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Takeaways from the 11-week Trump civil fraud trial

By Jeremy Herb, Lauren del Valle and Kara Scannell, CNN

New York (CNN) — Testimony in Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial concluded on Wednesday in New York, capping an 11-week saga that could decide the fate of the former president’s business empire.

The drama in and out of the courtroom offered a preview of Trump’s criminal trials slated to begin next year. Trump used the hallways, flanked with cameras, outside of the courtroom to campaign and rail against the case and throw barbs at New York Attorney General Letitia James and Judge Arthur Engoron.

Trump also was hit with a gag order after attacking one of the judge’s clerks.

Before the trial began, Engoron found Trump and his co-defendants were liable for fraud; the trial would determine what they could owe in improper gains and six additional claims brought by the attorney general. The attorney general is seeking more than $250 million and to bar the Trumps from doing business in the state.  

A final ruling won’t come until next year.

On the last day of the trial, Engoron began the court session by reminiscing on the spectacle of the past 11 weeks.

“In a strange way, I’m gonna miss this trial,” the judge said. “It’s been an experience.”

Here’s what to know:

Trump’s trial sets tone for 2024

Though it is not a criminal case, Trump took the allegations in the civil fraud allegations personally, as they hit directly at his business and his brand. When in the Manhattan courthouse, he would nearly always speak to television cameras at breaks while entering and exiting the courtroom.

That gave Trump a perch to attack the civil trial – and the four criminal indictments against him – and connect all of the charges to his campaign for president. Trump has made his legal peril part of his pitch to voters to return him to the White House, and the courthouses where he’s appeared have become part of the 2024 campaign trial.

The former president testified as one of the attorney general’s final witnesses. In his testimony, he acknowledged there were some errors on his financial statements, but he mostly took the opportunity on the stand to turn the courtroom itself into a de facto campaign rally, repeating the same rhetoric he uses at campaign stops.

“This is a political witch hunt and I think she should be ashamed of herself,” Trump said of James.

“The fraud is on the court, not on me,” Trump said.

Engoron grew angry with Trump’s answers, at one point threatening to have him removed as a witness for being non-responsive. But eventually, Engoron gave up trying to control Trump – both he and Kevin Wallace, a lawyer for the attorney general, let Trump rant while slogging through Wallace’s questions.

After one particularly long monologue, Wallace asked Trump: “Done?”

“Done,” Trump said.

Tension inside the courtroom

Inside the courtroom, the tension rose every time Trump was in attendance, drawing raised voices by attorneys on both sides with accusations flying between them.

Memorably, Trump and his former personal attorney Michael Cohen came eye-to-eye for the first time in five years as Cohen took the stand to testify against his former boss.

The former long-time Trump Organization controller Jeff McConney, who is also a defendant, broke down in tears on the witness stand, throwing his hands in the air while explaining that he left the Trump Organization because he couldn’t take the scrutiny from numerous investigations.

Days of the trial were tedious as accountants, appraisers, and others explained — and then quarreled over — arcane accounting rules and valuation standards. On a handful of occasions, members of the public trickled into the courtroom, normally busy with reporters, to listen to moments of testimony in the historic trial.

The lawyers on both sides argued at length over objections each side raised, in exchanges that often grew heated and sometimes nasty, with pejoratives like “petulant” and “rude” tossed across the courtroom.

During one exchange in the defense case, Trump attorney Chris Kise lobbed an insult at assistant attorney general Andrew Amer: “I suggest that Amer check the internet. Vladimir Putin has some openings. That’s where he belongs,” Kise said. Engoron told Kise to apologize for his comment. “I will refrain from further pejoratives, but I will not retract it,” Kise said, although he would later apologize.

Kise said he was justified in his feeling that it is against the rule of law for the attorney general’s office to suggest Trump’s defense case is a waste of time.

The judge has already ruled against Trump

Engoron ruled in September that Trump, his adult sons and their businesses were liable for persistent and repeated fraud, in a summary judgment opinion issued before the trial began, dealing Trump a significant blow.

Engoron’s ruling determined that Trump’s personal financial statements at the crux of this case were fraudulent and the values of Trump trophy properties including, Mar-A-Lago and his Trump Tower penthouse apartment, were inflated.

Trump is accused of inflating the value of his triplex apartment at Trump Tower by three times its size, resulting in an overvaluation of between $114 million to $207 million, Engoron wrote.

“A discrepancy of this order of magnitude, by a real estate developer sizing up his own living space of decades, can only be considered fraud,” Engoron wrote.

Engoron also ordered the dissolution of Trump’s business certificates. Trump appealed the decision and the appellate court paused the dissolution, at least until the case is over.

It is still unclear how an appointed receiver would dissolve the properties, if the ruling would impact properties located outside of New York state, including Mar-a-Lago, and if the Trumps could transfer the New York-based assets into a new company located out of state.

