Former President Donald Trump's civil trial for business fraud began Monday at a New York state courthouse in Manhattan, where Trump is appearing in-person. New York Attorney General Letitia James alleges Trump defrauded lenders by inflating the value of his assets.
"It's simple: no matter how powerful you are, no matter how much money you think you have, no one's above the law," James said in a brief speech outside the courthouse, making a sly dig at the real estate developer's notorious exaggerations of his personal wealth and an implicit rebuke of his oft-repeated claims that James, a Democrat, has targeted him for political reasons.
“This is the continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time,” Trump said outside the courtroom on Monday.
Yahoo News has been keeping readers up-to-date on the case's developments with our daily Trump legal news brief.
Read more on Yahoo News, Trump reaped over $1 billion from fraud, New York says as civil trial begins, from Reuters
James filed suit last September for fraud and falsification of business records against Trump, three of his adult children — Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka — other company executives, and the Trump Organization. James alleges Trump inflated the value of some properties by hundreds of millions of dollars when seeking loans.
Read more on Yahoo News, Trump's civil fraud trial puts his finances in the spotlight. Here's what to know, from CBS News.
James alleges the Trump Organization "ignored the most basic rules and standards for financial reporting," including falsely claiming to have cash on hand, ignoring factors that lower property values, and changing the valuation methodology "without reason or notice."
For example, the Trump Organization told banks his Mar-a-Lago property is worth $490 million when borrowing money, while telling Palm Beach County, Fla. that it was only worth $27 million when it was assessed for property taxes. (Last week, Trump claimed the estate is worth $1.8 billion.)
“This isn't business as usual,” Kevin Wallace, a lawyer in James' office, said in the plaintiff’s opening statement.
Read more on Yahoo News, Trump inflated his net worth by $3.6 billion, NY attorney general says, from ABC News
The potential penalty
James wants Trump’s company to pay $250 million in fines and for Trump and his sons Donald Jr. and Eric to be permanently banned from running businesses in New York, along with a five-year commercial ban on Trump and his company operating commercial real estate.
In his Monday comments to reporters, Trump called the case a "scam," and a "sham.”
In his opening statement, Trump’s lawyer Christopher Kise argued: “There was no intent to defraud, there was no illegality.”
Trump has already lost on one front
Last Tuesday, Judge Arthur Engoron found Trump liable for financial fraud for overvaluing his assets. He found Trump overvalued Mar-a-Lago by 2,300% and the ex-president claimed his Trump Tower apartment is three times its actual size.
Read more on Yahoo News, Judge rules Donald Trump defrauded banks, insurers while building real estate empire, from Associated Press.
Engoron’s ruling from last week only applies to one of the charges against Trump. The remaining six charges, including issuing false financial statements and insurance fraud, will be prosecuted in the trial that began Monday. It will also be a bench trial, conducted without a jury, presided over by Engoron.
Trump’s legal team plans to call the former president and his children as witnesses. Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen will testify for the prosecution.
Read more on Yahoo News, Five things to know about Trump's New York fraud trial, from BBC News.
Trump’s other legal troubles
This trial is separate from the 91 criminal charges Trump faces in four separate criminal trials, including charges in Georgia related to his effort to overturn the 2020 presidential election, charges in Manhattan for falsifying business records related to his hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels, and federal charges for his actions leading up to the Jan. 6 insurrection and alleged mishandling of classified documents and obstruction of justice after leaving office.
Read more on Yahoo News, Trump criminal charges: Here are all 91 felony counts against the former president across 4 cases
It is also unrelated to the case James brought against the Trump Foundation in 2018, alleging that the then-president had misused the nonprofit, partly in furtherance of his 2016 campaign. A New York court ruled in James' favor, dissolved the foundation and assessed $2 million in restitution.