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Trump spars with New York judge as he testifies in civil fraud trial


Former President Donald Trump took the witness stand yesterday at a New York courthouse. He was there to answer questions related to fraudulent financial statements made by the Trump Organization, statements that were used to secure business and credit deals with banks and also to measure Trump's net worth. New York's attorney general is accusing Trump, along with several associates, of knowingly committing fraud by inflating the value of these assets. NPR's Ximena Bustillo was in the courthouse, and she's with us now to tell us what she saw. Good morning.


MARTIN: Ximena, we keep hearing how it got pretty testy in there. What can you tell us about that?

BUSTILLO: Well, it didn't take long for the pair to clash. This is not the first time that they met face to face. Trump has come to multiple days of this trial, even though he's not required to. And don't forget that he was called up to the witness stand once before by Judge Arthur Engoron himself to answer questions about comments he made that violated a gag order. Now, yesterday during the first hour, there were some tense exchanges between the judge and Trump's legal team, Engoron at one point beseeching the Trump team to, quote, "control him." And that was his word, beseeching.

And he felt Trump was going on long speeches, and some that included tangents about his properties and political success or how he thought the judge was politically motivated. Engoron seemed to have no patience for this and even went as far as to remind Trump that this is not a political rally. Still, though, Trump called the state attorney general a political hack and doubled down on many of the personal insults that he's been leaning on since the start of this trial. Trump's team also argued that the nature of this case, being that Trump is a frontrunner for the GOP nomination and there is no jury, should warrant longer answers than perhaps the judge wants.

MARTIN: Speaking of those facts, let's just recap those briefly. New York Attorney General Letitia James says Trump was part of an effort to inflate and sometimes deflate the value of Trump Organization assets to get better deals. Trump and his co-defendants have actually already been found liable for fraud, so this trial will decide the potential punishment. James wants them banned from doing business in the state and $250 million in penalties. So what further arguments has the prosecution made?

BUSTILLO: Well, the attorney general's team has brought up various witnesses who worked within the Trump Organization and the accounting firm Mazars to generally ask about how these documents were created. And this includes the literal math - we've been staring at a ton of spreadsheets - but also the hierarchy and power influence that higher-ranking Trump Organization executives, such as Donald Trump, may have had.

Ultimately, the executives of the Trump Organization, including Trump and his sons, Eric and Donald Jr., signed off on these statements that have already been found to be fraudulent and may have been responsible for them, even if they didn't do the number crunching themselves. Still, though, some witnesses have testified that Trump did want the numbers to be higher for certain perks, like landing on the Forbes Top 100 list.

MARTIN: So we heard two of the president's sons, Eric and Don Jr., testify last week. His daughter, Ivanka Trump, is due to take the witness stand tomorrow. What can we expect to hear from her?

BUSTILLO: Well, Ivanka is the last witness that the attorney general's team is putting forward. And unlike her brothers, she is not a defendant. Her attorney successfully argued that any related actions Ivanka had at the Trump Organization happened before the statute of limitations kicked in. But the attorney general's team plans to rest their case after that, and then the Trump team will begin to lay out their case the following week.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Ximena Bustillo. Ximena, thank you.

BUSTILLO: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF L'ECLAIR'S "TAISHI-KOTO, PT. 1") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.