by Kise and Trump attorney Alina Habba, but he made no ruling on their motion when they finished.
After the morning break, the state entered an objection to four witnesses on the list to be called by the defense. The primary reason was that these witnesses were listed as rebuttal witnesses, but the issues they are scheduled to address involve Engoron’s initial finding of fraud, not anything raised during the trial by the state’s witnesses.
State attorney Andrew Amer made it clear that as far as the state is concerned, there are few issues left to consider.
Kise responded with arguments suggesting that the state was trying to block the whole case. In the arguments that followed, Kise told Amer that he should check the internet because he thought “Vladimir Putin has some openings.” That statement was finally enough to get Engoron angry. He compared it with statements from the McCarthy period and asked Kise to apologize.
Kise refused to make a formal apology at first, though when court resumed after lunch, he finally extended an apology to Amer. Soon after, Engoron dismissed the state’s objection, saying he would allow the defense witnesses for reasons that seem to be at the center of many of his decisions.
Following this, Engoron made a statement that his role wasn’t to assign a value to properties but to determine if Trump had committed fraud in assigning those values. And then, with the motion for a directed verdict still unresolved, the court was adjourned.
There will be no trial on Friday, though Engoron may issue his decision on the defense motion at any time.
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