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As Trump returns to court, judge in his fraud trial clarifies comments ex-president took as a win

An accountant who prepared Trump’s financial statements for years is expected to be back on the witness stand for a second day.

Associated Press

Oct 3, 2023, 12:13 PM

Updated 259 days ago

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A New York judge on Tuesday took the air out of the win that former President Donald Trump claimed he scored in the first hours of his civil business fraud trial.
With Trump voluntarily in court for a second day, Judge Arthur Engoron set the record straight about a comment that the ex-president had touted as an important victory.
The issue: Engoron had suggested on Monday that testimony about Trump’s 2011 financial statement might be beyond the legal time limit applicable to New York Attorney General Letitia James' lawsuit. It alleges that Trump and his business chronically lied about his wealth on financial statements given to banks, insurers and others.
The relevant statute of limitations rules out claims related to activities before a date in 2014, and Trump's legal team has argued that the time limit cuts off most of the case.
Engoron said Tuesday that “statutes of limitations bar claims, not evidence" and that at the trial's early stage, he's inclined to give both sides considerably leeway to connect older evidence to claims in the lawsuit.
“I want to emphasize: This trial is not an opportunity to relitigate what I have already decided," Engoron said. He ruled last week that all the claims were allowable under the statute of limitations.
A lawyer for James' office, Kevin Wallace, went on to suggest that he was using the 2011 document to show that Trump’s financial statements were prepared in the same manner — giving him and his company the final say over the valuations that appeared — for at least a decade.
Donald Bender, an accountant who prepared the financial statements for years, testified that Trump's company supplied the numbers that went into the documents. Each spreadsheet was marked “PBC,” for “prepared by client,” in big, red letters, Bender said.
Trump, who denies any wrongdoing, said during a court break that he thought the trial was “going very well." He reiterated key points of his defense, including that the financial statements bore disclaimers saying that they weren't audited and that others “might reach different conclusions” about his financial position if they had more information.
“This case is a scam. It can’t be fraud when you’ve told institutions to do their own work,” Trump said Tuesday.
After Monday's sometimes fiery opening statements, Tuesday's testimony was so plodding that Bender twice let out a long breath on the stand.
Trump plans to testify later in the trial, but he doesn't have to attend it now. While grumbling that he'd rather be on the campaign trail, the Republican former president and 2024 GOP front-runner has used the waiting cameras in a courthouse hallway as a microphone for political messaging. He claims that James, a Democrat, is wielding the justice system as a political cudgel to hobble his ongoing campaign.
James scored an early victory when Engoron, a Democrat, ruled last week that Trump committed fraud by exaggerating the size of his penthouse at Trump Tower, claiming his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida was worth as much as $739 million and putting similar oversized valuations on office towers, golf courses and other assets.
The non-jury trial concerns six remaining claims in the lawsuit and how much Trump might owe in penalties. James is seeking $250 million and a ban on Trump doing business in New York. The judge has already ruled that some of Trump's companies should be dissolved as punishment.
Trump's lawyers said the financial statements were legitimate representations of the worth of unique luxury properties, made even more valuable because of their association with Trump.
The trial is expected to last into December.


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