Donald Trump Jr hails his ‘real estate artist’ father in fraud trial testimony

With his return to the witness stand in a fraud trial that threatens the family business, Donald Trump Jr launched a lengthy sales pitch praising his father’s “artistry” and his real estate “canvas” as his attorneys began their defence.

During his testimony two weeks ago, under questioning from lawyers with the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James, the former president’s oldest son emphatically denied having anything to do with making his father’s statements of financial condition at the heart of a lawsuit accusing the family of fraud.

In their testimonies, his brother Eric and sister Ivanka also denied any involvement in those documents, while evidence presented by the attorney general’s office appeared to show they were well aware of them.

The attorney general’s case portrayed Donald Trump, inflated by ego, as a key figure behind fraudulent documents that exaggerated his net worth and assets, lying to banks and lenders to get more favourable terms to boost his family business and its real estate empire over a decade.

But on the stand on Monday, the former president’s oldest son didn’t face any scrutiny about those numbers. Instead, under questioning from his own attorneys, he praised his father’s “artistry” and “vision”.

Donald Trump Jr is the first witness for the defence after Ms James’s team rested her case last week following six weeks of testimony from two dozen witnesses. He opened his testimony with a brief history of his role in the Trump Organization and boasted of his father’s “image” and “brand” and the “boundaries he pushed.”

The attorney general’s office objected to the introduction of a slideshow called “The Trump Story,” a timeline of the Trump family’s real estate business and the brand-building properties at the centre of the lawsuit. The slideshow supported roughly three hours of his testimony.

“’The Trump Story?’ I don’t know what this document is,” counsel Colleen Faherty said.

The introduction of the slideshow followed “extensive narratives” that are “unfocused from anything relevant,” she added. Less than two weeks ago, Donald Jr’s “memory seemed to be fleeting” but he is now walking through decades of his family business history, she said.

Judge Arthur Engoron, noting that the attorney general’s office presented its case for six weeks, allowed the presentation. “Objection overruled,” the judge said wryly. “Go ahead. Talk about how great the Trump Organization was.”

As his attorneys walked him through the timeline, Donald Trump Jr called Mar-a-Lago an “American castle” and “one of the most spectacular estates in the entire world” and his father an “artist with real estate” who has “incredible vision where other people don’t.”

But the values of those properties were grossly inflated in statements handed to financial institutions for financing terms that enriched the Trump Organization and the family, according to Ms James’s lawsuit. Judge Engoron already has found the defendants liable for fraud, dismissing Mr Trump’s prior statements as “wholly without basis in law or fact.”

Donald Trump Jr sits with attorneys Christopher Kise, left, and Clifford Robert, right, on Monday (REUTERS)
Donald Trump Jr sits with attorneys Christopher Kise, left, and Clifford Robert, right, on Monday (REUTERS)

After an appearance on the witness stand that felt more like a marketing presentation than trial testimony with tens of millions of dollars on the line, a brief cross examination from Ms Faherty cut directly into a handful of points absent from Donald Trump Jr’s second round in the courtroom.

In his testmony, he hailed Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles as a “crown jewel,”

“Didn’t the 18th hole literally fall into the ocean?” Ms Faherty asked.

The Trump International Hotel in Waikiki, a lucrative product among Mr Trump’s licensing deals, sprang from his father’s “vision,” he testified.

Ms Faherty reminded him that it recently announced it’s ditching the Trump name.

Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Florida on 8 November (Getty Images)
Donald Trump holds a campaign rally in Florida on 8 November (Getty Images)

Mr Trump’s adult sons – both of whom are co-defendants in the lawsuit against them – have played central roles in the Trump Organization and its business throughout their father’s four years in the White House and the years that followed.

During Mr Trump’s presidency from 2017 to 2021, Donald Trump Jr operated a trust that managed his father’s assets, while Eric Trump ran the day-to-day business at the Trump Organization, the umbrella overseeing the family’s many operations and real-estate projects.

In his first day of testimony earlier this month, Donald Jr echoed statements he gave during a taped deposition, distancing himself from any responsibility for those statements of financial condition. He said he took the word of the accountants who helped prepare them.

“I listen to their expertise,” he said. “That’s what we paid them to do.”

A courtroom sketch depicts Donald Trump Jr testifying in his second appearance at the fraud trial (REUTERS)
A courtroom sketch depicts Donald Trump Jr testifying in his second appearance at the fraud trial (REUTERS)

He also has previously denied any knowledge of what constitutes “generally accepted accounting principles,” or GAAP, the guiding standards for creating those statements. He said they were something he learned about in “accounting 101” when he was a student at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. His sister testified similarly, but she couldn’t recall a message that appeared to show she asked to “change the language” around them.

In testimony earlier this month, attorneys for Ms James repeatedly confronted the siblings with documents and emails that appeared to show they were more aware of what went into those statements than they had previously stated under oath.

Fuming on the stand at one point during his testimony, Eric Trump said “we’re a major organization, a massive real estate organization.”

“I am fairly certain that we would have had financial statements,” he said.

Judge Arthur Engoron has already found the defendants liable for fraud (REUTERS)
Judge Arthur Engoron has already found the defendants liable for fraud (REUTERS)

The case – poking directly at the “businessman” narrative behind Mr Trump’s persona and presidential campaign – has clearly rattled the former president, whose testimony tried to thread a needle that downplayed the existence of the statements of financial condition while arguing that his net worth is actually much higher than the already inflated numbers on them.

He has raged at the case, the attorney general and the judge, who has brushed aside attacks against him while fining Trump twice for violating a gag order against comments about his court staff. The judge also expanded the gag order to include his attorneys, after they lashed out at the judge and his chief clerk immediately following two days of testimony from Donald Jr and Eric that the attorney general’s office called “extremely” favourable in their case.

The trial is a civil suit, so there are no criminal penalties involved, and the Trumps won’t be seeing any time behind bars. Instead, Ms James wants to recover at least $250m in ill-gotten gains and block the Trumps from doing business in the state.

After the attorney general rested her case last week, attorneys for the Trump family moved to end the trial and asked the judge for a directed verdict, arguing that the plaintiffs failed to prove their case.

But Judge Engoron has repeatedly signalled he wants to hear the case through the schedule he has assigned, up until the weekend before Christmas.