Donald Trump’s bank fraud trial in New York began with a friendly, normal question from the judge.
“How are you doing?” Judge Arthur F. Engoron asked Trump defense attorney Alina Habba as she walked to the lectern Monday morning.
“Well, we’ve been doing this for three years,” Habba replied pointedly. “I just want to remind everyone that Ms. James said she would come to the attorney general’s office and ‘get Trump.’
From there the day didn’t get much better.
The start of Trump’s trial in New York was marked by the heated and performative exchanges for which the former president – and his lawyers – are notorious. Trump’s legal arguments quickly devolved into a back-and-forth between the judge and his lawyers, with Trump’s lawyers repeatedly pushing arguments that repeatedly failed.
Habba delivered a series of fiery soliloquies in which he said the case represented “a very dangerous time in our country and in this state” and that the attorney general’s brief remarks Monday morning on the courthouse steps were “part of the turmoil.” .
Habba referred to the former president as “the president” and referred to “the American people.” She peppered her speech with comments more suited to a Fox News television appearance than a court hearing – a flair that has become her trademark trial style.
The judge was visibly unimpressed and reminded them that he and the state’s First Department of Appeals Court had already rejected the “witch hunt” argument, citing his own argument Ruling from February 2022 in which he found that the AG’s investigation was appropriate – even expected.
“For the [Office of the Attorney General] “Failure to investigate the original respondents … would have been a blatant dereliction of duty,” Engoron wrote at the time. “The impetus for the investigation was not personal animosity, not racial, ethnic or other discrimination, not campaign promises, but rather former Trump aide Michael Cohen’s sworn testimony to Congress that respondents were ‘cooking the books.’
Notably, Habba’s attempts to use the “witch hunt” story also failed in federal court, where a judge in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of New York had jurisdiction dismissed Trump’s lawsuit against the AG last year.
But Habba’s urging opened the door for Trump’s other lawyers to increase pressure on the judge.
Christopher Kise and Clifford Roberts took turns last week excoriating the judge’s decision to hand a virtual victory to the attorney general’s office by declaring before the trial began that government investigators had already proven that Trump, two of his sons and their companies in Something involved “persistent and repeated fraud.” This harsh ruling concluded that the Trump family routinely inflated the value of real estate assets to improve bank loans. Engoron ordered the famous real estate company to be removed from his control and placed in the hands of a court-appointed liquidator.
Although the AG’s team still needs to prove six more points in their $250 million lawsuit to win what they seek – raiding the Trumps’ bank accounts and driving them out of the New York business community – defense attorneys made the decision of the judge as unfair and premature. Kise referred to the expected statements of their witnesses later in the trial, which, in his opinion, would definitely show that the court had fundamentally misunderstood that any “discrepancy” in the asset valuation did not actually play a role .
His argument is essentially that there is nothing to see here; The banks were paid and the businesses were functioning.
“You owe it to the defendants to listen to this evidence,” Kise said, adding a rare dig at the judge himself. “I don’t think you’re an expert on accounting standards…we have experts you’ve never heard of.”
Meanwhile, Habba and Roberts questioned Cohen’s integrity, with Habba calling the disbarred attorney, who was admitted as a state witness, a “convicted felon” and a “liar.”
But the arguments seemed to come too little, too late, as the Trump team had already laid out its case to the judge in recent weeks – a case that Engoron did not find the least bit convincing.
Engoron has already reviewed the financial documents and determined that Trump has indeed continuously lied about his personal assets. It is a settled matter in his courtroom that Trump overstated the value of his properties, such as the seaside mansion Mar-a-Lago in Florida. And Engoron found that Trump’s lies helped him secure bank loans for various development projects, such as his Doral Golf Club in suburban Miami.
At times, the normally controlled atmosphere in the courtroom devolved into something of a heated debate between the judge and Trump’s three lawyers, with Habba propping up Trump’s ego while sitting at the defense table. She called the Trump Organization “this beautiful company,” adopting her client’s typical parlance.
“Value is what someone is willing to pay. The Trump properties are Mona Lisa properties,” Habba said. “Anyone who plays golf knows that Doral is one of the best golf courses in the country. I had the pleasure of playing there.”
She also raised eyebrows when she announced that she comes from a real estate family that understands how strange and often confusing real estate is valued in a chaotic market.
“Mar-a-Lago can be sold for a billion dollars,” she said.
But the judge took issue with the way Trump determined the property values, pointing to Trump’s testimony earlier this year in which he argued that the estimated values he listed in 2014 personal financial reports were accurate. as they finally increased almost a decade later. It’s an argument that defies logic – but the Trump team is pushing ahead anyway.
“You can’t look at a property ten years later and say: ‘Now Look what it’s worth.’ That is current market value,” Engoron said.
But Trump family lawyers weren’t done reviving defeated arguments. When the AG’s lawyers called their first witness — Donald Bender, Trump’s longtime accountant at the outside firm Mazars USA — Kise tried to block any attempt to have him talk about real estate deals that took place nearly a decade ago. This was part of the defense team’s ongoing attempts to soften the attorney general’s case by arguing that almost all of the business deals in question were simply too old to litigate.
As he did several times during the hearing, Kise reminded Engoron that a fierce appeals battle lies ahead. But Engoron seemed unmoved.
“Let’s not get into a whole discussion about statutes of limitations, etc.,” Engoron replied, noting the fact that this was the case already definitely Trump broke the law every time he submitted personal financial statements that significantly overstated his assets in order to maintain the original bank loans through 2021.
Although the visibly annoyed Trump once slowly walked past the seated secretary general and gave her a threatening look on the way to the door, he remained calm in the courtroom. But he had choice words for Engoron and turned to his own Truth social media network call him a “highly political, Trump-hating judge.” And he continued his attacks as he entered the courthouse hallway.
“This is a judge who should be expelled,” Trump said. “This is a judge who should not be in office. This is a judge who some people say could be prosecuted for his actions. He’s interfering in an election – and that’s a disgrace.”