“Extensive financial wrongdoing”: Expert predicts ex-Trump officials’ testimony will be “explosive”

Donald Trump and his three adult children are listed as witnesses in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ $250 million civil fraud trial against the former president and his companies – a case that could have extensive ramifications for his business empire. 

Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, Donald Trump Jr. are among the 28 names on James’ list of witnesses to be called in the case alongside former Trump attorney Michael Cohen and former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty last year to running a 15-year tax fraud scheme at the company.

James’ lawsuit accuses the ex-president and his two sons of committing massive fraud in New York for years by repeatedly misrepresenting his wealth by hundreds of millions of dollars while building Trump’s real estate empire.

Judge Arthur Engoron ruled last week that Trump committed fraud in his business dealings and some of his business licenses be rescinded as punishment. The judge also ordered that an outside “receiver” must be appointed to supervise the management of those Trump properties within 30 days. 

The trial started on Monday and is expected to last for weeks, possibly even months as Engoron decides on the remaining claims in James’ lawsuit, including allegations of falsifying business records, issuing false financial statements, insurance fraud and conspiracy.

Trump’s defense lawyers submitted their list of 127 witnesses, including Trump and his two oldest sons. 

The decision may force Trump and his sons into a corner, Temidayo Aganga-Williams, white-collar partner at Selendy Gay Elsberg and former senior investigative counsel for the House Jan. 6 committee, told Salon. 

“Trump and his sons can choose to answer the attorney general’s questions truthfully on the stand and under oath,” Aganga-Williams said. “In a case where many gross misstatements are already documented on paper, this route may prove to be a treacherous one.  It will be difficult for Trump to credibly explain away the allegations against him and his companies.”

The Trumps can also choose to plead their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, he added, pointing to the example of the ex-president pleading the Fifth last year when answering James’ questions during a court-ordered deposition in the same case. 

While the second option is what Trump may likely do, it is “equally problematic,” Aganga-Williams said. “Trump has the right to remain silent but exercising that right in this case is not without risk.” 

In his 35-page ruling last week, Engoron said that James “has demonstrated that there remain, at the very least, disputed issues of fact as to whether defendants violated these statutes, intentionally and materially.”

Trump’s fixer-turned-critic Cohen’s 2019 congressional testimony initially brought to public attention what the trial judge has already determined as widespread fraud in Trump’s annual financial statements to banks and insurers.

Cohen told MSNBC’s Jen Psaki that the former president’s “biggest fear” is losing money and not being considered a “mega-billionaire.”

“It is the death blow to Donald,” he said. “And I’ll tell you, during my tenure at the Trump Organization, I can tell you this has always been his biggest fear that he would lose money, that he would lose all of his money and that he would no longer be considered the mega-billionaire that he tried to portray himself as.”

James has credited Cohen’s testimony as the catalyst for the three-year investigation that ultimately led to her filing the fraud lawsuit. 

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Cohen and Weisselberg’s testimony could be “explosive,” since they both come from Trump’s inner circle and have admitted to “extensive financial wrongdoing” committed while working for Trump, Aganga-Williams said  

“Both men would be able to recount any alleged wrongdoing from a firsthand perspective, which bolsters their credibility and could be incredibly damaging to any defense Trump puts forward,” he added.  

The “best” witnesses for the plaintiffs will be those who can prove Trump’s knowledge that the finances were fraudulent, specifically, anyone who can testify to what Trump said and what was said to him, former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers Neama Rahmani told Salon. 

“The same applies to other executives in the Trump Organization because their knowledge can be imputed to the entity,” Rahmani said. “The other helpful witnesses will be experts who will opine on the inflated values of the properties used to secure the loans.”

The former president has blasted Engoron as a “deranged, Trump hating” judge who has violated his civil rights, calling him a “political hack” on his social media site Truth Social. He also sued Engoron himself, seeking to delay the trial and ultimately dismiss numerous allegations brought against Trump, according to The New York Times

“I’m going to Court tomorrow morning to fight for my name and reputation against a corrupt and racist Attorney General, Letitia James, who campaigned on ‘getting Trump,’ and a Trump Hating Judge who is unfair, unhinged, and vicious in his PURSUIT of me,” Trump wrote in a post Sunday night.

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