NEW YORK: Donald Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr acknowledged today in court that he had signed financial documents for the family company that a New York judge has ruled were fraudulent, but sought to pin the blame on others who worked on them.
In a second day of testimony, Donald Jr, 45, said he relied on accountants within the Trump Organization and outside firm Mazars to ensure that financial estimates of trophy properties and other assets were accurate.
“They had more information and details on all of this than I would have,” he said on the witness stand. “That’s why we have accountants.”
Those documents are at the heart of a New York civil fraud trial that threatens to hobble the real-estate empire that built Trump’s reputation as a business mogul before he entered politics.
Donald Jr is one of four family members due to testify in the case.
The former US president is scheduled to testify on Monday — the latest in many courtroom appearances by the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.
New York attorney-general Letitia James is seeking at least US$250 million in damages, as well as a permanent ban on Trump, Donald Jr and his son Eric from running businesses in the state.
Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled that the three defendants and the company fraudulently inflated the values of trophy properties and other assets to win favourable financing terms.
Engoron has ordered the dissolution of companies that control pillars of Trump’s real estate portfolio, including the Trump Tower in Manhattan. That ruling is on hold while Trump appeals.
Despite the high stakes, the trial has proceeded at a deliberate pace since its Oct 2 start, featuring accountants and other financial experts examining documents and other evidence. It is expected to last through December.
Donald Jr drew occasional laughter in the courtroom yesterday with self-deprecating quips about his lack of financial acumen, in a contrast to the sharp-edged persona he has cultivated as his father’s political attack dog.
The former president has appeared several times to observe the proceedings and complain about the case to the television cameras assembled in the hallway outside. Last week, he sat glowering at the defendant’s table as his former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael Cohen, testified that Trump directed him to manipulate asset values.
The trial is one of many legal troubles Trump must contend with as he campaigns to retake the White House. He faces a total of 91 felony charges in four separate criminal prosecutions, including two cases stemming from his attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
Nevertheless, Trump holds a commanding lead over his rivals for the Republican presidential nomination to face Democratic President Joe Biden in the November 2024 election.
Trump has denied wrongdoing in all of his criminal and civil cases and has kept up a steady stream of attacks in person and online accusing James and Engoron of political bias. “This is a great Miscarriage of Justice,” he wrote on social media as the trial resumed today.
Trump has not faced sanctions for those attacks, but Engoron has fined him US$15,000 for twice violating a limited gag order that bars him from speaking publicly about court staff.
He is also under a limited gag order for the federal election subversion trial in Washington. Trump has alleged that both violate his right to free speech.