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Takeaways from the closing arguments in the $370 million Donald Trump civil fraud trial


By Jeremy Herb, Lauren del Valle and Kara Scannell, CNN

New York (CNN) — Donald Trump brought the campaign trail to the courthouse during closing arguments of his $370 million New York civil fraud trial on Thursday, delivering campaign speeches both inside and outside the courtroom to attack the case against him and the attorney general who brought it.

Trump’s decision to launch into a monologue at the conclusion of his lawyers’ closing arguments reflected the fact that the civil fraud trial is a serious threat to Trump’s business and brand – New York Attorney General Letitia James is seeking to bar Trump from doing business in the state – as well as how Trump is eager to take advantage of the situation as he runs for president.

Judge Arthur Engoron has already found Trump is liable for fraud in the civil case, and he plans to issue a full decision by the end of the month.

Here are the takeaways from the final day of the trial:

Trump finds a way to be heard in court

The former president effectively delivered the same speech in multiple locations on Thursday: The cameras outside the courtroom, to Engoron inside court and at his 40 Wall Street property in the afternoon to reporters.

Notably, the most important time he gave his speech was where there were no cameras: Inside the courtroom.

“This was a political witch hunt,” Trump said while speaking to Engoron in an unscheduled moment in court. “What’s happened here, sir, is a fraud on me.”

Just before breaking for lunch at about 12:55 p.m., Trump attorney Chris Kise renewed his request to Engoron to give Trump “two-to-three minutes” to make his case directly to the judge.

Engoron addressed Trump, asking if he would promise just to comment on the facts in the case.

“I think this case goes outside just the facts,” Trump responded, taking the opening to launch into a five-minute speech from the defense table. “We have a situation where I’m an innocent man. I’ve been persecuted by somebody running for office and I think you have to go outside the bounds.”

Engoron sat back for several minutes, letting Trump go on, before interrupting him to tell him his time was running short.

“One minute, that’s all I’m saying,” the judge said.

“You have your own agenda, I understand that,” Trump replied.

“Mr. Kise, please control your client,” Engoron responded.

Trump continued briefly. “Your honor, look, I did nothing wrong,” he said. “They should pay me for what we had to go through. What they’ve done to me reputationally and everything else.”

Trump’s closing argument speech mimicked his testimony when the attorney general called him as a witness, where Engoron tried and eventually gave up trying to get Trump to answer questions directly and not give political speeches.

AG maintains that Trump ‘acted with intent’ to defraud

The attorney general’s office argued in its closing presentation that Trump “acted with intent” to fraudulently inflate the value of his assets in his financial statements.

“The buck stopped with him,” said Andrew Amer, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office, saying that Trump was responsible for the conduct Trump Org. executives Allen Weisselberg and Jeff McConney participated in to inflate his assets.

“Mr. Trump was certainly in the loop to review and approve the statements,” Amer said. “The court should infer that he acted with intent to defraud based on his extensive knowledge about these assets.”

The attorney general’s office is seeking $370 million in its claim against Trump, alleging that his fraudulent financial statements allowed him to obtain loans and insurance at more favorable rates.

Engoron has already found Trump and his co-defendants were liable for persistent and repeated fraud, and the trial was held to consider the extent of money owed as well as six additional claims, including conspiracy, issuing false financial statements, falsifying business records, and insurance fraud.

The attorney general’s office pointed to testimony from Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who said that Trump instructed him and Weisselberg to “reverse-engineer” his financial statements to inflate his net worth. Amer argued the defense failed to put Trump on the stand to rebut Cohen’s allegation.

The reliance on Cohen’s testimony is notable because Cohen went back on his statements under cross-examination, saying that Trump didn’t directly tell him to inflate the numbers.

“He tells you what he wants without specifically telling you,” Cohen later explained. “We understood what he wanted.”

Trump’s attorneys repeatedly attacked Cohen’s credibility during their closing presentation, accusing him of being a “serial liar” and an unreliable narrator as the only witness to allege an intent to defraud.

Trump’s lawyers argue case is political attack

Trump’s attorneys echoed the same themes as their client during their closing arguments, accusing the New York attorney general of a political vendetta against Trump.

“This entire case is a manufactured claim to serve a political agenda,” Kise said at the outset of his presentation. “It has always been press releases and posturing, but no proof at all.”

