‘I Don’t Have High Hopes’: Trump Lawyer Pessimistic About New York Civil Fraud Ruling

With a ruling in the civil fraud trial expected as soon as Feb. 16, one of Trump’s lawyers puts forth a scathing critique of New York’s court system.
‘I Don’t Have High Hopes’: Trump Lawyer Pessimistic About New York Civil Fraud Ruling
Former President Donald Trump's lawyer Alina Habba takes questions from the press during a break from court in New York on Oct. 17, 2023. (Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images)
Michael Washburn
2/15/2024
Updated:
2/15/2024
0:00

New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron’s widely anticipated ruling on Feb. 16 in the long-running civil fraud trial of 2024 candidate and former President Donald J. Trump is more or less a fait accompli, in the view of lawyer Alina Habba.

She has defended President Trump from charges that he and his organization inflated asset values to gain better terms for loans and insurance.

Ms. Habba—a key figure in the legal proceedings that began in October 2023 and have drawn international attention as the 2024 presidential race gets into high gear—told a Newsmax host in a Feb. 14 interview that she expects Justice Engoron to issue a final decision consistent with his initial finding that President Trump had committed fraud.

“If I could file the appeal now, I would. You know, there’s no surprises coming here. It’s much of the same that we’ve seen in New York, and I’ll be loud and booming right after we get the decision,” she said.

The stakes in the trial are high. After initially seeking $250 million from President Trump, New York Attorney General Letitia James, a Democrat, upped the desired penalty to $370 million. A verdict against President Trump may also include a lifetime ban on his doing real estate deals and suspensions of members of the Trump inner circle, such as President Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr. and his daughter Ivanka.

In the interview, Ms. Habba expressed not only a pessimistic view of the trial’s likely outcome but also a scathing critique of New York’s courts and legal system, which she said are blatantly biased against and vindictive toward her client.

“I don’t have high hopes,“ she said. ”I do believe that there is some, you know, ethics left. I hope that Judge Engoron sees through this. But quite honestly, I’ve seen it time and time again. I’ve been on weeks and weeks and weeks of trial in New York, and the corruption runs deep; the Trump Derangement Syndrome, frankly, runs even deeper.”

Ms. Habba advanced her view, heard often from the defense during the long-running trial, that President Trump’s enemies are bent on finding fraud in statements of financial condition (SFoC) that in no way fall short of generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP).

“They can’t see straight,“ she said. ”They can’t apply law to facts. There was absolutely no laws broken. People made money. Their statements of financial condition were undervalued. But they’ll figure out a way, a loophole, even using the consumer fraud [statute].”

Defense Claims

The defense has maintained from the start of the trial, which has had dramatic ups and downs since it got underway in a Manhattan courtroom last fall, that the SFoCs offered estimates rather than universally agreed values of Trump Organization assets, that they contained disclaimers on their front pages clearly stating that they were estimates and that prospective lenders should make their own determinations about whether to offer loans for the purchase or renovation of the properties, and that President Trump repaid his lenders, who are not aggrieved parties in any sense but are willing partners in a mutually profitable business relationship.

The defense went to great lengths to prove these points over the monthslong trial, soliciting direct examination from witnesses such as Rosemary Vrablic, a former Deutsche Bank managing partner and an intermediary between The Trump Organization and high-level executives of the bank, up to and including then-CEO Anshu Jain.

Ms. Vrablic testified under oath that her superiors wanted her to actively court President Trump’s business, that they were highly pleased with the relationship, and that for that reason, there was no need for him or his associates to cut corners and commit fraud to secure Deutsche Bank loans.

The court also heard lengthy and detailed testimony from real estate accounting experts such as Eli Bartov, a professor of accounting at New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business and a widely cited writer and speaker on specialized financial topics.

Mr. Bartov said under oath that the SFoCs that The Trump Organization presented to lenders were consistent with GAAP and that he had not found a single violation or material misrepresentation in any of them.

But the prosecution insists that President Trump and his associates knowingly cooked the books and that the values on the SFoCs do not come close to stating the market value of such assets as the Mar-a-Lago Club, Trump International Hotel and Tower, the Trump National Doral Golf Club, the Old Post Office, Trump International Golf Links Aberdeen, and other properties associated with the Trump brand.

Ms. Habba said she believes that despite the testimonies of Ms. Vrablic, Mr. Bartov, and others, Justice Engoron has already made up his mind and will rule against President Trump.

Justice Engoron may issue his ruling as soon as Feb. 16.

Michael Washburn is a New York-based reporter who covers U.S. and China-related topics for The Epoch Times. He has a background in legal and financial journalism, and also writes about arts and culture. Additionally, he is the host of the weekly podcast Reading the Globe. His books include “The Uprooted and Other Stories,” “When We're Grownups,” and “Stranger, Stranger.”
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