By Michael R. Sisak | Associated Press
NEW YORK — Donald Trump defended his real estate empire and his presidency in a face-to-face clash with the New York attorney general suing him for fraud, testifying at a closed-door grilling in April that his company is flush with cash — and claiming he saved “millions of lives” by deterring nuclear war when he was president.
Trump, in testimony made public Wednesday, said it was a “terrible thing” that Attorney General Letitia James was suing him over claims he made on annual financial statements about his net worth and the value of his skyscrapers, golf courses and other assets.
James released Trump’s 479-page deposition transcript in a flurry of court filings ahead of a Sept. 22 hearing where Judge Arthur Engoron could resolve part or all of the case before it is scheduled to go to trial in October. She pointed to evidence that shows Trump inflated his net worth by up to 39%, or more than $2 billion, in some years.
Sitting across from James at her Manhattan office on April 13, Trump said, “you don’t have a case and you should drop this case.” Noting his contributions to the city’s skyline, Trump said “it’s a shame” that “now I have to come and justify myself to you.”
Trump testified that he considered being president “the most important job in the world,” listing as accomplishments his hard line on China, ensuring Russia didn’t invade Ukraine on his watch and preventing North Korea’s Kim Jong Un from launching a nuclear attack.
“I think you would have nuclear holocaust if I didn’t deal with North Korea,” Trump testified. “I think you would have a nuclear war, if I weren’t elected. And I think you might have a nuclear war now, if you want to know the truth.”
James is urging Engoron to grant summary judgment and issue an immediate verdict endorsing her claim that Trump and his company defrauded lenders, insurers and others by lying about his wealth and the value of his assets.
To rule, Engoron needs only to answer two questions, James’ office argued: whether Trump’s annual financial statements were false or misleading, and whether he and the Trump Organization used those statements while conducting business transactions.
“The answer to both questions is a resounding ‘yes’ based on the mountain of undisputed evidence” in the case, James’ special litigation counsel Andrew Amer said in a 100-page summary judgment motion.
Trump’s lawyers are asking Engoron to dismiss the case entirely.
They argue that many of the lawsuit’s allegations are barred by the state’s statute of limitations and that James has no standing to sue him because the entities he allegedly defrauded “have never complained, and indeed have profited from their business dealings with President Trump and his corporate empire.”
Even if Engoron rules on the fraud claim, he would still preside over a non-jury trial on six other remaining claims in the lawsuit if it is not settled.
Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in next year’s presidential election, has claimed the lawsuit is part of a “politically motivated Witch Hunt” led by James and other Democrats.
James’ lawsuit, involving allegations about Trump’s pre-presidential life as a businessman, is one of many legal headaches he faces as he seeks a return to the White House.
Trump has been indicted four times in the last five months — accused in Georgia and Washington, D.C., of plotting to overturn his 2020 election loss, in Florida of hoarding classified documents, and in Manhattan of falsifying business records related to hush money paid on his behalf. Some of Trump’s criminal trials are scheduled to overlap with the busy presidential primary season.
James sued Trump in September 2022, alleging what she dubbed the “Art of the Steal” — inflating his net worth and the value of assets like golf courses, hotels and his Mar-a-Lago estate on his annual statements of financial interest for at least a decade. Her lawsuit seeks $250 million in penalties and a ban on Trump doing business in New York.
Trump said he only had the financial statements made so he could see a list of his many properties and said he “never felt that these statements would be taken very seriously,” but that financial institutions would occasionally ask for them. Some of the values listed were based on “guesstimates,” he conceded.
“I have a clause in there that says, ‘Don’t believe the statement. Go out and do your own work.’ This statement is ‘worthless.’ It means nothing,” Trump testified. Given the disclaimer, he said, “you’re supposed to pay no credence to what we say whatsoever.”
Trump answered questions with such verbosity at the April deposition — veering from evasiveness to bluster to filibuster at times — that one lawyer worried his seven hours of sworn testimony could go until midnight.
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It was a reversal from a deposition last year, before James filed her lawsuit, in which Trump refused to answer all but a few procedural questions. At that earlier deposition, Trump invoked his Fifth Amendment protection against self-incrimination more than 400 times.
Trump testified in April that his company, the Trump Organization, has over $400 million in cash. He claimed Mar-a-Lago is worth $1.5 billion and a golf course he owns near Miami is worth $2 billion or $2.5 billion. He said he believes he could sell another golf course he owns in Scotland to the Saudi-backed LIV golf league “for a fortune.”
“Do you know the banks were fully paid? Do you know the banks made a lot of money?” Trump testified. “Do you know I don’t believe I ever got even a default notice, and even during COVID, the banks were all paid? And yet you’re suing on behalf of banks, I guess. It’s crazy. The whole case is crazy.”
Trump is not expected to testify in court if the case goes to trial, but video recordings of Trump’s depositions could be played.
Associated Press reporters Jennifer Peltz and David B. Caruso contributed to this report.