Donald Trump has worst day yet in NY civil fraud trial as underling's scribbled note ties him to conspiracy

A composite image of Donald Trump and a document with a hand-written note: "DJT TO GET FINAL REVIEW."
Donald Trump at a campaign event in Ohio and key evidence in his New York fraud trial.Gaelen Morse/Reuters, left. Insider, right.
  • The Trump civil fraud trial is now in its eighth week in New York.

  • The defense called Donald Trump's former spreadsheet czar Jeffrey McConney to testify.

  • McConney said he wrote "DJT TO GET FINAL REVIEW" on a document the state alleges is fraud-filled.

Donald Trump had his worst day yet in his ongoing civil fraud trial in New York on Tuesday at the hands of his own key witness, a former Trump Organization executive who linked the former president directly to the fuzzy math at the center of the case.

The witness was Jeffrey McConney, who was the comptroller and spreadsheet czar at the Trump Org. McConney had been called to the witness stand by the defense, but on cross-examination by lawyers for the state attorney general's office Tuesday, he linked Trump firmly to the conspiracy and fraud counts that have yet to be decided in the non-jury trial.

McConney was handed People's Exhibit 3054, a draft of Trump's net-worth statement for 2014. He was asked to look at a note scribbled in thin blue ink on the draft's first page, "DJT TO GET FINAL REVIEW," which he said he'd written.

A document titled "Independent Accountants' Complication Report" with a handwritten note saying "DJT TO GET FINAL REVIEW."
A handwritten note that links Donald Trump to the counts in his NY fraud trial.NY attorney general's office/Insider

Trump has denied involvement in preparing a decade's worth of these annual net-worth statements, which New York's attorney general, Letitia James, has alleged — and the trial judge has agreed — were each year riddled with billions of dollars of exaggerations.

The AG has alleged the net-worth statement that McConney was handed the draft for, from 2014, contained $3.5 billion in exaggerations.

Jeffrey McConney.
Jeffrey McConney, a former comptroller for Donald Trump.Seth Wenig/AP

"Donald Trump would get final review?" Andrew Amer, the state's lawyer, asked McConney.

"That was my understanding, yes," McConney answered from the witness stand, his voice gruff.

Donald Trump sitting in a courtroom with his lawyers.
Trump attending his New York civil fraud trial.Pool/Getty Images

Amer asked next whether Trump would get the final review of every net-worth statement until leaving for the White House in 2017, after which Eric Trump would approve the drafts.

"That was my understanding, yes," McConney answered again. Asked whether that was his handwriting on the drafts — the thin blue pen marks — McConney also said yes, it was.

Why the spreadsheet czar's scribbles matter

McConney's testimony was significant for several reasons — not just the damage it did to Trump, but the damage it did to Trump's two eldest sons; to the Trump Org's former chief financial officer, Allen Weisselberg; and to McConney himself.

The three Trumps and the two ex-executives are all defendants in the AG's lawsuit, which alleges that Trump used net-worth exaggerations to win hundreds of millions of dollars in interest-rate discounts and property-sale profits. James is seeking at least $250 million in penalties and to bar the five defendants from ever running a New York business again.

Trump speaking outside a courtroom.
Trump talking to reporters outside the courtroom during his civil fraud trial in New York.AP Photo/Seth Wenig

Starting with the damage to McConney himself, his blue-ink notations directly contradict his testimony from the prior day.

The spreadsheet czar had testified on direct examination Monday that he would review each year's draft net-worth statement with Weisselberg, who would then give the approved draft to the outside accounting firm, Mazars USA, which would print the final statement.

This chain of command — McConney to Weisselberg to Mazars — leaves out one very important link, as the state's lawyer, Amer, pointed out on cross on Tuesday.

"I believe there was a step in between that involved Donald Trump prior to 2017?" Amer said to McConney, who appeared uncomfortable on the stand as he said Trump indeed did the ultimate signing off.

Trump, who has not attended the trial for the past two weeks, had said on the witness stand on November 6 that he had little involvement in the drafting of these net-worth statements. In a pretrial deposition, he denied knowing who had written "DJT to get final review" on that 2014 draft.

A transcript shows a lawyer asking Donald Trump whether he recognized the handwriting of the note and Trump responding with "No."
An excerpt from Donald Trump's pretrial deposition in his NY civil fraud case.NY Attorney General's Office/Insider

But McConney's blue-ink handwriting is all over the net-worth statement drafts, showing he revised language and even added cautionary notes that were then passed along for Trump's "final review," as McConney said in his own description of the drafting process.

In one key cautionary note from the 2015 draft, McConney made a notation in ink that "this computation also includes forecasted deals that have not signed yet." In the note, McConney asked whether Trump wanted to exclude some $151 million in as-yet-fictional assets from the net-worth statement.

The final version of that year's net-worth statement shows McConney's suggestion was ignored, possibly by Trump himself. The AG alleges that Trump routinely padded out his net-worth statements with the same sorts of nonexistent assets.

"Do you want to delete these deals?" Trump was asked in a hand-written note warning of $151 million in "forecasted" deals.
"Do you want to delete these deals?" Trump was asked in a handwritten note warning of $151 million in "forecasted" deals.NY Attorney General's Office/Insider

McConney's many handwritten notes indicate it was Trump and his top executives who made the last edits and then signed off on these net-worth statements. As such, the notes do serious damage to the primary Trump defense: blame Mazars, blame the accountants.

The attorney general's office also appears poised to argue that these handwritten notes show McConney, Weisselberg, and Trump intentionally conspired in cooking the numbers each year. Intent and conspiracy are two elements that must be proved for the attorney general to win all six of the yet-decided counts in the case.

Still to be proved or disproved: conspiracy and intent

New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron has already found, pretrial, that Trump's 2014-through-2021 statements fraudulently inflated his wealth.

The trial is meant to determine whether the five defendants further broke six specific state laws: falsifying business records, filing false financial statements, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit each of these counts. These six counts all require proof that the frauds and falsehoods were committed intentionally.

Since the case is civil, not criminal, the judge will not issue a "guilty" verdict. Instead, his verdict will find whether the five defendants are "liable" for monetary and other penalties for violating these six laws.

How else do McConney's handwritten notes harm the defense?

The fact that these incriminating, hand-scrawled drafts were turned over to authorities by Mazars but not by the Trump Organization could come up at the end of the trial as evidence that Trump's side failed to retain and turn over documents as required by state subpoenas.

McConney's cross-examination came minutes after a dramatic, tearful conclusion to his direct testimony.

The longtime Trump executive became weepy in answering the final question from the defense lawyer Jesus Suarez, who asked why he'd left the Trump Organization after 35 years working there.

He left to "stop being accused of misrepresenting assets for the company that I loved working for," he said, wiping away tears as he described a history of being subpoenaed on the federal and state level in connection with the Trump Organization.

"It was like working with family," he said. "I feel proud of what I did."

The trial continues Monday with testimony expected by the chief accounting officer for Trump Hotels, Mark Hawthorn. It will be the ninth week of trial and the third week of the defense case.

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