Fraud-trial judge saves Trump from what could have been a shoot-self-in-foot plan to call Trump Org's court-ordered watchdog as a defense witness

  • The Trump Organization's court-appointed monitor, Barbara Jones, has criticized its transparency.

  • Despite this, Trump's lawyers had hoped to call her as their witness at his New York fraud trial.

  • The judge nixed that plan. On December 11, Trump is set to be his own final defense witness.

Donald Trump's lawyers tried to squeeze an unlikely new name onto their already crowded witness list in the New York civil fraud trial on Monday: Barbara Jones, the Trump Organization's highly critical court-appointed monitor.

The judge in the non-jury trial, state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, turned down the defense request, saving Trump's side from itself in the process.

In her 12 months as Trump Org's independent watchdog, Jones, a retired federal judge, has repeatedly described Trump Org's ongoing difficulties with thoroughness and transparency.

Jones didn't even need to be in the courthouse Monday for the attorney general's office to make a big deal of her criticisms.

Andrew Amer, a lawyer for state Attorney General Letitia James, posted paragraphs of Jones' condemnations on large overhead screens in the Manhattan courtroom.

Jones' August 3 report on the Trump Organization said that nine months into her monitorship, the former president's real-estate and golf-resort company was submitting "incomplete" data to lenders concerning "certain material liabilities."

An independent monitor's August, 2023, criticism of the Trump Organization
An independent monitor's August criticism of the Trump Organization.New York Unified Court System

"Were you aware that Judge Jones had prepared a report saying that certain reporting has been incomplete?" Amer asked Monday afternoon.

He was cross-examining Mark Hawthorn, who heads Trump's hotel division. The AG's lawyer pointed him to the language in Jones' report.

"Yes, we were aware of this letter," Hawthorn answered.

Amer read the critical paragraphs into the record, including the parts where Jones suggested Trump Org was not giving lenders a full picture of such liabilities as "refundable golf-club membership deposits."

Amer, still reading from the report, also quoted Jones as saying the company "has not consistently provided all required annual and quarterly certifications attesting to the accuracy of certain financial statements."

"Were you aware that Judge Jones had identified such inconsistencies?" Amer then asked the witness.

"Yes," Hawthorn answered.

Trump's lawyers had hoped to call Jones and one of her staff attorneys to the witness stand to show that, overall, the independent monitor had not found any outright fraud in the year she'd been babysitting the company.

Jones and her staff have been set up in a "data room" at Trump Organization headquarters at Trump Tower in Manhattan, Hawthorn said earlier Monday under direct examination by the Trump lawyer Clifford Robert.

Hawthorn said any discrepancies or requests for additional data were promptly cleared up. "In our view, the statement we provided and continue to provide is completely accurate and continues to be accurate," he said.

"Are you aware of whether the monitor found anything wrong in all the months she's been looking at Trump Organization?" Robert asked. "No," Hawthorn answered.

"No one from that team has ever communicated to us that they've uncovered any fraud or any irregularities," he added.

Robert and the lead defense counsel, Christopher Kise, had pushed hard for Jones and her staff lawyer to be added to their witness list.

It's relevant to the case, Robert argued, that the Trump Organization has spent "hundreds of thousands of dollars" accommodating Jones and her staff and that no fraud has been uncovered.

Receivers, who are similar to monitors, testify all the time in bankruptcy court, argued Kise, embracing Jones in a turn-around from a year ago, when he had fought just as hard against her appointment.

During a hearing in November of last year before the same judge, Kise had condemned the imposition of a court-appointed monitor, calling it "an extraordinary intrusion into the free marketplace" and likening it to "nationalizing a private enterprise."

When the attorney general's lawyer Amer protested Monday that it was too late in the game to change up the witness list, the judge seemed to suggest that, given her criticisms, the state should actually welcome Jones to the stand.

"I'm surprised by the objection," the judge said with a smile.

But Jones and her staff "are arms of the court," the judge said in precluding the new defense witnesses. "I don't want to create the appearance of a conflict of interest," he said.

The judge told both sides that he had spent Monday's lunch break researching case law and could not find any instances where an independent monitor was called to testify in the matter they were monitoring.

In the end, Engoron left the window slightly open for the defense to prove him wrong, saying he would revisit his decision if they could find a case where a monitor has testified under similar circumstances.

Also Monday, the defense said Eric Trump would testify for the defense on December 6, and Donald Trump would take the stand as the last witness for the defense on December 11.

The attorney general is seeking at trial to permanently bar Trump and his two eldest sons from running a business in New York, citing a decade's worth of fraud in annual net-worth statements he used to secure hundreds of millions of dollars in interest-rate and insurance-cost breaks, along with related property-sale profits.

It's the ninth week of trial and the third week of Trump's defense case. The state has not said whether it will present a rebuttal case after Trump's December 11 testimony.

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