Takeaways from Donald Trump Jr.’s return to court in the $250 million civil fraud trial

Donald Trump Jr. returned to the witness stand Monday to give his family’s side of the story in the New York attorney general’s civil fraud trial against Donald Trump.

Trump Jr.’s testimony often appeared as a lengthy effort to rehabilitate the image of the Trump Organization in the eyes of Judge Arthur Engoron. The former president’s son gushed about the properties he said his father had transformed from dilapidated run-down tracts of land into spectacular and magnificent buildings and golf courses.

Trump Jr., a co-defendant in the case, was glowing as he described the company’s portfolio – lauding praise on his father as a visionary and a real estate “artist” and talking up the value of the buildings after six weeks of testimony from the attorney general alleging that the valuations of the properties were fraudulently inflated.

The testimony signaled how Trump’s lawyers plan to mount a defense in a case in which Engoron has already ruled the former president and his co-defendants were liable for fraud. Engoron is now deciding six additional claims and potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

Here’s what to know from Monday’s day in court:

Trump Jr. boasts about the Trump Org. portfolio

Trump lawyer Cliff Robert spent most of the day asking Trump Jr. to walk through nearly the entire portfolio of the Trump Org.

Trump Jr. discussed the various projects around the world over the past several decades, narrating a sleekly produced promotional timeline from the company’s website. He described various golf holes, clubhouses, architecture and other features of the Trump properties as beauty shots were displayed in the courtroom.

While talking about the Seven Springs resort, a Westchester, New York, property that’s part of the attorney general’s case, Trump Jr. said the property was “spectacular” and a “potential canvas for [his] father’s art.”

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

The Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach, Florida, was swampland before his father took it over. “No one for decades had seen any value in it,” Trump Jr. said, and his father turned it into “one of the finest golf clubs in the world.”

And of the Trump National Doral Golf Club in Florida, Trump Jr. said: “He saw a jewel in the rough and wanted to bring it back to its former glory.”

At one point, Robert even played the company’s promotional video of the Trump Golf Links at Ferry Point in the Bronx, featuring golf legend Jack Nicklaus praising the course.

The Mar-a-Lago valuation fight

While the defense presentation mostly side-stepped the allegations in the case about inflated valuations and financial statements, Robert and Donald Trump Jr. used the walk-through to jab at the attorney general’s claims and the judge’s ruling against them.

Trump’s eldest son said with a smile that he was a bit upset when media reports about this case suggested that Mar-a-Lago was worth only $18 million.

“I may have taken some umbrage,” he said.

“You couldn’t build that atrium for $18 million today,” he said, referring to a photo shown in court of the room.

Engoron’s ruling before the start of the trial cited tax assessor data that appraised the property at $18 million – a figure that has drawn repeated criticism from the former president. Engoron has said he was not valuing the property.

During a brief cross-examination, meanwhile, Assistant Attorney General Colleen Faherty sought to poke holes in Trump Jr.’s rosy assessment of the company. She asked the former president’s son about Trump Org.’s 40 Wall Street loan being placed on a servicer’s watch list and the occupancy rate of the building being 77%, not the 90% Trump Jr. had claimed it was when he last checked.

Faherty also took shots at the company’s Los Angeles golf course, noting that the 18th hole had once fallen into the ocean (though that occurred before the course was rebranded as Trump National Los Angeles). Faherty also asked Trump Jr. about Trump International Hotel Waikiki ditching the Trump name and rebranding.

Trump Jr. responded that the company would receive millions for the name change, so it was no issue to him.

Judge gives Trump’s team leeway, with an eye toward the looming appeal fight

The attorney general’s office objected to much of the defense presentation Monday, but Engoron offered Trump’s attorneys plenty of leeway to make their case, acknowledging out loud the fact that Trump’s attorneys are likely to try to reverse the ruling he ultimately makes through an appeal.

When Robert began showing the Trump Org. company history, Assistant Attorney General Kevin Wallace objected, arguing the text descriptions of the properties were coaching the witness and questioning the relevance of the PowerPoint.

But Engoron allowed the presentation. “Having given you six weeks, you’re going to get me in trouble with Mr. (Chris) Kise – he’s going to say I always rule against him,“ Engoron said, referring to one of Trump’s attorneys. “No, let this stuff come in.”

“Objection is overruled,” the judge said. “Let him go ahead and talk about how great the Trump Organization is.”

At one point, Robert submitted into evidence a February 2022 valuation of Trump’s Doral golf resort that valued the property at $1.3 billion, over objections from the attorney general’s team.

The attorney general’s office argued that the document was not relevant to the case and could not be used later by an expert witness to offer a post-dated valuation of Doral, one of the properties that the attorney general alleges was fraudulently inflated in value on Trump’s financial statements. The attorney general’s case focuses on Trump’s financial statements from 2011-2021.

Engoron, in a sign of his view about how to handle the defense’s presentation, asked the lawyers for the attorney general, “Do you want to risk a reversal over this one stupid document?”

Engoron ultimately overruled the objection, saying it could be admitted on a limited basis, telling Trump’s team he’s tried to give them “the benefit of the doubt.”

The judge, nevertheless, noted, “I can’t see any relevance.”

Kise objected to the state lawyer seeking to introduce a document indicating that 40 Wall Street was on a watchlist saying he didn’t think it was relevant.

Engoron quipped, “You’re going to start questioning relevance. I just gave you a whole morning of irrelevance.”

Trump Jr. testimony signals direction of Trump’s defense

Donald Trump Jr. was the first witness called by Trump’s lawyers as they try to make their case to the judge that the defendants didn’t do anything intentionally wrong, that Trump’s financial statements were not misleading and that different people can come up with different values for the same property.

Sherri Dillon, Trump’s longtime tax attorney, was called to the stand Monday afternoon after Trump Jr. finished testifying. It was also her second time appearing in the trial.

“Welcome back, I feel like I’m at a reunion here, the Trump trial reunion,” Engoron said as she was sworn in.

In addition to Trump Jr., Trump attorneys have said they are likely to call back Eric Trump and the former president, both of whom also previously testified.

Engoron has already ruled that Trump and his co-defendants were liable for fraud, in a summary judgement issued before the trial began. But the attorney general’s office is still seeking to prove six additional claims against Trump, including conspiracy, falsifying business records, issuing false financial statements and insurance fraud.

The attorney general’s office is seeking to collect millions of dollars in ill-gotten gains and to ban the Trumps from doing business in New York state – all of which the judge will rule on at the conclusion of the non-jury trial.

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