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From NPR, this is Trump's trials. I'm Scott Detrow.


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Innocent to have proven guilty in a court of law.


Once a week, we talk through the latest developments in the multiple legal cases former President Donald Trump is facing. There are four criminal cases, of course, two of them tied to his alleged attempts to overturn the 2020 presidential election. Another one focuses on those classified documents that ended up stacked in a bathroom in Mar-Lago, among other places. The fourth, that's the case over hush money payments to Stormy Daniels. But this week, we are focused on Trump's New York civil fraud case. The judge in the case has already ruled the Trump organization committed fraud for years, inflating the value of its properties, and Donald Trump took the stand this week. What's at stake in the case? The Trump organization's ability to carry on doing business in New York is on the line. There's also a chance of Trump being slapped with a $250 million fine. This week, the former President himself, as well as his daughter, Ivanka Trump, testified in the trial. That's the news this week. But first, I'm just going to take a moment to tell you what we're trying to do in this podcast. Each week, we're going to be joined by a legal expert to help us break down what happened and what matters.


We'll do that in just a moment. But first, also with me every week will be NPR Senior Editor and Correspondent, Dominico Montenaro. Hey, Dominico. Hey, Scott. Imagine you and me doing a.


Podcast together. I know. Feels like long primary night hours.


Now we're going to be talking about courtroom stuff each week. Let's start how we're going to start each episode. What happened this week in about one minute or so? What do people need to know?


Well, it's pretty obvious. Donald Trump had to take the stand where he was forced to defend himself and the company that he made and that made him. The Trump that we got on the stand was the Trump we're used to seeing.


Which was an open question because at times in the past, when he's been deposed in other legal settings, he has acted different. But he didn't hear he was campaign Trump.


Right. He was combative, he was defensive, and not necessarily truthful. I mean, even on the stand, when asked about the square footage of his Trump Tower apartment, he couldn't give a straight answer. I mean, bottom line is, Trump used his time on the witness stand to lean into this narrative that this case and others are part of a larger witch hunt. That's something we've been hearing from him since these investigations started. And Ivanca Trump, his daughter, she sounded a whole lot like her brothers, claiming that she wasn't involved in the financial statements in question, despite the fact that she herself was a former high ranking executive at the company before leaving to work at the White.


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It's Trump's trials from NPR. I'm Scott Detro, and I am joined by my colleague, Dominica Montenaro, as well as Melissa Murray, a lawyer and professor at NYU School of Law. She's the co-author of the upcoming book, The Trump Indictments. Thanks for being here, Melissa.


Thanks for having me.


So, Dominica, a lot on the line for the Trumps in this trial, right? A quarter of a billion dollar fine, the ability to do business in New York State, the symbolic value of properties like Trump Tower. And again, this is worth repeating at the beginning of this conversation, the determination here is coming from the judge, not a jury. So this testimony matters for Donald Trump. He takes the stand. What do we learn?


Well, what was surprising to me is just how much he contradicted his sons. His sons really took this hands-off approach and said, I wasn't really involved in these valuations. I don't remember these emails. Yeah, I was on them, but I had other things to do. I don't really know what you're talking about with all of this stuff. Donald Trump, senior, was very much the opposite. He was like, I think this property was undervalued and that property was undervalued, showing he really had his hands very closely tied to these valuations, which is at the core of the fraud case here.


Melissa, this is the center of the case. Again, the judge has already ruled that these financial documents were fraudulent, that they inflated the value of the organization way more than its actual value. And he comes in and says, No, they were worth more than that. What did you make of that legally?


Well, it does seem like Donald Trump is playing to different audiences. As Dominico said, the main audience here, or the proper audience here is the judge who will make the decision about what the penalties will be in this phase and will determine what punishment will have for the fraud that's already been determined. But Donald Trump is also playing for an audience outside of this courtroom. There were moments in his testimony where it seemed like maybe he wasn't that concerned about winning this New York fraud case because he had bigger fish to fry elsewhere. That could be the criminal cases and the criminal liability he is facing in four other lawsuits, or it could just be his presidential campaign.


What's a specific moment that made you think maybe he doesn't actually care about the outcome of this trial.


I get the bombass. The square footage of the apartment is a verifiable fact. I mean, maybe there's a little bit of tinkering that one could do on the edges. Do you include this closet? Do you not include this closet? But escalating the square footage of your apartment from 10,000 to 30,000 seems like a bit out of range. He did not bother to rein in any of that. He was like, Yeah, it's a huge apartment. There you are.


It's what you do with money laundering, though. But there's obviously not a case about that. But it's literally what you would do is just inflate how much, at least what I learned from Ozark.


But Dmitik, he was doing it in real time with the apartment. He was saying it was 10,000. No, actually, it's more 11,000. No, it's 12,000. No, it's 13. In real time, he's just growing the number on the stand.


Yeah, well, that's what he did with his net worth when he ran for President the first time. I mean, two billion, why not five? Why not 10? I mean, how do you value a brand like Trump's? This was all about that branding. But Melissa is 100% right. You can't just make up square footage unless you change the measuring stick. Obviously, he wishes he could do that, but he can't. I think that his team- It's still a big apartment. It's a huge apartment. It's huge, as he would say. It's a New York apartment. It's worth a lot of money. The fact, though, is his team has always had these tactics in law cases to delay, number one, he tried to delay this case, tried to get it thrown out, didn't work. So this time, maybe Melissa is right. He doesn't care if he wins this thing because he knows the real audience is politics, and he's got to keep his base in line. That's why he was so combative and why he was making the speeches he was making from the stand, which is atypical, really, of what we've seen from Trump in previous depositions where he's much more sober.


