Trump’s lawyers mount bid to toss out fraud lawsuit
Donald Trump's lawyers have asked Justice Arthur Engoron for a "directed verdict". Photo: AAP
Donald Trump’s lawyers have asked a New York judge to decide a civil fraud case against the former US president in his favour, a long-shot bid coming midway through a trial that threatens to hobble his real estate empire.
The request to effectively end the case came in open court a day after the New York attorney-general’s office rested its case against Trump, his two adult sons and 10 of his companies.
New York Attorney-General Letitia James claims Trump and his family businesses manipulated the value of his golf courses, hotels and other assets by billions of dollars to secure better deals with lenders and insurers and lighten his tax bill.
Trump’s lawyers asked Justice Arthur Engoron for a “directed verdict”, a finding that no one could reasonably rule in favour of the opposing party.
Engoron is unlikely to grant the request as he has already concluded that Trump and 10 of his businesses committed persistent fraud.
However, Engoron’s ruling covered only one of the seven fraud counts Trump faces.
It is not clear when Engoron will rule on their request.
The trial is expected to continue until mid-December if the motion is denied.
Trump, his sons Donald Jr. and Eric and his daughter Ivanka have all testified that they delegated the financial statements at the heart of the case to accountants although evidence introduced in the trial shows they were all involved to some extent.
Ivanka, unlike the others, is not a defendant in the case.
A lawyer for the attorney-general’s office, Kevin Wallace, said they could not avoid responsibility.
“Each of the defendants signed documents saying that they were responsible for the preparation of the statements. That’s the heart of the case,” Wallace said.
James is seeking at least $US250 million ($390 million) in penalties as well as restrictions that would effectively bar Trump and his adult sons from the New York real estate business for five years.
Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has repeatedly accused James, an elected Democrat, and the judge overseeing the trial of political bias and “election interference”.
In defiant and rambling testimony on Monday, Trump acknowledged that his asset valuations were sometimes inaccurate but said they were not relevant to banks and insurers.
Trump’s lawyer Christopher Kise built on that argument on Thursday, saying banks that did business with the Trump Organisation profited from the loans.
“There’s no victim. There’s no complainant. There’s no injury. All of that is established now,” Kise said.
He also said Trump’s financial statements had clear disclaimers advising banks to independently verify the valuations.
Engoron was skeptical of that argument, which he has rejected in prior rulings.
“You seem to be saying the fact that somebody says, ‘Don’t believe me’… proves that they’re not lying?” he said.
Kise responded that it would make no sense for Trump to tell banks to “do their own homework” if he was trying to dupe them.
The fraud trial is one of several legal battles Trump faces as he mounts a comeback bid for the White House.
He is a defendant in four criminal trials, including two stemming from his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss.
Despite that, he holds a commanding lead over his rivals for the Republican 2024 presidential nomination.