Takeaways From Day 1 of the Trump Trial in New York

The judge has already ruled the former president liable for fraud, but now the prosecutors have a higher bar to clear for the remaining six charges.
Takeaways From Day 1 of the Trump Trial in New York
Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media after exiting the courtroom for a lunch recess during the first day of his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court in New York on Oct. 2, 2023. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images)
Catherine Yang
Petr Svab

Former President Donald Trump made an unprecedented court appearance on Oct. 2 at the famed New York State Supreme Court building on 60 Centre Street in Manhattan at the start of the civil fraud trial against him and others.

"I want to watch this witch hunt myself," he said after making remarks during the lunch break. "I’ve been on their witch hunt for years, but this is now really getting dirty.”

The former president, who is the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination by far, maintains that he's done nothing wrong and that the case is politically motivated.

He said his opponents had been "very successful" in their attack.

"They took me off the campaign trail because I've been sitting in this courthouse all day long," he said.

In total, the former president defended himself four times in media appearances, before and after day one of the trial and during breaks. There were no cameras allowed in the courtroom, save for briefly at the start of the day, when New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron allowed pool cameras in.

7 Charges

New York Attorney General Letitia James sued President Trump last September (pdf), after three years of investigation, claiming that he defrauded banks and insurers in the state of New York. She is seeking $250 million in penalties and to bar the former president and his adult sons from holding executive business posts in the state. Attorney Kevin Wallace of the New York Attorney General's office is prosecuting the case.

On Sept. 26, Justice Engoron issued a pretrial summary judgment on one of Ms. James's claims—that President Trump inflated his net worth by anywhere from $812 million to $2.2 billion during the years from 2011 and 2021—and found him liable for "persistent and repeated fraud."

The trial will deal with the remaining six "causes of action" against him and the penalties President Trump may be subject to, including a possible dissolution of the Trump Organization and its related LLCs.

The remaining causes are falsifying business records, conspiracy to falsify business records, issuing false financial statements, conspiracy to falsify false financial statements, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit insurance fraud.

In the first cause, for which Ms. James requested a summary judgment, the state didn't need to prove harm or that the Trump Organization's financial statements were "materially false." This isn't the case for the other charges.

Judge Engoron asked about how much overvaluation would qualify as "material," and defense attorneys for President Trump said experts should be called on to testify to the valuations, taking issue with the summary judgment.

The prosecutors are seeking disgorgement of the difference between the regular commercial loan rate and the favorable rates that the Trump Organization obtained based on their overvaluations. Attorneys for President Trump argued they were "undervalued," given his brand's value.

Statute of Limitations

In remarks to reporters, President Trump repeatedly invoked a June ruling from an appeals court, which set the statute of limitations to transactions completed after Feb. 6, 2016, and claims accrued after July 13, 2014. Ivanka Trump was dismissed as a defendant after this ruling because she stopped working for the Trump Organization in 2016.

He and his attorneys said that the new timeframe dismisses about "80 percent" of the case against him, and he has sued Justice Engoron for allowing the case to go forward without taking that into account. The prosecutors have argued that annual statements indicative of fraud in the allowed period may be connected to those earlier statements and transactions.

After opening arguments from the prosecution and defense, the court took a break for lunch. After lunch, the state called its first witness, Donald Bender, a former Mazars accountant who prepared tax documents and did accounting for the Trump Organization.

Mr. Bender's entire testimony was about a 2011 Mazars Statements of Financial Condition letter. President Trump's attorney, Christopher Kise, objected to the testimony, arguing that it fell outside of the statute of limitations defined by the appeals court.

While Justice Engoron allowed the testimony, he acknowledged Mr. Kise's point, telling the prosecutors that they would have to tie the 2011 letter to something within the statute of limitations, or else the entire testimony would have just been a "waste of time."

Mr. Bender wasn't cross-examined on day one. The court adjourned at about 4:30 p.m., and Mr. Bender's testimony will continue into day two.

President Trump said he appreciated the judge's statement taking the statute of limitations into account in his remarks at the end of the day. He said he may return to court but "would love not to."

"I'd love to be campaigning," he said.

"Banks loved our business, they loved our deals, they weren't defrauded, they lost no money," he said. "They made a lot of money, and they considered me a very good client."

Mr. Kise noted that banks did their own analyses and did indeed come to lower evaluations, but still proceeded with loans in those cases. He said he plans to call four witnesses from Deutsche Bank to testify that the bank wasn't defrauded and to call NYU professor Eli Bartov to testify on the real estate valuations.