Former President Donald Trump denounced the civil fraud case over his business practices as a politically motivated "scam" as he arrived defiantly for a trial in the lawsuit, which could cost him control of Trump Tower and other prized properties.
"This is a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time," he said as he made a voluntary trip to a New York court for a trial that has high stakes for him.
"It's a scam. It's a sham," the Republican said, reiterating claims that New York Attorney General Letitia James' suit is a politically motivated attempt to thwart his return to the White House.
"What we have here is an attempt to hurt me in an election," he charged, adding: "I don't think the people of this country are going to stand for it."
He looked away from James, a Democrat, as he passed her on the way into court, with a disgusted look on his face.
The suit accuses Trump and his company of deceiving banks, insurers and others by habitually lying about his wealth in financial statements.
Judge Arthur Engoron already has ruled Trump committed fraud in his business dealings. It is a non-jury trial, so Engoron will decide on six other claims in the lawsuit.
James, a Democrat, is seeking $250 million in penalties and a ban on Trump doing business in New York. The judge's ruling last week, if upheld on appeal, could force Trump to give up New York properties including Trump Tower, a Wall Street office building, golf courses and a suburban estate.
Trump, the Republican front-runner in the 2024 presidential race, has denied wrongdoing. He says that James and the judge are undervaluing such assets as Mar-a-Lago, and that it did not matter what he put on his financial statements because they have a disclaimer that says they should not be trusted.
"No matter how much money you think you may have, no one is above the law," James told reporters before entering the courtroom. "The law is both powerful and fragile. And today in court will prove our case."
Trump plans to attend the first week of trial in state court in Manhattan, according to a court filing in an unrelated case.
Trump lashed out in his posts at James, who is suing him, and Engoron, who is presiding over the non-jury trial and already made the fraud ruling against Trump last week.
"THIS WHOLE CASE IS SHAM!!!" Trump wrote. "See you in Court — Monday morning."
The trial is the culmination of a yearslong investigation by James, who accused Trump and his company of habitually lying about his wealth in financial statements.
Last week, Engoron resolved the lawsuit's top claim before the trial even began, ruling Trump routinely deceived banks, insurers and others by exaggerating the value of assets on paperwork used in making deals and securing loans.
The former president and a who's who of people in his orbit — his two eldest sons, Trump Organization executives and former lawyer-turned-foe Michael Cohen are all listed among dozens of potential witnesses.
Trump is not expected to testify for several weeks. His trip to court Monday will mark a remarkable departure from his past practice.
Trump did not come to court as either a witness or a spectator when his company and one of its top executives was convicted of tax fraud last year. He did not show, either, for a trial earlier this year in which a jury found him liable for sexually assaulting the writer E. Jean Carroll in a department store dressing room.
In some ways, though, this new trial comes with higher stakes.
James, a Democrat, is seeking $250 million in penalties and a ban on doing business in New York.
Engoron's ruling last week, if upheld on appeal, would also shift control of some of his companies to a court-appointed receiver and could force him to give up prized New York properties such as Trump Tower, a Wall Street office building, golf courses and a suburban estate.
Trump called it a "a corporate death penalty."
"I have a Deranged, Trump Hating Judge, who RAILROADED this FAKE CASE through a NYS Court at a speed never before seen," Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform.
In his posts Sunday night, Trump wrote Engoron is "unfair, unhinged, and vicious in his PURSUIT of me."
Engoron will decide on six remaining claims in James' lawsuit, including allegations of conspiracy, falsifying business records and insurance fraud.
James' lawsuit accused Trump and his company of a long list of fibs in the financial statements he gave to banks. In a recent court filing, James' office alleged Trump exaggerated his wealth by as much as $3.6 billion.
Among the allegations were that Trump claimed his Trump Tower apartment in Manhattan — a three-story penthouse replete with gold-plated fixtures — was nearly three times its actual size and worth an astounding $327 million. No apartment in New York City has ever sold for close to that amount, James said.
Trump valued Mar-a-Lago as high as $739 million — which James claimed, without evidence, was more than 10 times than it is worth. Trump's figure for the private club and residence was based on the idea that the property, now a private club, could be developed for residential use, but deed terms prohibit that, James argued.
Trump has denied wrongdoing, arguing in sworn testimony for the case that his financial statements have a disclaimer that says the estimates are subjective and people should conduct their own appraisals.
He and his lawyers have also argued no one was harmed by anything in the financial statements, banks he borrowed money from were fully repaid, business partners made money, and Trump's own company flourished.
James' lawsuit is one of several legal hurdles hoisted on Trump by Democrat-funding prosecutors as he campaigns for a return to the White House in next year's election. He has been indicted four times since March, including on his challenge of the 2020 presidential election, retention of classified presidential documents, and allegedly falsifying business records related to hush money paid on his behalf.
The trial could last into December, Engoron said.
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