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Highlights: Trump civil fraud trial is over; judge aims for decision by Jan. 31

The past year saw Donald Trump on trial twice, indicted four times and hit with a multimillion-dollar civil verdict while also fighting off other legal challenges and running for president; his 2024 court calendar could be even more chaotic.

The former president faces up to five separate trials in the new year and verdicts in two civil cases that could cost him and his business hundreds of millions of dollars. In the four criminal cases, he faces 91 felony counts, including some on charges that carry maximum prison terms of 20 years.

Only one of the impending trial dates appears to be set in stone: that of the civil damages trial in a defamation case brought by writer E. Jean Carroll, which is scheduled to start Jan. 16. That’s one day after the Iowa caucuses, in which Trump is leading in the polls and has predicted an “epic landslide” victory.

The trial dates for the four pending criminal cases are all in flux thanks to Trump appeals and efforts to delay them until after the election, but it’s possible he could stand trial as early as March in either the federal election interference case in Washington, D.C., or the Manhattan district attorney’s case in New York alleging falsified business records.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in the criminal cases and has denied wrongdoing in the civil cases. He maintains all the cases are “election interference” and has sought to delay the criminal cases until after the 2024 elections.

Here’s a look at the statuses of the biggest pending cases.

Read the full story here.

Here’s what you may have missed since testimony ended in mid-December.

James demanded $370 million in fines against Trump and his companies as well as a lifetime ban on the former president and two former company executives from the state’s real estate industry.

The proposed fines include $168 million in interest allegedly saved through fraud; $152 million from the sale of the Old Post Office building in Washington, D.C., the site of one of Trump’s former hotels; $60 million through the transfer of the contract for Trump’s former Ferry Point golf course in the Bronx borough of New York; and $2.5 million from severance agreements for former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Howard Weisselberg and ex-Trump Organization controller Jeff McConney.

A heated exchange ensued between Engoron and Trump’s lawyers after the former president asked to deliver some of the closing arguments himself. Engoron rejected the request yesterday and released an email chain with Trump attorney Chris Kise and James’ office. It showed that Kise first told Engoron of Trump’s request in an email last Thursday, and Andrew Amer of the AG’s office swiftly opposed the idea.

“Allowing Mr. Trump to participate in closing arguments would effectively grant him an opportunity to testify without being subject to cross-examination,” Amer wrote.

Engoron replied the next day, saying he was “inclined” to allow Trump to speak because he was the person with “by far the most at stake” — but Trump must stick to speaking about the evidence and could not “testify,” “comment on irrelevant matters,” “deliver a campaign speech” or “impugn myself, my staff, plaintiff, plaintiff’s staff or the New York State Court System.”

Kise replied Tuesday that Trump could not agree to those conditions and asked Engoron to reconsider. Engoron said Trump would be free to comment “on the arguments of an opposing party or counsel, but may not seek to impugn their character.”

After Kise did not meet the deadline to respond, Engoron denied the request for a delay in the closing arguments. Kise replied that Trump would still attend closing arguments and planned to speak; Engoron then reiterated that Trump could speak only if he agreed to the conditions he outlined, which Kise replied was “very unfair.”

At that point, Engoron seemed to have had enough: “Take it or leave it. Now or never,” he told Kise. Engoron gave Kise seven minutes to agree to his terms, but Kise did not respond, prompting Engoron to say he wouldn’t allow Trump to testify.

James made brief remarks this evening after the trial concluded, saying she was unbothered by Trump’s personal attacks and that the case was only about the law.

“This case has never been about politics or personal vendetta or about name-calling. This case is about the facts and the law, and Mr. Trump violated the law,” James said.

She added that her office had produced evidence showing the scope of the illegality and fraud that she said enriched Trump and his family.

James’ remarks were under two minutes and she did not take questions from reporters.

Trump’s civil fraud trial is over.

