Tantrums, spectacle, but legal peril, too – How Trump's testimony hurts him

  • Trump grabbed headlines by insulting the judge, AG, and state's attorney from the witness stand.

  • But behind the spectacle, he suffered dozens of cuts, legally speaking, under questioning.

  • Trump shrugged "yes" through a crippling series of questions about bank docs he personally signed.

Donald Trump let fly a fusillade of insults from the witness stand at his Manhattan fraud trial Monday, calling the judge a "fraud," dismissing the New York attorney general as "a political hack," and huffing that the state lawyer questioning him "should be ashamed" of himself.

There were boasts, too, of his "beautiful" Scottish golf course, of his great wealth – "I have a lot of cash," he testified – and of Mar-a-Lago's "very big ballroom."

But behind his many tantrums and tangents (mentions of George Washington and windmills among them), Trump suffered, legally speaking, on that witness stand.

In the afternoon, the former president was led for half an hour through a crippling series of questions about banking documents that, between 2012 and 2016, he personally signed.

And – sounding sometimes defiant, sometimes indifferent – the former president and current GOP frontrunner shrugged "yes," again and again.

It was as if Trump were unaware of the accumulating injuries he suffered under the figurative knife-work of his questioner, Kevin C. Wallace, a seasoned state attorney who has pursued him for three years as senior counsel to state Attorney General Letitia James.

By the end of his daylong testimony, Trump had squinted at, and paged through, a six-inch-thick set of documents concerning more than $400 million in bank loans and $139 million in property sale profits.

The bank loan documents all bore his signature, Trump confirmed, not that this could be disputed, given the characteristic Sharpie zigzags on the signatory pages.

But Trump then answered "yes," over and over, as Wallace, always keeping his voice matter-of-fact, walked Trump through his more significant questions.

Wallace made the same series of queries for each of Trump's three Deutsche Bank loans, one for his Miami golf course, one for his Chicago skyscraper, and one for the renovation of the Old Post Office, in Washington, D.C., into a luxury hotel.

Trump was asked for each property whether, in the underlying loan documents, he had promised the bank that his annual net worth statements are "true and correct in all material respects."

Is it true, Trump was asked by Wallace, that to get and keep these loans, you promised to maintain $50 million in cash?

And is it true, he was asked, that you likewise promised to maintain a net worth, as the Deutsche Bank documents spelled it out, of "not less than Two Billion Five Hundred Million ($2,500,000,000)?"

Yes, Trump answered again and again.

"Sounds great to me," he said at another point.

Of course, Trump being Trump, there were tangents and tantrums mixed in.

"The loan was paid off in full with no default," Trump protested, when asked to look at "Plaintiff's exhibit Number 312," a lengthy 2012 loan agreement for the Chicago highrise, Trump International Hotel & Tower.

"So the bank was thrilled," Trump continued. "If the interest was due on a Saturday, I paid the interest on a Friday. The bank liked me very much," he said.

"Again," he told Wallace, when asked about the Old Post Office loan, "my net worth was far greater than what's on the financial statements."

"I don't know what you're getting at, but keep going," Trump added, making a brushing-off motion with his hand.

Wallace did keep going.

In the space of a half hour, Trump admitted that for all three key loans, he believed the bank relied on his promise that his annual net-worth statements were "true and correct," and that his cash and total assets hit the bank's targets.

"It sounds great to me," Trump told the AG's lawyer, when asked of a net-worth guarantee he signed on June 2, 2014. "I'm seeing it here," he said of the document.

"So obviously, the answer to that is 'Yes.' No problem."

But if the attorney general has her way, by trial's end, sometime in December, all of these yes answers will prove very much a problem for Trump, for his real estate empire, and for his fellow defendants, who include his two eldest sons, Donald Trump, Jr., and Eric Trump.

They face heavy penalties totaling more than $250 million, plus a permanent ban on doing business in New York, if the judge finds Trump lied on those business documents.

The judge has already ruled, pre-trial, that Trump's annual net-worth statements were wildly exaggerated – by as much as $3.6 billion a year – for a decade.

In putting not only his signature, but Monday's personal stamp of approval, on the trial's most critical document evidence, Trump did himself more damage than any fiery tantrum could distract from.

The trial is down Tuesday for election day. Ivanka Trump takes the stand as the attorney general's final direct-case witness on Wednesday.

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