Donald Trump set to testify in his own $250 million civil fraud trial
The outcome of the case could threaten the former president's business empire.
When Donald Trump enters court on Monday, the former president will swap his chair next to his lawyers for a seat on the witness stand -- sitting to the left of a judge he has called a wacko, feet from a clerk he has called biased, and directly across from a state attorney general he has called, without evidence, a dirty cop.
After more than a month of watching from the sidelines, Trump is set to be the star witness in his own $250 million civil fraud trial.
Sources tell ABC News that Trump spent Sunday evening in New York doing a prep session with his attorneys ahead of his testimony Monday. The sources described Trump as vacillating between fits of anger over the case and "in a good head space," ready to get his testimony over with -- with one source saying the former president “can be a good witness if he stays focused.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James plans to call Trump as the state's second-to-last witness, setting up a dramatic confrontation in a case that could threaten the former president's business empire.
"Trump can try to hide his wrongdoings behind taunts and threats, but we will not be bullied out of uncovering the truth," James said on social media Sunday.
Sources tell ABC News that once it's the defense's turn to present its case, some of members of the Trump family could return to the stand, including the former president himself.
James alleges that Trump and his adult sons relied on false statements of financial condition to conduct a decade of business, enriching themselves through better loan terms, favorable insurance policies, and a reputation bolstered by Trump's reputed high net worth. In order to maintain that reputation, Trump instructed his executives to falsify records to inflate the value of his namesake buildings and other assets, according to James.
Trump has denied all wrongdoing and has called James a "dirty cop" whose case is a form of "election interference."
The judge overseeing the case has been partially convinced by the state's arguments, finding in a partial summary judgment on the eve of the trial that Trump and his adult sons are liable for using "false and misleading" statements to conduct business -- leaving the trial to determine additional actions and what penalty, if any, the defendants should receive.
Trump has appealed that ruling and criticized both James and Judge Arthur Engoron as politically motivated.
Trump returns to the stand
When Trump is sworn in ahead of his testimony Monday morning, it will be the second time he has taken the stand in this case.
During a courtroom visit two weeks ago to watch the testimony of his former lawyer Michael Cohen, Trump was unexpectedly summoned to the witness stand to face questions from Judge Engoron about a statement Trump made that the judge believed was directed at his clerk and thus violated a limited gag order the judge has imposed prohibiting all parties from making public comments about his staff.
"This judge is a very partisan judge, with a person who's very partisan sitting alongside of him, perhaps even much more partisan than he is," Trump said in the courtroom hallway that morning. While Trump maintained he was referring to Michael Cohen -- who sat next to the judge on the witness stand -- Engoron was unconvinced and decided to personally question the former president.
Trump appeared unfazed and comfortable in the witness box, offering generally terse answers -- but took one clear jab at the judge's clerk.
"I think she is very biased against us. I think we made that clear. We put up a picture and you didn't want that up," Trump said on the witness stand, referring to his social media post that prompted the initial gag order.
The judge ultimately found that Trump's testimony was "not credible," writing in a decision that the former president's testimony rang "hollow and untrue." He also fined Trump $10,000 for the statement.
Trump also sat for two depositions with the attorney general's office during the course of the AG's probe in 2022 and 2023.
During the first deposition, in August 2022 -- before James filed her lawsuit -- the former president invoked his Fifth Amendment rights over 400 times.
Trump took a different approach during his second deposition in April 2023, offering lengthy answers, speaking over his lawyers, and pontificating on unrelated topics such as how he prevented a "nuclear holocaust" as president, according to a transcript of the deposition that was subsequently released by the AG's office.
"Chris, we're going to be here until midnight if your client answers every question with an eight-minute speech," state attorney Kevin Wallace, who will also be questioning Trump in court, said to Trump's lawyer.
Often volunteering more information than required, Trump argued that his brand value was likely worth $10 billion and complained about how his presidency and subsequent investigations soured banks' impression of him.
He spoke in superlatives about his holdings, saying, "We have the Mona Lisa of properties."
Trump underplayed the significance of his own financial statements during his deposition, arguing that a so-called "worthless" disclaimer included in each statement of financial condition -- which warned lenders that the valuations required judgment and that they should do their own analysis -- insulated him from liability.
"Many lawyers have come to me and said, 'You have the greatest worthless clause I've ever seen,'" Trump said.
In his pretrial ruling, Engoron expressed skepticism at Trump's belief that the "worthless" disclaimers render the financial statements insignificant.
"Defendants' reliance on these 'worthless' disclaimers is worthless," Engoron wrote.
Trump acknowledged in his deposition that he would "look at" his annual financial statement -- which he said contained "guesstimates" -- but did not spend much time reviewing the document, which sits at the center of the attorney general's case.
"They would give me a statement. I would certainly look at it. But I had not a lot to do with it. I just didn't consider it important because of the worthless clause," Trump said in his deposition.
Trump sons testify
Trump's appearance on the witness stand follows three days of testimony from his sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., who largely denied being involved in the preparation of the financial statements and have denied all wrongdoing.
"Before even having a day in court I'm apparently guilty of fraud for relying on my accountants to do -- wait for it -- accounting," Trump Jr. said outside court on Thursday.
Despite his increased involvement in his family's firm once his father became president in 2016, Eric Trump testified that he relied on experts when certifying his father's finances.
Eric Trump's appearance on the stand also spurred defense counsel's additional criticism of Judge Engoron's law clerk, who Trump's attorneys called biased and distracting due to the manner in which she confers with the judge during proceedings.
"I do feel like truly that I'm fighting two adversaries," Trump attorney Chris Kise said during a heated exchange about the clerk on Friday.
In response, Engoron -- who told attorneys "I have an absolute, unfettered right to get advice from my principal law clerk" -- expanded the case's limited gag order to also cover attorneys, barring Trump's lawyers from objecting to communications between him and his clerk.
Trump's empire at risk?
Over the first five weeks of the trial, the state's witnesses have attempted to insulate the former president from the actions alleged in the attorney general's complaint. His sons said Trump's financial statements were compiled by accountants and lawyers, and his top deputies within the Trump Organization testified that Trump was largely uninvolved in their preparation.
Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and self-described "fixer," offered the strongest testimony against the former president.
"I was tasked by Mr. Trump to increase the total assets based upon a number that he arbitrarily elected," Cohen said, though he struggled to offer specific details or evidence to prove that such meetings occurred.
Trump's lawyers hammered at Cohen on cross-examination for two days, eliciting what they described as perjury and saying that his credibility was irreparably damaged. Defense attorney Clifford Robert unsuccessfully moved for a directed verdict after the testimony, arguing that "the government's key witness has fallen flat on his face."
Judge Engoron denied the motion, saying that even without Cohen's testimony, "There's enough evidence to fill this courtroom."
Engoron will ultimately decide what penalties, if any, Trump and his adult sons will face. The judge has already canceled Trump's business certificates in New York -- a penalty that has temporarily been paused while Trump appeals. The New York attorney general has also asked that Engoron penalize Trump $250 million, bar him and his children from leading companies in New York, and prevent Trump from purchasing commercial property or taking out loans for five years.
Those penalties could not only hit Trump's checkbook, but also cast a shadow on the company and brand that Trump has acknowledged allowed him to ascend to the presidency.
"I became president because of the brand, OK?" Trump said during his deposition. "I became president. I think it's the hottest brand in the world."
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