Attorneys for the AG’s office finished their closing arguments shortly before 5 p.m. ET.

Engoron said he will try to have a final decision by Jan. 31, adding that there is “no guarantee” on that timing.

Engoron interrupted closing arguments from the prosecution this afternoon to say that their post-trial brief did not show much evidence that Eric and Don Jr. knew there was fraud.

The interruption came as Amer was arguing that Eric and Don Jr. “did not do anything to fulfill their responsibilities,” and that a decision they allegedly made to leave statements of financial condition with Weisselberg and McConney and not Hawthorne demonstrated their intent to defraud and inflate their father’s net worth.

Amer argued for the AG’s office that the “buck stops” with Trump when it comes to the former president’s alleged intent to defraud.

“He was the one responsible for the preparation and the buck stops with him,” Amer said, adding that Trump had personally signed bank certifications “so he clearly knew the statements were being used to satisfy the loan guarantees and was important to make sure net worth was high as possible.”

The closing arguments by the attorney general’s staff have resumed.

The court has taken another break.

In response to a comment from Wallace calling Trump’s witnesses “a murderers’ row” of experts, Kise objected and expressed outrage.

“You talk about me and my client like that? This is outrageous,” Kise said.

Engoron then asked if Wallace was actually accusing them of murder and Wallace said he was making a baseball reference to a good lineup of hitters.

Speaking to reporters in the lobby of his building at 40 Wall St., the former president dismissed New York Attorney General Letitia James’ case against him, his business and his family members who are defendants in the lawsuit.

Trump called James “a political hack” and said the prosecutors “don’t have any facts … they don’t have any evidence against it.” He said that James has “serious Trump derangement syndrome.”

“We won this case already in the Court of Appeals,” Trump said, adding that Engoron “has been very, very slow to accept that opinion because that’s not the opinion that he wants.”

“It’s a witch hunt in the truest sense of the word. It’s election interference,” said Trump, who suggested that it’s a “conspiracy” to get Biden re-elected.

“It’s like we’re a third-world country, a banana republic,” he said.

Taking several questions from reporters at the end, Trump said that he plans to “go to all of my trials,” including the classified documents case. He said he did “nothing wrong” when it came to taking records from the White House back to Mar-a-Lago.

At the end of the press availability, a number of Trump supporters were cheering for him in the lobby of his building.

Trump is speaking now and has already commented on several of the cases that he is facing, lumping the criminal and civil cases together to argue they are politically motivated.

Trump has departed the New York courthouse and is headed to his news conference.

The lawyers are back in the courtroom for the second half of closing arguments.

Trump will hold a news conference at 2:30 p.m. ET at his property at 40 Wall St.

That will mean Trump won’t be in the courtroom while the attorney general’s office gives its closing arguments.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump and his lawyers Christopher Kise and Alina Habba attend the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on Jan. 11, 2024.Former President Donald Trump speaks today at the closing arguments in his civil fraud trial.Christine Cornell

Trump went on — without any interruption from Engoron or James’ team — and attacked James, accusing her of election interference.

“You have your own agenda,” Trump angrily said to Engoron. “You can’t listen for more than one minute!”

There may be a reason that James’ staff didn’t interrupt. The AG’s office may have struck gold because some of what Trump said was so damaging to him, especially his explanation of the triplex square footage “error.”

Lawyer Kise asked for permission to have Trump speak.

Engoron replied, “Do you promise to just comment on the facts and the law?”

Trump started talking immediately without agreeing.

Speaking from the table sitting next to his lawyers, Trump denied all wrongdoing while Engoron quietly listened.

Trump maintained that banks “got all their money back” and “they weren’t defrauded” while repeating his call to receive damages “for what we’ve gone through.”

The former president accused James’ office of not providing one document proving her allegations that he had inflated his financial statements and argued that the case presents a “situation where I’m an innocent man.”

“The legal scholars looking at this case find it disgraceful,” he said, adding, “This is a fraud on me.”

