In an eleventh-hour reversal, former President Donald Trump announced Sunday he will not go back on the witness stand in the $250 million civil fraud trial against him and his company.
“I have already testified to everything & have nothing more to say other than this is a complete & total election interference (Biden campaign!) witch hunt,” so “I will not be testifying on Monday,” Trump said in an all-caps, two-part post on his social media platform, Truth Social.
Resumption of the trial had been scheduled for Monday, but the Office of Court Administration, the administrative arm of the New York State Unified Court System, said late Sunday that it would instead resume Tuesday.
Trump had been scheduled to testify as one of the final defense witnesses in a trial that has lasted two months and is entering its final week of testimony.
He had been expected to tout his company’s success and push back on New York Attorney General Letitia James’ claims that he vastly overvalued his properties and his net worth in financial statements that he used to get favorable loans from banks that he otherwise would not have been entitled to.
Called as a witness by James’ team on Nov. 6, a combative Trump made similar claims while also launching attacks on the AG and the judge who will decide the case, Arthur Engoron. He called James a “political hack” who “should be ashamed of herself” and referred to Engoron as a “very hostile judge.” “He ruled against me, and he said I was a fraud before he knew anything about me, nothing about me,” Trump said, referring to the judge’s pretrial finding that Trump and his company had engaged in repeated acts of fraud.
“It’s a terrible thing you did,” Trump told the judge of the order, which he is appealing.
James shrugged off Trump’s change of heart in a statement. “Whether or not Trump testifies again tomorrow, we have already proven that he committed years of financial fraud and unjustly enriched himself and his family. No matter how much he tries to distract from reality, the facts don’t lie,” she said.
Trump was under no obligation to testify, because it’s his own defense case. His son Eric Trump similarly backed out of testifying this past Wednesday, which the elder Trump said in a social media post Tuesday night he’d directed him to do.
Like his father, Eric Trump had testified as a witness in the AG’s case. “Eric has already testified, PERFECTLY,” Trump wrote, “so there is no reason to waste any more of this Crooked Court’s time on having him say the same thing, over and over again, as a witness for the defense.”
Trump used a similar rationale in his Truth Social posts Sunday, writing in all-caps: “I have very successfully & conclusively testified” in the AG’s “rigged trial against me.”
“The only fraud committed was by the highly partisan & out of control judge, & racist A.G.,” he claimed.
In a statement, Trump attorney Chris Kise said, “There is really nothing more to say to a Judge who has imposed an unconstitutional gag order and thus far appears to have ignored President Trump’s testimony and that of everyone else involved in the complex financial transactions at issue in the case.” Kise insisted that the defense witnesses had already showed “there were no defaults, no victims and no fraud, adding that, “under such circumstances, there is no valid reason for President Trump to testify further in this case.”
Trump lawyer Alina Habba had told reporters Thursday — after Trump appeared as a spectator at the trial — that he was “looking forward to taking the stand.”
She said she had urged him not to testify again because of a gag order preventing him from criticizing the judge’s law clerk, who he had previously complained is biased against him. She said Trump was undeterred because “he is so firmly against what is happening in this court.”
“He will open himself up to whatever they want because he’s not afraid. People that are afraid cower. President Trump doesn’t cower,” she said.
The judge has fined Trump a total of $15,000 on two occasions after finding that he had violated the gag order, and he warned that the penalties would escalate if Trump were to violate it again.
The reversal on Trump’s testimony came after an accounting expert hired by his defense testified that James’ case had no merit and that he didn’t see any evidence of fraud in the financial statements that were being challenged by the AG.
Eli Bartov, an accounting professor at New York University, testified Thursday and Friday and told the judge he had found “no evidence whatsoever for any accounting fraud.”
Asked about discrepancies between Trump’s financial figures and much lower values used by one of the lenders whom James said he and his company deceived, Bartov said, “This is not fraud or an error, because they use a different definition of value.”
He added that valuations are subjective and that the bank and others who used the financial statements were aware they had to do their own due diligence. “My analysis shows the statements of financial condition for all the years were not materially misstated,” Bartov said.
He acknowledged that he has been paid $875,000 to date by the Trump Organization and Trump’s Save America PAC for his work on the case. Asked whether that affected his testimony, he said, “No.”
Bartov was the 19th defense witness to testify in the trial, which began Oct. 2. He’ll also be the last. The AG’s office was scheduled to continue its cross-examination of him after Trump’s testimony.
The AG’s office is expected to have two rebuttal witnesses testify for its case after Bartov is done. After that, both sides will be able to submit filings to the judge explaining why they believe they’ve proven their cases and will then return to court for closing arguments on Jan. 11.
Engoron has said he expects it will take him a few weeks to issue his ruling.