In an eleventh-hour reversal, former President Donald Trump announced Sunday he will not go back on the witness stand in the $250 million civil fraud trial against him and his company.
“I have already testified to everything & have nothing more to say other than this is a complete & total election interference (Biden campaign!) witch hunt” so “I will not be testifying on Monday,” Trump said in an all-caps, two-part post on his social media platform Truth Social.
Trump had been scheduled to testify Monday as one of the final defense witnesses in a trial that has lasted two months and is entering its final week of testimony.
Trump had been expected to tout his company’s success and push back on New York Attorney General Letitia James’ claims that he vastly overvalued his properties and his net worth in financial statements that he used to get favorable loans from banks that he otherwise would not have been entitled to.
Called as a witness by James’ team on Nov. 6, a combative Trump made similar claims while also launching attacks on the AG and the judge who will decide the case, Arthur Engoron. He called James a “political hack” who “should be ashamed of herself” and referred to Engoron as a “very hostile judge.” “He ruled against me and he said I was a fraud before he knew anything about me, nothing about me,” Trump said, referring to the judge’s pretrial finding that Trump and his company had engaged in repeated acts of fraud.
“It’s a terrible thing you did,” Trump told the judge of the order, which he is appealing.
Trump was under no obligation to testify since it’s his own defense case. His son Eric Trump similarly backed out of testifying this past Wednesday, which the elder Trump said in a social media post on Tuesday night he’d directed him to do. Like his father, Eric Trump had testified as a witness in the AG’s case. “Eric has already testified, PERFECTLY,” Trump wrote, “so there is no reason to waste any more of this Crooked Court’s time on having him say the same thing, over and over again, as a witness for the defense.”
Trump used a similar rational in his Truth Social posts on Sunday, writing in all-caps: “I have very successfully & conclusively testified” in the AG’s “rigged trial against me.” “The only fraud committed was by the highly partisan & out of control judge, & racist A.G.,” he claimed.
Trump’s attorney Alina Habba told reporters after the former president appeared as a spectator at the trial on Thursday that he was “looking forward to taking the stand.”
She said she had urged him not to testify again because of a gag order preventing him from criticizing the judge’s law clerk, who he had previously complained is biased against him. She said Trump was undeterred because “he is so firmly against what is happening in this court.”
“He will open himself up to whatever they want because he’s not afraid. People that are afraid cower. President Trump doesn’t cower,” she said.
The judge has fined Trump a total of $15,000 on two occasions after finding that he’d violated the gag order and warned that the penalties would escalate if Trump were to violate it again.
The reversal on Trump’s testimony came after an accounting expert hired by Trump’s defense testified that the AG’s case had no merit and that he didn’t see any evidence of fraud in the financial statements that were being challenged by the AG.
Eli Bartov, an accounting professor at New York University, testified on Thursday and Friday and told the judge he found “no evidence whatsoever for any accounting fraud.”
Asked about discrepancies between Trump’s financial figures and much lower values used by one of the lenders that the AG said he and his company deceived, Bartov said, “This is not fraud or an error, because they use a different definition of value.”
He added that valuations are subjective and the bank and others who used the financial statements were aware they had to do their own due diligence. “My analysis shows the statements of financial condition for all the years were not materially misstated,” Bartov said.
The professor acknowledged that he’s been paid $875,000 to date by the Trump Organization and Trump’s Save America PAC for his work on the case. Asked if that impacted his testimony, he said, “No.”
Bartov was the 19th defense witness to testify in the trial, which began on Oct. 2. He’ll also be the last. The AG’s office was scheduled to continue its cross-examination of him after Trump’s testimony.
The AG’s office is expected to have two rebuttal witnesses testify for their case after Bartov is done. After that, both sides will be able to submit filings to the judge explaining why they believe they’ve proven their case, and will then return to court for closing arguments on Jan. 11.
Engoron has said he expects it will take him a few weeks to issue his ruling in the case.
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