Trump continued railing against James, saying, “The person in the room right now hates Trump.”

“They found nothing and now she comes in and says she wants to make a $250 million fine a [$370 million], for what?!” he said, adding that James has her own agenda and “can’t listen for more than one minute.”

Engoron directly asked Trump: “Haven’t you been sued before? Isn’t that a problem?”

“They should pay me for what we’ve gone through — reputation and else,” Trump said.

The attorney general’s office will begin closing arguments when the court resumes at a little after 2 p.m.

Cliff Robert, presenting the defense argument for Trump’s sons, has less than 15 minutes, but he’s focused: No witness has testified to Eric Trump or Donald Trump Jr. having anything more than “peripheral involvement” with the statements of financial condition, he argues.

Robert says his clients should not lose their ability to do business on the basis of those statements of financial condition, which he argues are either accurate or contain non-material, unintended mistakes.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump and his lawyer Alina Habba attend the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on Jan. 11, 2024.Former U.S. President Donald Trump and his lawyer Alina Habba attend the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on Jan. 11, 2024.Christine Cornell

Alina Habba, pacing the well of the courtroom, says the case started before James was elected and points at the attorney general. Engoron reminds her to stick to the facts, which she says she is trying to do, but that James’ conduct is part of the factual record.

James has not proven her case in the six weeks of trial, Habba argues, and repeats the defense’s allegation that Cohen lied on the stand.

She then focuses on Weisselberg and McConney, whom she represents, and says the attorney general used them as “pawns” because “they can’t get to the president.”

Weisselberg is “one of the saddest stories,” Habba says. “It’s all part of an agenda” to abuse a “faithful employee” by naming him as a defendant. There are no emails to prove what the AG says happened, so they tried to intimidate Weisselberg and McConney, she alleges.

She turns to the claims of insurance fraud. The employee at the insurance company, Zurich, on whose testimony the AG relies, admitted she did not understand the difference between an appraisal and a valuation, Habba says.

Zurich also continues to write bonds to the Trump Organization without statements of financial condition. They wrote seven alone in 2023. How then was this “sophisticated” highly regulated entity defrauded?

If McConney was “overly aggressive in valuations,” why did he independently decide to use more conservative figures at points in time they don’t critique, she asks.

Before we get to the attorney general’s closing argument, Cliff Robert and Alina Habba, who represent other Trump defendants, including Eric and Don Jr., will get limited time to pile on. But after lunch, when we do hear from the AG, these are the issues on which their response matters most to me:

1 — A theme throughout Kise’s presentation is that no one, least of all Deutsche Bank, was hurt by any valuation “discrepancies.” And Kise was right that the Deutsche Bank witnesses here were largely uncomplaining; at best, they helped establish that by 2017, the bank’s risk tolerance had changed and that Trump was no longer a candidate for big-time loans. The statute under which the AG is seeking relief doesn’t require a victim, but this case has consumed serious taxpayer resources as well as the AG’s own attention, as demonstrated by her frequent trial attendance. So how will the AG’s team explain whose interests are served by disabling, or even dismantling, Trump Inc.?

2 — The most compelling back and forth between Judge Engoron, who largely let Kise argue uninterrupted, was about the materiality of the exaggerations in the statements of financial condition. Materiality is a required element of some of the remaining claims, and Kise insisted that the measure of what’s material is what Deutsche Bank itself considered important enough to change its lending decisions. Engoron took umbrage at that, suggesting strongly that as a legal matter, materiality is defined by what an average participant in the market would consider important. Expect the AG to push back and hard on this one.

3 — Lastly, while an appellate court has established that July 2014 is the beginning of the statute of limitations here, what exactly that means in practice is less clear. Kise asserted that the statute of limitations ruling means that no transaction completed before July 2014 can be considered either in terms of the claims themselves or play into the relief granted, but even if they were, those certifications were meaningless in the years rightfully at issue. The AG’s office, for its part, insists that certifications signed by Trump in successive years nonetheless are proof of fraud. How will they respond? Watch this space.

