NEW YORK — Donald Trump Jr. returned to court Monday as something of a character witness for his father’s real estate empire, waxing exuberantly about the former president’s “incredible vision” and portfolio of “great, iconic projects” at the New York civil fraud trial now threatening his company’s future.
The namesake son made an encore appearance at the Manhattan trial as defense lawyers started calling their own witnesses. Trump Jr. first testified two weeks ago, called in by New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ office, which is suing the Trump family business.
“I’d say it’s good to be here, your honor, but I have a feeling that the attorney general would sue me for perjury if I said that,” he joked Monday before embarking on a detailed and rosy history of the family’s Trump Organization.
James, a Democrat, alleges Donald Trump, his company and top executives, including sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr., exaggerated his wealth by billions of dollars on his annual financial statements. The documents were given to banks, insurers and others to secure loans and make deals. James is seeking more than $300 million in what she says were ill-gotten gains, and she wants the defendants banned from doing business in New York.
The defendants deny any wrongdoing, and the former president and current Republican front-runner insisted in fiery testimony last week that his company is “the opposite of fraud.” Eric Trump and his sister Ivanka Trump, a former Trump Organization executive and White House adviser, also took the stand.
Trump Jr.’s testimony Monday set the tone for a defense case that’s expected to last into mid-December. After a six-week state case that delved heavily into financial statements, spreadsheets and loan deals, the scion aimed to show a broader — and sparkling — picture of the Trump Organization to the judge who’ll decide its fate.
Questioned by his own lawyer, he spent more than an hour narrating a slideshow titled “The Trump Story,” complete with a timeline of the company’s evolution and photographs of golf courses, hotels and other major projects. He spoke glowingly about his father’s early years as a developer of Manhattan skyscrapers and the “vision he had to do things differently.”
“He’s an artist with real estate. He sees the things other people don’t,” Trump Jr. testified, playing up his father’s accomplishments while skipping over his casino bankruptcies and other failures.
During his first round of testimony earlier this month, the son said that he never worked on the annual financial statements at the heart of James’ lawsuit. He said he relied on the company’s longtime finance chief and outside accountants to verify their accuracy.
At times, his testimony Monday had the feel of a real estate pitch or an episode of “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.” State lawyer Colleen Faherty tried to forestall the superlative-laced spiel, arguing Trump Jr.’s amped testimony was “unfocused to anything relevant” to the case. Judge Arthur Engoron disagreed, saying he found it interesting.
After Trump Jr. finished his sunny portrait, Faherty noted a Bloomberg report Friday that the company’s loan for a Wall Street office building was sent to a special servicer, a sign it could be at risk of default. Trump’s lawyers blamed the loan issue on the civil case. His company said it’s never missed a payment and was fully complying with the loan terms.
Faherty also pointed out that the owner of a Trump-branded and managed hotel in Honolulu announced Friday it was buying out the agreement, partnering with Hilton and renaming the resort.
“It is ditching the Trump name?” Faherty asked.
“If they want to buy it out for millions of dollars, I’m OK with that,” Trump Jr. replied.
Before the trial, Engoron ruled that Donald Trump and other defendants committed fraud by inflating his net worth and the value of assets on his financial statements. The judge imposed a punishment that could strip Trump of some marquee properties, though an appeals court is keeping them in his control for now.
The Trumps’ lawyers contend that the state failed to meet “any legal standard” to prove the remaining allegations at issue in the trial: conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records.
Engoron rebuffed the defense’s request last week to end the trial early through what’s known as a directed verdict. Engoron did not rule on the request, but indicated the trial would move ahead as scheduled.
When he became president in 2017, Donald Trump handed day-to-day management of his company to Eric and Donald Trump Jr. and named Trump Jr. as a trustee of a trust he established to hold his assets while in office.
Asked Monday about his vision of the Trump Organization’s future, Trump Jr. said with a chuckle: “I guess a lot of that depends on what happens next November. We’ll probably be put on hold a little while, for the foreseeable future, and sued to oblivion. But after that, we’ll keep doing what we do.”
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