Donald J. Trump’s iconic properties are at the heart of a sweeping civil fraud case accusing him of manipulating their values and his net worth. But hearing from the former president’s eldest son, these properties prove something much rosier: the brilliance of the Trump family business.
Trump Tower, Donald Trump Jr. said on the witness stand Monday, is admired as “genius.” Mar-a-Lago is “one of America’s rare castles.” And 40 Wall Street, the family’s imposing office building across the street from the New York Stock Exchange, has safes that are “a work of mechanical art.”
In a reappearance at a trial that saw a parade of Trump take the stand as they fight for the future of their family business, the younger Mr. Trump testified in bursts of hyperbole and platitudes. His rhetoric sounded as if it had been ripped from the pages of an airline magazine or travel brochure, and he reserved the highest praise for the man he said made it all possible: his father, a “visionary” who is “an artist”. with real estate” and “creates things other people would never imagine.”
Yet some of his lofty claims clash with current reality.
In recent years, the Trump Organization has shrunk, with the family name erased from some of the properties it touted, removed from buildings in New York, Washington and, soon, Hawaii. Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street have also lost a number of tenants at times. Some of the former president’s properties even struggled to turn a profit.
None of this seemed to deter Donald Trump Jr. during his three-and-a-half-hour turn on the stand Monday. Her testimony marked the start of the defense, the family’s rebuttal to New York Attorney General Letitia James.
She accused the former president, his company and his sons Donald Jr. and Eric of fraudulently inflating the value of assets to obtain favorable bank loans. In his final testimony, Ms. James’ office called him to the stand to face questioning over the accuracy of his father’s annual financial statements.
As his own lawyers questioned him, Mr. Trump’s testimony took on a rhapsodic tone aimed at creating a parallel universe to the one that existed during the previous six weeks of the trial, when the attorney general’s office presented its case. While Ms. James’s office presented spreadsheets, emails and financial statements, Mr. Trump’s lawyers showed him dozens of photos of luxury properties, and he opined lovingly and in detail.
His testimony was critical to the defense’s argument: Trump’s properties are extremely valuable and the company’s annual financial statements understate them. His father, called to the stand last week by the public prosecutor’s office, should return in the coming weeks to make the same argument.
The judge who will decide the case without a jury, Arthur F. Engoron, has often been impatient with the Trumps and their lawyers, reining in rambling and off-topic responses. And he has already ruled that Mr. Trump and his sons committed fraud, meaning the trial is largely about determining what punishment he will impose. (Ms. James is seeking, among other consequences, a $250 million fine).
But on Monday, Judge Engoron brushed aside the state’s lawyers’ objections to Mr. Trump’s testimony, saying: “Let him go on and talk about the greatness of the Trump Organization.” »
Mr. Trump began by describing his great-grandfather who developed hotels in the Yukon during the gold rush. A photo of his father with his grandfather, Fred Trump, appeared on a screen, injecting sentiment into a proceeding rooted in cold facts.
Although the company has gone international, he said it is still run as a “mom and pop” and is successful due to the variety and value of its properties and the leadership of his father .
When asked for an example, Mr. Trump cited the inclusion of gyms among amenities in luxury buildings, saying his father was at the forefront of creating value in this way. Mr. Trump later acknowledged that “maybe someone” had already installed a gym in a building, but not on the scale of his father.
He also generously recounted the company’s turnaround of once-abandoned assets, including Wollman Rink in Central Park and 40 Wall Street in Lower Manhattan. In each case, Mr. Trump said the properties had fallen into disrepair and no one understood their potential. He claimed that it took his father’s genius to bring them to light.
However, the company no longer manages the ice rink. New York City decided to cut ties with Mr. Trump after the January 6 attack on the Capitol. The Trumps also recently sold their lease on a public golf course in the Bronx, which didn’t stop the defense from showing a promotional video for the property during Mr. Trump’s testimony on Monday.
And 40 Wall has seen better days. One of Ms. James’ lawyers noted during cross-examination that the building’s occupancy rate had plunged, even though the Trumps did not miss any payments.
She also asked Mr. Trump if it was true that the 18th hole at one of the family’s golf courses had collapsed into the ocean. He admitted that was the case.
Mr. Trump testified that he once handled leasing at 40 Wall and that he, his sister Ivanka and his brother Eric came to occupy their own lanes within the Trump Organization. Although he and his siblings eventually all became executive vice presidents, Mr. Trump argued that it functioned as “much more of a meritocracy.”
But when his father became president and Ivanka joined him in the White House, he and Eric were given much more responsibility. “We protected the incredible assets we had,” he testified.
Mr. Trump was by turns boastful and self-deprecating. Speaking about his father’s love of golf, Mr. Trump displayed his sense of humor: ‘I’m like the non-golfer in the family who relegated me to the children’s table in perpetuity’ , did he declare.
Ms. James’s team bristled at Mr. Trump’s rote account of the company’s history, prompting numerous objections. But Judge Engoron was patient and seemed to find some sort of rapport with Mr. Trump.
On several occasions, Mr. Trump turned his head and body toward the judge and spoke directly to him, which often made the judge smile.
When they first greeted each other at the start of testimony Monday morning, Mr. Trump said: “I would say it’s good to be here, your honor, but I have a feeling that the attorney general would be prosecuted for perjury. »