Trump's fraud trial defense has featured 1 son, 2 pals, and an expert who noted 'glaring' math snafus

  • This week, the defense in Trump's fraud trial called its first seven witnesses.

  • One was Trump's son, two were his friends, and one noted 'glaring' discrepancies in Trump's math.

  • At stake is a potential $250 million in penalties and a ban on Trump running a NY business.

Over the past week, lawyers for Donald Trump, his real-estate empire, and his two eldest sons called their first seven witnesses to the stand in the the civil fraud case that seeks to kick them all out of the New York business world for good.

So how'd it go?

Well, the first defense witness in the Manhattan courtroom was Donald Trump, Jr.

Junior got back on the stand

The former president's eldest son spent half of a day and more than 100 superlatives (he used the word "incredible" more than 50 times) on a slideshow presentation that celebrated his father's "vision."

"He's an artist with real estate," Donald Trump, Jr., testified Monday, as brochure-worthy photos of the Trump real-estate empire flashed across the courtroom's giant overhead screens, filing them with gilt finishes, chandeliers, and palm trees.

donald trump jr court trial
Donald Trump Jr. in court for his family's civil fraud trial in New York.David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

The defense has yet to explain how the son's Trump Organization infomercial counters the state's fraud allegations, which accuse the Trumps of wildly overvaluing their properties in annual net-worth statements they gave to banks and insurers, many of them signed by Donald Trump, Jr.

But the former president's lawyer, Christopher Kise, has promised to prove that the elder Trump knows too much about real estate to wildly overvalue his properties.

"He has made a fortune, literally, being right about real estate investments," Kise said in opening statements.

In any event, Monday's palm trees were a nice break from the Excel spreadsheets that usually fill those courtroom screens.

Donald Trump
Former President Donald Trump.AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack

The first defense expert witness: a Trump mega-donor

The third defense witness to take the stand, developer Steven Witkoff, was, like Donald Trump, Jr., hardly an objective source of testimony.

He is a Republican fundraiser and mega-donor, who took the stand Tuesday, has given more than $2 million to Trump as of May 2021, according to ProPublica.

Witkoff had never before testified in court as an expert in anything. But on Tuesday he became Trump's first expert witness, in the field of real estate valuation.

"He's been a really good friend to me," Witkoff said of Trump, whom he first met in 1986 while on line at a Manhattan deli.

"He didn't have any money," Witkoff remembered on the stand. "He asked me if I could order him a ham and Swiss sandwich."

Appraising is a subjective art, Witkoff testified, and even experts "get it wrong."

On cross-examination, Witkoff, whose best known project is the residential conversion of Manhattan's historic Woolworth Building, conceded he is not, himself, an appraiser.

He also admitted he never reviewed key documents in the case, including the ground lease Trump holds for 40 Wall Street in Manhattan.

Three days into the defense case, then, the judge in the non-jury trial had heard mostly from non-experts with little objectivity: one of Trump's sons and one of his donors.

donald trump zipped lips court testimony
Former President Donald Trump motions a zipped lip as he walks out of the courtroom during a break in proceedings at New York Supreme Court.AP Photo/Eduardo Munoz Alvarez

An accounting expert who may have bolstered the case against Trump

It was time, though, for perhaps Trump's most important defense witnesses, his accounting expert.

Late Tuesday, the defense called Jason Flemmons, a top-tier expert with impeccable credentials — he is a former fraud enforcer for the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Flemmons spent three days on the witness stand going through ten years of Trump's net-worth statements, and pointing out the same "glaring" problems, "inconsistencies," and "red flags," that the attorney general complains about, though he blamed these all on Trumps accountants.

When an attorney for James suggested on cross that the SEC would scoff at a "throw the accountant under the bus" defense, the judge sustained the defense side's objection and Flemmons didn't have to answer.

At end of cross-examination, Flemmons flubbed his final math question: how much is Trump paying for your testimony?

A real estate expert who never evaluated net worth

Real estate expert Steven Laposa testified on Thursday and Friday, telling the judge that the AG's office lowballed the value of Trump's properties by relying on market value instead of investment value.

On cross-examination, Laposa admitted he has no professional experience evaluating net-worth statements. He admitted he is not a certified appraiser, and has never appraised a commercial or residential property.

He also admitted he only reviewed a single appraisal in the Trump case, that for 40 Wall Street.

Trump was seen standing on the course ahead of the LIV Golf Invitational series tournament at his New Jersey golf club on August 9.
Trump was seen standing on the course ahead of the LIV Golf Invitational series tournament at his New Jersey golf club.Timothy A. Clary/AFP via Getty Images

Trump's insurance broker and golf buddy

Rounding out the week on Friday was Trump's seventh defense witness, Gary Giulietti, a Palm Beach-based insurance broker. His multi-billion-dollar brokerage firm, Lockton Companies, earned $1.2 million last year as Trump's insurance broker, he said.

Giulietti took the stand to testify that Trump did not commit insurance fraud, because the former president's ex-broker would not have relied on net-worth statements in setting insurance terms.

That firm, Zurich Insurance Group, relied on "airballs and witchcraft" in setting terms, not net-worth statements, Giulietti had said in a pre-trial deposition, and he stood by that assessment Friday.

Again, as with the mega-donor who was Trump's real-estate valuation expert, Giulietti was far from the most disinterested, objective witness.

Asked of his friendship with Trump, he said, "I play golf with him occasionally, go to lunch with him occasionally."

He said he didn't have a real estate license — he doesn't need one to be a broker, he explained.

The trial continues Monday with more defense testimony, starting with testimony by yet another insurance and underwriting expert.

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