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Former President Donald Trump is set to testify in New York fraud trial

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump is set to testify in a New York courtroom today.

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Yeah. He's accused of conspiracy to falsify his property values. Trump's adult sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr., testified last week.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

DONALD TRUMP JR: I'm apparently guilty of fraud for relying on my accountants to do - wait for it - accounting.

MARTÍNEZ: At stake is $250 million in penalties and a potential ban of doing business in the state of New York.

MARTIN: NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been following all of this, and she's with us now, once again, to tell us what to expect today. Good morning, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So why is Donald Trump testifying?

BERNSTEIN: Even before the trial began, the judge in the case ruled that Trump and his co-defendants, including his three oldest children, are liable for persistent and repeated fraud. The Trumps, the judge found, lied over and over about their property values in order to get better loans and insurance rates and avoid paying taxes. But there are still six more causes of action to rule on, including conspiracy charges and insurance fraud, and most importantly, how much Trump will have to pay. Because this is a civil case, the New York Attorney General's office can question Trump about his knowledge of the scheme. And if he avoids answering or answers in a way the judge finds is untruthful, that can be used against him.

MARTIN: That would seem to be risky for Mr. Trump.

BERNSTEIN: Yes. And already in this case, the former president was unexpectedly required to take the stand, and it did not go well. This was a couple of weeks ago, during the testimony of Michael Cohen, who described how Trump would repeatedly ask him to reverse engineer property values to get the values up to where he wanted. Outside the courtroom, Trump attacked, quote, "a person who's very partisan sitting alongside" the judge. Trump had already been fined and given a gag order for going after the judge's clerk, so the judge put Trump on the witness stand and asked Trump about that. Trump insisted he was talking about Cohen, not the clerk, but the judge found this, quote, "hollow and untrue and not credible" and fined Trump again. If the judge finds Trump not credible today, that could really work against him.

MARTIN: And what's Trump's defense to all of this?

BERNSTEIN: We've got a window into his likely testimony because of a deposition he gave last April. In it, he repeatedly referred to his golf courses and developments as Mona Lisa properties with the worth set by the beholder. For example, Mar-A-Lago, he said, could fetch over $1 billion, when he paid $18 million. The Saudis, he said, would pay big money for a golf course in Turnberry, Scotland and so on. But one of the biggest lines of defense he kept repeating is this - he referred to what he called a worthless clause in the statements of financial condition. That is a disclaimer that says banks should do their own appraisals. So whatever he - Donald Trump - attested to, he argued, didn't matter because the banks and other parties should have checked his work.

MARTIN: Interesting. So that's the legal defense. Are there any other arguments we would expect him to make or we should expect him to make?

BERNSTEIN: In his deposition, Trump kept talking about how the attorney general should be fighting violent crime, not suing him. He said that's what's bringing values down in New York. And his legal team spent a good deal of the end of the testimony last week attacking, again, the judge's clerk. They got a gag order for that. It's a way of undermining confidence in the proceeding that could all but end Trump's ability to do business in New York and force him to fork over hundreds of millions of dollars.

MARTIN: Briefly, what's next?

BERNSTEIN: Trump's testimony is scheduled for just one day. Ivanka Trump testifies Wednesday, and then the AG rests her case. After that, defense witnesses.

MARTIN: That is NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Andrea, Thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Andrea Bernstein