To be clear, Domenico, there was a moment where he did seem to dial it back in because his lawyers did ask the judge for a directed verdict, which is to say to basically override his earlier verdict, finding fraud and grant a win to Donald Trump. At least the lawyers seem interested in winning this case or a more favorable outcome than what is likely to happen. But you're right, they had a very recalcitrant client on the stand.


There was one specific defense that Trump kept coming back to at one point, pulling out this piece of paper, waving it around. He said this gave the financial statements legal cover for possible inflated value. This was the idea of the disclaimer in the document. Can you explain to us why matters and what the judge's response was?


Sure. So again, I think we are seeing glimpses of what the defense is going to do when it begins to present its case next week. But this disclaimer is at the end of these statements like, Yeah, maybe this is not entirely accurate. Here are the numbers, but there's room for disagreement. These are subjective. And that's going to be, I think, the crux of the defense. Valuation, especially in real estate, is necessarily subjective. It is particularly subjective, I think they will argue, in the context of this family where so much of their alleged worth is tied up in the family brand and is not necessarily subject to the kinds of traditional valuations that you might see for real estate enterprises that don't necessarily have an outlet on television or reality TV, for example. So I think that's a big part of what's going on here. And I think separately, another thing that we're going to see, and the disclaimer is related to that is nobody was hurt here. The banks made money, Donald Trump made money. No one was deprived of anything in the manner of a traditional fraud situation.


What's the state's argument? Who was hurt here?


The state seems to be making a very populist argument, which is we're all hurt when Donald Trump cheats like this. We're ordinary stiffs who go to get a mortgage, and we don't inflate the value of our net worth. We don't inflate the valuations of our existing assets. We have to play by the rules. And here's this guy who never plays by the rules.


Well, politically, Trump would say, That makes me smart. That's how he talked about his taxes in one of the debates in 2016. I think that in this case, he would say the same thing, but when it's revealed in court, it stands a little bit differently, especially when the state is really threatening your entire business.


Well, I think that's right. I also think it stands in stark contrast to his very populist message to his base, like you're all being overrun, you're losing ground. And he put himself in with those individuals who believe that they've lost ground. But Leticia James is putting out there that it's not merely aspirational. He's the guy that's cutting into your bottom line.


One other thing to ask about in that New York courtroom this week, Melissa, that's the fact that Ivana Trump testified. She was the last witness called by the attorney general's office. She has, of course, been the Trump child most closely tied to him over the years. She's the one who had an office in the White House. She has been a high-profile figure in Trump's orbit. What do we need to know about her testimony?


I think if you were expecting the bombast and outburst that you saw with Donald Trump and the recalcitrants that you saw in the two Trump brothers, you didn't get that with Ivanca Trump. She was much more controlled. I believe the attorney general referred to her as cordial, and I think that's exactly right, John. She seemed to be a very willing witness, although not one that could recall the particularities of some of the business deals with which she apparently was very closely associated with.


I want to end the conversation like we do each week with one big takeaway, the most important thing that you think happened in the courtroom, outside of the courtroom this week. Dominica, I'll start with you.


Well, the fact that Ivanca Trump here is continuing to distance herself. She's not on trial in the same way that her father and her brothers are. Her apartment was shown to be valued at a higher rate by her father, by the company's financial statements than she says she even knew about. I think we're continuing to see this distancing that Ivanca Trump has done from her dad, where in 2015, 2016, she looked like the real heir-parent to all things Trump. Now she looks like she's just running her own side game with her husband, Jared Kushner, who was also on a lot of these emails, by the way, having some intimate involvement with how the Trump company was being run, even though he wasn't employed by it.


Melissa, what's your big takeaway from the week?


Well, this also relates to Ivanca, but at one point in time, the lawyers tried to limit some of the testimony on the ground that sheshe was being asked questions about her conversations with her husband, Jared Kusner, and the lawyers tried to say that this was barred by spousal privilege. And the judge, after taking a moment to think about this, came back to the bench and said, No, they were both emailing each other from work email accounts, which make this work matters, not necessarily spousal pillow talk. Just my legal tip to husbands, wives, partners do not email each other from work accounts if you want to keep this away from the court and out of evidence.


Don't lawyers always say never write anything down, right?


Never write anything down, but definitely don't email your spouse from your.


Work account. Yeah. Now the Trump team gets its turn now, right? They get the chance to to go back. I guess we're going to see how quickly this judge winds up ruling on this case.


I guess I've got more of a big picture take away from this week. It just gets back to the fact that this is such a strange parallel universe right now where the stakes for Donald Trump at the moment are enormous, right? We're talking about criminal charges that could land him in jail. We're talking about this civil case that could take away his business empire. And yet it seems like it almost doesn't matter in the way that he thinks about it and acts about it and the way that he continues to be in front, in the polls. And we saw in hypothetical matchups, matchups of the presidential election a year from now ahead of the polls in some places. It's just a very strange moment, and I'm not sure how it settles.


Yeah, well, it's been more than a decade since Teflon was found to be toxic, but it's still with Donald Trump, and things seem to be sliding off of him when it comes to his base.


That is Senior Political Editor and Correspondent, Dominica Montenegro. Thanks, Dominica. You're welcome. And, Melissa Murray, a lawyer and professor at NYU School of Law. Thanks, Melissa. Thank you. And we will be back next week with another episode of Trump's Trials. Be sure to follow more of NPR's political coverage from Dominico and the rest of the NPR politics team, daily, weekday episodes of the NPR Politics podcast. And thanks to our supporters who hear the show sponsor-free. That's not you, it could be. Sign up at plus. Npr. Org or subscribe on our show page in Apple Podcasts. The show is produced by Tyler Bartlem and edited by Adam Rainey as well as Steve Drummond. Our technical director is Kwazy Lee. I'm Scott Detro. Thanks for listening to Trump's trials from NPR.


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