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Donald Trump's business fraud trial wraps up day one in New York

Former President Donald Trump (center) appears in court Monday in New York.
Brendan McDermid
Former President Donald Trump (center) appears in court Monday in New York.

Updated October 2, 2023 at 7:05 PM ET

The first day of a civil business fraud trial against former President Donald Trump wrapped up Monday afternoon.

Although Trump did not have to be present for the start of the trial, he came for a full day of opening remarks and the first witness testimony given by Donald Bender, a Trump Organization consultant.

Trump and other defendants are accused of exaggerating the value of their real estate.

If found guilty, Trump, who said he's "going to court ... to fight for my name and reputation," would have to pay $250 million in damages and be banned from doing business in New York state.

"My message is simple: No matter how powerful you are. No matter how much money you think you may have, no one is above the law," said State Attorney General Letitia James outside the New York Supreme Court ahead of the trial.

This is one of four pending legal cases Trump is facing in New York alone while he is seeking to win another term as president in the 2024 presidential race.

Trump continued to call the allegations a politically motivated "witch hunt" and argued that he should also be protected because his contacts contained a so-called "buyer beware" clause.

He argued people have to do their own due diligence, but either way he doesn't believe anyone suffered over the financial documents.

"What we have is a scam," Trump told reporters ahead of opening statements. "The actual net worth is substantially more. No bank was affected. No bank was hurt."

Bender testified to the processes of the Trump Organization, particularly how the financial statements at the center of the trial, are produced. He said he produced statements based on financial information provided by Trump's executives.

The first big witness is likely to be Allen Weisselberg, former chief financial officer at the Trump Organization. He is a defendant in the case and fairly high up on the list to testify.

Earlier this year Weisselberg was sentenced to five months in prison for financial crimes he committed while working there. Last year he pleaded guilty to 15 counts including grand larceny tax fraud and falsifying business records.

Another recognizable name on the witness list is Michael Cohen, a former Trump lawyer. On Monday, prosecutors played part of a video deposition with Cohen in which he said he was involved with preparing several years' worth of financial documents. He was quoted saying that others in the organization, including Weisselberg, would inflate the numbers to land Trump higher on the Forbes list.

The lawsuit alleges Trump committed fraud to do business

After a three-year investigation, New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit in September 2022 claiming Trump and his executive team engaged in fraudulent business practices. This includes allegations the value of Trump's business and the market value of his real estate holdings in New York state and in Florida were inflated in order to land deals, and negotiate with banks and insurers.

The former president tried to at least delay the trial by suing the judge that will be overseeing the trial. But a New York appeals court panel of judges rejected that move earlier last week, allowing the trial to continue as scheduled.

New York judge has already decided Trump committed fraud

On Sept. 26, New York Judge Arthur Engoron, who is overseeing the trial, issued an order concluding that Trump and his associates — including his sons Eric and Donald Jr. — did inflate the value of their assets.

Though the judge ruled on some of the major elements of the lawsuit, there remain six other claims that will be argued during the trial. This includes allegations that Trump and his associates broke state law by falsifying documents, conspiring to falsify business records, issuing false business statements and financial statements and committing insurance fraud.

The attorney general of New York is also still seeking roughly $250 million in penalties.

Trump continues to deny any wrongdoing

Trump has called the fraud accusations ridiculous and untrue and has accused both the judge and New York attorney general, who are Democrats, of being politically motivated.

In a post on his social media site Truth, Trump said Sunday that the valuations of his property are "FRAUDULENT in pursuit of Election Interference, and worse. THIS WHOLE CASE IS A SHAM!!!"

Christopher Kise, a lawyer for Trump, called the initial ruling that confirmed the fraud allegations outrageous and a miscarriage of justice.

Trump and children on the witness list

The trial was expected to run from October to December, but with the recent judge order, that could be shorter.

Both teams have a lengthy list of witnesses, though not all will get called. Still, appearing on both lists are the former president himself along with Eric and Donald Trump Jr. The attorney general's team also listed Ivanka Trump.

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Corrected: February 16, 2024 at 12:00 AM EST
A previous version of this story misspelled Allen Weisselberg's first name as Allan. Previously posted Oct. 2, 2023: A previous version of this story incorrectly included Ivanka Trump as among those who are accused of fraud. She is not.
Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.