Both Kise and Alina Habba – an attorney for Trump, the Trump Org., Weisselberg and McConney – went after James personally.

“I looked back and saw her shoes were off this morning, and she had a Starbucks coffee,” Habba said.

“She doesn’t sit here with us; she goes outside with her PR team,” Habba added, prompting a warning from Engoron that she was veering outside the facts that were relevant to the case.

Habba protested that her criticisms were, in fact, relevant to the case.

Trump’s lawyers have complained about the conduct of both the attorney general’s office and the judge and his clerk during the three-month trial – and they’ve already made clear they plan to appeal Engoron’s ruling, on top of their earlier appeal of his summary judgement decision that Trump was liable for fraud.

Trump team tries to argue the case is bigger than Trump

Trump’s team urged Engoron to consider the implications beyond the former president in his ruling, warning that he was making a legacy-defining decision that would have broad implications for businesses in New York.

“What you do, judge, impacts every corporation in New York,” Kise argued.

Kise charged that the attorney general “wants limitless power to intervene” in commercial real estate transactions.

“You just cannot allow the attorney general to pursue a victimless crime and impose a corporate death penalty,” Kise added.

One of the examples Trump’s attorneys cited was the New York attorney general’s 2018 lawsuit against Exxon, where a New York judge ruled that the attorney general did not prove allegations that ExxonMobil misled investors about how it accounted for the cost of climate change regulations.

Kise said that not only did the attorney general lose, but that Exxon was now based in Texas, not New York. Trump later piled on claiming that Exxon was happy in Texas.

Assistant attorney general Kevin Wallace responded at the start of his closing argument that, in fact, Exxon left New York for Texas in 1989.

Engoron skeptical about Trump sons’ knowledge of fraud

The judge interjected during both the plaintiff’s and the defendants’ presentations to ask questions, expressing skepticism about several points.

In particular, Engoron asked pointed questions to the attorney general’s office about whether Trump’s adult sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., were liable for fraud.

“What evidence do you have — I just haven’t seen it — that they knew that there was fraud?” Engoron asked.

Amer responded that the “stick your head in the sand” defense is not sufficient, while noting that Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. have been running the Trump Organization for seven years as co-CEOs.

“If you have a responsibility, and you have the information that is within your access … and instead you claim that you stick your head in the sand and don’t do anything to fulfill that responsibility, the law says that’s not a defense,” Amer said.

Engoron remained skeptical, particularly about Donald Trump Jr.’s knowledge of fraud.

But the judge also questioned assertions from Trump’s lawyers at several points Thursday, including when Kise pointed to the testimony of New York University accounting professor Eli Bartov, a defense expert who said that there were no material misstatements in Trump’s financial statements.

“I didn’t lend much credence to Mr. Bartov,” Engoron responded.

“I didn’t think that was fair, as you know,” Kise said, as the two debated whether Trump’s financial statements contained material differences.

“They were not concerned about a $2 billion differential,” Kise said of Deutsche Bank, saying the bank awarded loans to Trump based on its own adjusted values.

“This has to be viewed through the lens of the bank,” Kise said.

“Of a bank. Not the bank. We disagree,” Engoron responded.

Next steps in the case

Engoron said he hopes to issue a ruling by the end of January.

But that is hardly going to be the end of the matter.

Trump’s attorneys have already appealed Engoron’s summary judgement issued at the start of the trial, when the judge ruled Trump and his co-defendants were liable for persistent and repeated fraud.

Engoron’s post-trial decision is expected to include the amount of disgorgement, or “ill-gotten gains,” that the defendants would have to pay back, as well as the six additional claims brought by the attorney general in the case.

Trump’s attorneys have made clear repeatedly during the trial they are planning to appeal the ruling, raising objections both to the case against Trump as well as the conduct of the judge and his law clerk.

That means the case could stretch on, with the fate of Trump’s ability to do business in New York hanging in the balance.

A New York appeals court paused any breakup of Trump’s businesses or any payment while litigation plays out.

The former president, meanwhile, may be back in a Manhattan courthouse next week.

He told reporters he plans to attend the trial on defamation charges brought against him by magazine columnist E. Jean Carroll.

“I want to go to all of my trials,” Trump said.

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