Trump attends his civil fraud trial Thursday

Former President Donald Trump attended the trial Thursday in the $250 million civil fraud lawsuit against him in New York and watched intently as an accounting expert for his defense said the case against him and his company did not have any merit, while a state appeals court halted a ruling that could be disastrous for his company from taking effect any time soon.

“Today was a very good day,” Trump said after Thursday’s court proceedings.

Speaking to reporters on his way into the courtroom in the morning, Trump decried the trial as a “witch hunt” and “very corrupt” and insisted: “We did nothing wrong. There were no victims. The bank loves us. The bank testified they love us. We did absolutely nothing wrong. We never even defaulted. We never had a default letter sent to us. The bank said we were perfect customers. The bank didn’t even know why they were here.”

The former president also called New York Attorney General Letitia James, who is suing the Trumps and their company for allegedly inflating financial statements by billions of dollars, a “lunatic.” “The attorney general sits here because she knows that she has a judge that no matter all the evidence, that judge is going to rule in her favor,” he said, referring to Judge Arthur Engoron. James, who’d been in court for all of Trump’s other appearances, was not there Thursday morning.

On the witness stand for the defense was Eli Bartov, an accounting professor at New York University. Bartov, who has previously testified in court as an expert over a dozen times, including for the federal government, said there was nothing wrong with Trump’s financial statements and contended it was the AG’s conclusions about the statements that were flawed.

“My main finding is that there is no evidence whatsoever for any accounting fraud,” he said, adding that “my analysis shows the statements of financial condition for all the years were not materially misstated.”

The judge asked him whether his expert opinion from an accounting perspective was that the AG’s claims had no merit. “Absolutely,” he replied.

Trump lawyer Jesus Suarez asked Bartov about a glaring example of a material misstatement the AG’s office cited in its lawsuit: that the company claimed Trump’s triplex apartment was three times more valuable than it was because it had listed its size as over 30,000 square feet when it was 10,000 square feet.

Bartov acknowledged the valuation was wrong but said “it was an error” that was later corrected and could have been “inadvertent or accidental.”

An angry Kevin Wallace of the AG’s office later told the judge that Bartov’s testimony was “pure speculation from someone they hired to say what they want.” Bartov told Wallace, “You should be ashamed of yourself, talking to me like that. I’m here to tell the truth.”

In his July deposition in the case, Bartov said his hourly rate was $1,350 and that the defense had paid him roughly $520,000 at that point for his work, which included two reports on Trump’s finances.

Trump listened intently to Bartov’s testimony and seemed to be in a much better mood during the midmorning break than when he arrived. He told reporters that Bartov is “a very strong witness, a very powerful witness and a highly respected person.”

Bartov is due back on the stand Friday. After his testimony wrapped up Thursday, Trump lawyer Alina Habba said the accountant showed that Trump “didn’t conceal anything” and that the AG’s case was “garbage.”

Trump also celebrated a decision Thursday from a panel of state Appellate Division judges pausing Engoron’s pretrial order dissolving some of Trump’s businesses as a result of his finding that he and his company had engaged in “persistent fraud.”

The ruling means the stay that had previously been put in place, and that was agreed to by the AG’s office, will remain until the full court hears and rules on Trump’s appeal, which most likely won’t be until sometime next year, after the fraud trial has concluded. Engoron has said he plans to issue his findings and verdict by the end of January.

Trump called the appeals court decision “very powerful” and “a very good ruling. We appreciate it. I think the country appreciates it.”

Trump attorney Chris Kise said in a statement, “The ruling helps pave the way for a much needed, and deliberative, review of the trial court’s many errors.”

Trump appeared to be in a good mood following the developments and joked around with one of the courtroom sketch artists. “That’s me?” he said, looking at the artist’s sketch. “I think I have to lose some weight.”

The former president is expected to testify Monday as the defense’s last witness. He also testified Nov. 6.

Eric Trump, the former president’s son, backed out of testifying Wednesday as one of the final witnesses. The reversal came because “everything Eric was going to cover was covered by other witnesses,” Alan Garten, the Trump Organization’s executive vice president, told NBC News.

Eric Trump had previously testified as a witness during the AG’s part of the case. Two of the former president’s other children, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump, have also testified.

In a post Tuesday night on his social media platform, Truth Social, Trump said he’d directed his son not to testify. “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 (us!).”

Donald Trump’s own testimony last month quickly went off the rails as he hurled attacks against the judge and the lawyers in the case, whom he decried as “unfair,” dodged questions and repeatedly went on tangents. Trump also got into heated exchanges with Engoron from the stand after the judge excoriated him for giving unresponsive answers. Engoron called on Trump’s lawyers to “control him” and warned that “this isn’t a political rally.”

Trump has repeatedly made disparaging remarks about the judge, his law clerk and the lack of a jury in the trial. Trump has accused James and Engoron of engaging in an election interference effort amid his presidential campaign and denied that he had inflated property values.

“He rambled, he hurled insults, but we expected that,” James said after Trump concluded his testimony last month. She alleges the evidence shows Trump inflated his financial statements to enrich himself and his family and predicted “justice will be served.”

After the conclusion of his testimony last month, Trump told reporters inside the courthouse that he thought “it went very well” and that he had shown what a “scam” the case was. “I think it’s a very sad day for America. But anyway, this is a case that should have never been brought and it’s a case that should be immediately dismissed,” he said.

Engoron issued a partial gag order on Trump in October after the former president made a series of negative public remarks about his law clerk, smearing her while repeatedly accusing her of being “biased” and improperly influencing the judge. Engoron has said he has the “absolute unfettered right” to consult with his clerk.

Trump was fined twice for violating the gag order, which Engoron later expanded to include Trump’s lawyers after, he said, they made “on the record, repeated, inappropriate remarks” about his principal law clerk.

Trump’s lawyers have appealed the gag order, which applies only to remarks about the judge’s staff, arguing it is preventing Trump from being able to “talk about why he’s not getting a fair trial in New York.”

The ruling was initially paused by a state appeals court, but it was reinstated last week after court officials argued it was necessary because of the “deluge” of threats directed at the law clerk after the former president renewed his attacks on her on social media.

In a filing with the appeals court Wednesday, a lawyer for Engoron maintained the order is necessary to keep his staff safe.

“It is undisputed that Mr. Trump has an inordinate ability to draw attention, fervor, and animosity to those he singles out for attention,” the filing said. “Whether he seeks it or not, some of Mr. Trump’s followers are willing to engage in violence to show their support.”

The filing said Trump’s team made “no argument” in support of his claim that the gag order violates the former president’s First Amendment rights. “It is unclear, however, how his ability to talk about Justice Engoron’s court staff is necessary for his campaign when this country faces a number of issues more worthy of debate,” the filing added.

In court Tuesday, Kise asked the judge whether Trump’s testimony could be delayed until after his appeal on the gag order is decided. The judge denied the request. “Nice try,” he told Kise.