Engoron included a scathing critique of Trump’s defense arguments setting the tone for an often-tense trial at which Trump’s attorneys frequently accused the judge and his staff of bias against the former president.

“Exacerbating defendants’ obstreperous conduct is their continued reliance on bogus arguments, in papers and oral argument,” Engoron wrote.

More than 40 witnesses testified

The attorney general called a total of 27 witnesses, many of whom were former and current Trump Org. employees or lawyers who were involved in transactions or compiled Trump’s personal financial statements each year where Trump’s assets were valued.

Trump’s three eldest children testified in the attorney general’s case – each one made attempts to distance themselves from their father’s personal financial statements.

An appraiser testified about Trump properties like 40 Wall Street and Trump’s New York golf course that they valued at a fraction of the amounts Trump reported on his financial statements. The court heard from an insurance underwriter who said Trump Org’s former CFO Allen Weisselberg misled her about the asset valuations on Trump’s financials. Weisselberg denied it on the stand.

An expert on disgorgement, Michiel McCarty, testified that Trump profited around $168 million in ill-gotten gains from the preferable interest rates he secured by submitting his fraudulent personal financial statements for loans on his Doral Resort & Spa in Florida, 40 Wall Street, Trump Hotel & Tower in Chicago, and the Old Post Office project in Washington, DC.

The attorney general also argued that the judge should consider another $149 million in penalties for Trump’s recent sale of the Old Post Office hotel.

Trump’s lawyers called 19 witnesses, including five who also testified as witnesses for the attorney general.

More than half of Trump’s defense witnesses were experts in real estate and accounting, who backed Trump’s argument that asset valuations are subjective and that Trump’s financial statements complied with accounting standards and disclosed any deviations when necessary.

Trump’s legal team has argued there was no fraud because the lenders happily made millions off the transactions and Trump successfully maintained the loans to completion. Deutsche Bank employees testified that the Trump loans performed successfully and the bank made active efforts to get more business from Trump for years until he was elected president and drew too much public scrutiny.

Engoron ruled ahead of trial, however, that the New York statute James filed the lawsuit under does not require that the banks be injured. It’s about maintaining a fair and honest marketplace, Engoron has said.

Trump fined twice over gag order

The civil fraud trial offered a preview of how Trump will deal with – and test the limits of – gag orders and other constraints that judges will try to place on him.

The first week of the trial, Trump posted on his social media page an attack against Engoron’s clerk, Allison Greenfield, including a picture of her with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York and accusing her of being biased against him.

Engoron responded with a gag order barring discussion of his staff.

That didn’t end the drama over the judge’s clerk. Less than three weeks later, Engoron fined Trump $5,000 because the post on Truth Social was still on Trump’s campaign website.

Trump’s lawyers blamed the website on a simple oversight. But a week later, Trump ran afoul of the judge’s gag order again – this time while speaking right outside the courtroom during his former fixer Cohen’s testimony.

“This judge is a very partisan judge with a person who is very partisan sitting alongside him – perhaps even much more partisan than he is,” Trump said.

The comment prompted the judge to take the extraordinary step of calling Trump to the witness stand for an impromptu interrogation about his commentary. Trump and his lawyers claimed he had been referring to Cohen.

“To whom were you referring,” Engoron asked Trump about his comments in the hallway.

“You and Cohen,” Trump said.

“Are you sure you didn’t mean the person on the other side?” Engoron asked, a reference to his clerk, who was still seated, keeping a straight face, just to his right.

“Yes,” I’m sure,” Trump responded.

Engoron said he found “the witness is not credible,” fining Trump $10,000 this time. His lawyers have appealed the gag order and the fines.

The trial is not really ending

With witness testimony concluded, Engoron has set a January 5 deadline for the attorney general’s office and Trump’s lawyers to submit written briefs on the case, and he will hear oral arguments on January 11.

Engoron has said he hopes to issue a ruling by the end of January. But that won’t be the end of the case.

Trump’s lawyers have already appealed Engoron’s summary judgment ruling against Trump, and they’ve made clear they are likely to appeal his ruling from the trial itself.

The defense team has also argued that an appellate court ruling on the statute of limitations in the case from June – which removed Ivanka Trump as a defendant – should gut the attorney general’s case against Trump. Engoron disagrees with the Trump team’s interpretation of the ruling.

Engoron and Trump’s lawyers have repeatedly discussed the looming appeal as the trial has played out, and Engoron noted at multiple points he was making decisions with the prospect of preventing a reversal of his ruling in the back of his mind, including allowing Trump’s team to call expert witnesses that the attorney general’s office objected to.

Trump’s lawyers have also said they were objecting in order to establish a record for their appeal. As the defense was resting its case, Trump’s attorneys said they wanted to admit a few more documents into evidence for appellate purposes.

“You’re going to appeal?” Engoron said sarcastically to laughs throughout the courtroom.

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