NEW YORK — Donald Trump is expected to return Wednesday to the civil fraud trial that threatens his real estate empire.
On Tuesday, he watched and lamented the case as an employee and an outside appraiser testified that his company essentially put a thumb on the scale when estimating the value of its properties.
The former president, enraged by a case that calls into question his wealth and could deprive him of important properties such as Trump Tower, is expected to testify later in the trial. But he chose to attend the first three days and returned Tuesday to watch — and to protest his treatment in front of news cameras outside the Manhattan courtroom.
Star witness Michael Cohen, a former Trump fixer-turned-enemy, has postponed his scheduled testimony because of health problems.
Instead, Trump company accountant Donna Kidder testified that she was told to make some assumptions favorable to the company in internal financial spreadsheets. Outside appraiser Doug Larson said he neither recommended nor approved of a former Trump Organization auditor’s methods of valuing properties.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Larson said of the way the ex-controller fetched a $287.6 million valuation for a prominent Trump-owned retail space in 2013.
Trump reiterated in court that he did nothing wrong and that New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit was a political vendetta intended to harm his 2024 presidential campaign as he leads the Republican field.
“We built a great company – a lot of money, it has a lot of great assets, some of the greatest real estate assets anywhere in the world,” Trump said outside the courtroom. He dismissed the case as “a disgrace,” the legal system as “corrupt” and the Democratic attorney general as a “radical lunatic.”
James’ lawsuit alleges that Trump and his company deceived banks, insurance companies and others by massively overstating his assets and inflating his net worth in his financial reports. She was also present on Tuesday but did not comment.
Trump says his assets were actually understated and claims that disclaimers in his financial reports amount to asking banks and other recipients to verify his numbers themselves.
Larson, a real estate agent and certified appraiser, evaluated Trump properties for lenders. He was stunned when he was told on the witness stand that he was repeatedly mentioned as an outside expert in former Trump Organization controller Jeffrey McConney’s ratings sheets.
“It’s inappropriate and inaccurate,” Larson testified. “They should have told me and ordered an assessment.”
When it came to valuing a retail store formerly known as Niketown, McConney relied on the returns of a different type of property rather than the returns of comparable retail space, Larson testified. He also said he valued a Wall Street building owned by Trump at $540 million in 2015, while McConney valued it at $735.4 million in Trump’s financial report.
Under cross-examination of Larson, Trump attorney Lazaro Fields asked whether there was anything “preventing President Trump, as a real estate developer, from valuing his own properties.”
“I don’t know it. “I wouldn’t know,” Larson replied. When asked again, Larson replied, “I wouldn’t know.”
Kidder, the Trump company’s accountant, provided insight into the Trump Organization’s accounting practices.
She testified that while filling out internal spreadsheets documenting the value of a Trump-owned Wall Street office building, the Trump Organization’s longtime former finance chief Allen Weisselberg told her to act as if the skyscraper would be fully rented by a certain date, although the space was currently empty. For a residential tower on Park Avenue, she was told to expect unsold units to “all sell out” within a certain period of time.
Kidder said she was unaware that those assumptions were designed to boost Trump’s balance sheets, which helped his company close deals and obtain financing and insurance.
Trump lawyer Christopher Kise objected to what he called “very detailed” testimony from Kidder, who also alluded to an earlier confrontation between Trump and New York state lawyers.
As she explained a spreadsheet, she noticed an entry for a $12 million loan to pay a $25 million settlement of lawsuits by former Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and others over Trump University’s now-defunct real estate seminar program .
Judge Arthur Engoron is hearing the current case without a jury. The lawsuit was filed because of a state law that doesn’t allow this.
Trump has repeatedly criticized both the law and the judge, a Democrat. The former president said Tuesday that he has come to like and respect Engoron but believes Democrats are “pushing him around like a pinball machine.”
After Trump slandered a key court official on social media during the first days of the trial, the judge ordered him to delete the post and issued a limited gag order warning those involved in the trial not to insult his staff.
In a pretrial ruling last month, Engoron clarified the case’s main claim, ruling that Trump and his company committed years of fraud by exaggerating the value of his assets and net worth in his financial reports.
As punishment, Engoron ordered a court-appointed receiver to take control of some Trump companies, calling into question future oversight of Trump Tower and other key properties. An appeals court has now blocked enforcement of this aspect of the ruling for the time being.
The lawsuit concerns six remaining claims in the lawsuit, including allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsification of business records.