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Donald Trump’s lawyers ask judge to end civil fraud trial, seeking verdict in ex-president’s favor

Former President Donald Trump waited to take the witness stand during his civil fraud trial at New York Supreme Court on Monday.Brendan McDermid/Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump’s lawyers urged a judge Thursday to put an immediate end to the New York civil fraud trial that threatens his real estate empire, arguing that state lawyers had failed to prove that the former president intended to dupe banks, insurers and others by inflating his wealth on financial statements.

Trump’s lawyers are seeking a directed verdict, asking Judge Arthur Engoron to clear the 2024 Republican front-runner, his namesake company and other defendants of wrongdoing at the halfway point in the trial of state Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit.

“There’s no victim. There’s no complainant. There’s no injury. All of that is established now by the evidence," Trump lawyer Christopher Kise said. He argued that state lawyers had failed to meet “any legal standard” to prove allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records.

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Trump lawyer Alina Habba called the case “a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

State lawyer Kevin Wallace responded that the defense’s arguments “sounded more like closing arguments” and that there was no basis for a directed verdict.

The evidence is “more than sufficient to continue to final verdict,” Wallace argued.

Kise implored Engoron, who has yet to rule, to give special weight to Trump’s testimony Monday, citing the ex-president's decades of experience as a real estate developer. He argued that James, in pursuit of a political opponent, was trying to “substitute her judgment for that of the banks and, frankly, for that of someone who has been involved in the real estate industry for 50 years.”

On the stand Monday, between barbs for his adversaries, Trump denied wrongdoing and said lenders were “extremely happy” doing business with him. If anything, Trump testified, his financial statements low-balled his wealth and the value of assets such as his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.

Kise said Thursday, that when talking real estate, “if my choices were Donald Trump or Attorney General James, respectfully, I would go with Donald Trump.”

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Clifford Robert, a lawyer for Trump’s eldest sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr., asked that claims against them should be dismissed. He argued that state lawyers had failed to prove that the sons, whom Trump appointed to run his company when he went to the White House in 2017, worked on the ex-president’s financial statements.

Robert said Eric and Donald Trump Jr., who signed off on some documents attesting to their father’s wherewithal, “acted appropriately” in trusting accountants and lawyers for assurance the documents were accurate.

“I’m sorry to say that my clients have been dragged into what is essentially a fight between the attorney general and their father, but here we are," Robert said. "The time has come that we need to put an end to it.”

Wallace countered that Trump, and his sons each signed documents saying that they were responsible for the preparation and fair presentation of the financial statements, which Engoron has already ruled were false and misleading.

The lawyers were making their arguments in court a day after Trump’s daughter Ivanka Trump testified as the state’s last witness.

Directed verdict requests are common in civil trials. In this case, Engoron is tasked with deciding the outcome rather than a jury. He has signaled interest in seeing the trial to its conclusion, asking defense lawyers for witness schedules and pegging closing arguments for mid-December.

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Engoron has repeatedly ruled against Trump in the past, most consequentially in a decision before the trial that the 2024 Republican front-runner, his company and other defendants committed fraud by exaggerating his net worth and the value of assets on his financial statements, which were used to obtain loans and make deals.

Engoron’s pretrial fraud ruling came with provisions that could strip the ex-president of oversight of such marquee properties as Trump Tower, though an appeals court is allowing him continued control of his holdings for now.

The state rested its case Wednesday after six weeks of testimony from more than two dozen witnesses. James is seeking the return of what she says is more than $300 million in ill-gotten gains and a ban on Trump and other defendants from doing business in New York.

Trump testified on Monday. Eric and Donald Trump Jr. were on the witness stand last week. Trump Organization executives, outside accountants who worked on Trump’s financial statements and bank executives who worked on his loans also testified.

Kise emphasized that lender Deutsche Bank made its own adjustments to the asset values listed on Trump’s financial statements, giving substantial “haircuts” to the estimates for Trump Tower and other properties, and decided to lend him hundreds of millions of dollars anyway. Adjustments amounted to $2 billion in some years, Kise said.

Kise also attacked Trump lawyer-turned-foe Michael Cohen’s credibility. He said Cohen undermined the state’s case when he backtracked from his initial testimony that Trump had directed him to boost the value of assets to “whatever number Trump told us to.”

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Pressed on cross-examination during his Oct. 25 testimony, Cohen conceded that Trump never told him to inflate the numbers on his personal statement. Robert then asked for an immediate directed verdict, which Engoron denied. Kise called Cohen’s testimony a “pathetic performance.”

The sides are spending Thursday making legal arguments known as motions, including the defense’s directed verdict bid. Trump’s side is scheduled to start calling witnesses on Monday, though that would be moot if Engoron ended the trial with a directed verdict.