The defense will resume arguments afterward.

In brief remarks to reporters outside of court, Trump maintained that the civil case against him is unfair and bashed James, saying the trial is part of her “publicity to run for office.”

“This is a case that should have never been brought, and I think we should be entitled to damages,” he said.

Kise is arguing that the AG’s disgorgement request would be a “double dip” with respect to the Old Post Office in Washington, D.C. They can’t say the interest rate was too low and seek to claw back Trump’s savings, and then, on the back end, demand his profits from the sale of the lease of that same property — something that occurred to me in reading the briefs.

The amount of money at issue is not inconsequential. Trump’s profits from the sale of that lease was roughly $139 million; the adult children, for their part, each received around $4 million.

As for the $60 million the AG is seeking from Trump’s transfer of the Ferry Point golf course, there was no corresponding loan at issue. The disgorgement sought is based on Trump’s failure to submit a “no material adverse change” letter, for which the contract itself specifies a monetary penalty.

Kise said the attorney general’s proposed fines are based on sheer speculation and argues the banks were satisfied with Trump’s financial statements.

That prompted Engoron to counter, “You’re supposed to disgorge profits” from ill-gotten gains, but there doesn’t have to be evidence of harm to a third person.

Kise disagreed: “They still have to demonstrate some harm, that President Trump got something that he otherwise wouldn’t have received.”

Kise added there was no proof that the loan terms would have been different.

Kise is now arguing that none of the valuation discrepancies was material. The certifications, he notes, advertise that they present a fair reflection of Trump’s financial condition in “all material respects.”

But Kise insists that the AG has gotten materiality wrong. It should be measured by what would have been material to the real-life end user — here, Deutsche Bank — and not what the AG believes should or should not be material.

What counts, he says, is Deutsche Bank’s credit memos, which show that Deutsche Bank adjusted Trump’s net worth even by billions of dollars and must not have considered the difference material because they lent to him anyway.

Engoron interrupts. “Isn’t the standard of materiality based on the normal, average person” or financial institution, not the specific end user of a piece of financial information? (An aside: Engoron is correctly citing the law.)

Kise went on to attack former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, calling him a serial liar who pleaded guilty to lying to Congress.

Trump’s attorney alleged that Cohen said Trump asked Allen Weisselberg to change the statements of financial condition and then admitted that Trump didn’t direct him to inflate the numbers.

Cohen’s testimony about Trump instructing him and Weisselberg to inflate the values in the statements of financial condition — even if Engoron believes it — was never corroborated by other witness or documents.

Kise also said Cohen hates Trump and makes money trashing Trump.

Kise has repeatedly emphasized this morning that certain testimony has been unrebutted. Engoron, during a pause, makes clear that the law does not require him to credit that testimony, even if unrebutted. Kise pushes back, insisting that without a reply, how can Engoron assess the veracity of testimony or credibility of the witness?

Trump is sitting up in his chair listening intently as his lawyer, Chris Kise, is presenting arguments. Kise is standing at a lectern directly in front of the judge and is using a large computer monitor for his notes. The documents he is referring to are being shown on a large TV screen to the gallery. The big monitor is right in front of the attorney general.

Trump attorney Chris Kise is delivering closing arguments. He lamented the lack of a jury. (His lawyers agreed to a bench trial, but it became a point of contention early in the process.)

Kise said that not a single witness in the trial has testified that Trump and his company committed fraud, that banks lost money or that the certifications affected the loan terms.

The only witness James’ office has cited, Kise argues, is Michael Cohen.

This is “a manufactured claim to pursue a political agenda,” Kise said.

Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on Jan. 11, 2024.Former U.S. President Donald Trump attends the closing arguments in the Trump Organization civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on Jan. 11, 2024.Christine Cornell

Moreover, as Kise turns to the purported lack of evidence of intent, he is not citing the testimony of any individual defendants or even Trump Org. employees.

Instead, they are principally relying on the testimony of two accounting experts, Eli Bartov and Jason Flemmons, who essentially testified that the valuations were, to their mind, devoid of indicia of fraud and were compliant with certain accounting standards at issue in the case.

It’s highly instructive that Kise’s first argument in closing is about what transactions and events are properly considered given a prior appellate ruling on the statute of limitations. That’s because they know they’ve lost and their priority is reducing the size of the fines. In fact, that part is so important to them that they argued it before arguing about the alleged lack of proof of the defendants’ intent.

While awaiting the daily parade of news photographers, who come in to take shots of the parties and judge, Engoron joked, “I see the usual mixture of anticipation and dread” on the faces of those assembled.

The judge’s principal law clerk is still seated to his immediate right and within easy arm’s length, as she has been throughout the trial.

Speaking to reporters outside of the courthouse, Trump repeated his accusation that the civil fraud case against him is part of an effort to interfere with his presidential campaign.

“It’s election interference at the highest level,” he said, before alleging without evidence that President Joe Biden and the White House are behind the trial “because he can’t win an election fairly.”

Trump said he will hold a news conference after closing arguments, pointing to Engoron’s rejection of his request to speak because “I will say things he doesn’t want to hear.”

“I am hoping to speak to help my lawyers reveal all the defects of this case,” he said.

“We’ll see whether or not the judge allows me to speak, perhaps he won’t but I certainly would like to.”

Testimony in Trump’s civil fraud trial went for 44 days and featured 25 witnesses for the attorney general’s office, 19 defense witnesses and two rebuttal witnesses — fewer than were originally proposed.

Along the way were plenty of spectacles, with testimony from the former president and his family members, gag orders, fines, angry exchanges and dramatic showdowns.

While James’ office set out to show financial statements Trump used to get favorable loans from banks were steeped in fraud, with grossly inflated values, Trump’s team argued he did nothing wrong, saying the statements were largely accurate and that any mistakes weren’t his fault.

Here’s a look at some key testimony from the trial.

Read the full story here.

Trump is in the courtroom, escorted by his son Eric, who is sitting in the first row of the gallery. Trump adviser Boris Epshteyn is here as well.

Anti-Trump protesters blocked traffic outside the New York City courthouse where closing arguments will be held in the civil fraud trial against the former president.

Trump’s motorcade arrived on Pearl Street on the side of the courthouse. Moments earlier, the former president wrote that he was on his way.

“Heading down to the Unconstitutional Witch Hunt in Lower Manhattan. ELECTION INTERFERENCE!!!” he wrote.

James arrived moments ago at the courthouse in New York for closing arguments, entering by the front steps. She did not answer questions, but waved at the cameras.

Protesters outside of the courthouse were heard chanting, “Thank you, Tish.”

Police on Long Island responded Thursday morning to a bomb threat at the home of Judge Arthur Engoron, who is presiding over former President Donald Trump’s civil fraud case, a source with direct knowledge of the situation told NBC News.

The threat came hours before closing arguments in the trial were scheduled to begin, with those arguments expected to proceed.

A Nassau County bomb squad was called to Engoron’s home and was investigating Thursday morning; it is unclear whether Engoron was home at the time. 

Read the full story here.

Closing arguments will be presented in Trump’s civil fraud case, in which James as contented that the former president used fraudulent tactics to inflate his net worth with the intent of obtaining more favorable loan and insurance rates.

In previous testimony, Trump and executives at the Trump Organization denied the inflation of his financial statements, saying that the judge should rule in their favor because such valuations are subjective. But Engoron had already ruled last month that he did not buy their arguments.

Engoron has said he expects to issue a written decision with his findings in the following weeks.

Trump is likely to appeal the trial verdict.

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