Legal Analyst Reveals Trump's 'Good Strategy' in New York Trial
Legal Analyst Reveals Trump's 'Good Strategy' in New York Trial

By Jack Phillips

Several law experts suggested that former President Donald Trump’s recent choice of expert witness was a smart move in his New York civil fraud trial.

With testimony winding down after more than two months, the Republican 2024 presidential front-runner showed up to watch New York University accounting professor Eli Bartov’s testimonial.

The academic disputed the crux of New York State Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit: that President Trump’s financial statements were filled with fraudulently inflated asset values for such signature assets as his Trump Tower penthouse and his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

“My main finding is that there is no evidence whatsoever of any accounting fraud,” Mr. Bartov, whom Trump’s lawyers tapped to give expert perspective, told the court. The former president’s financial statements, he said, “were not materially misstated.”

Anything problematic, such as a huge year-to-year leap in the estimated value of the Trump Tower triplex, was merely an error, he argued. He also testified that financial statements are just starting points for lenders and that the documents’ value estimates are inherently subjective opinions. Differences in such opinions don’t mean that there’s fraud, the professor said.

The attorney general’s office has also hired Mr. Bartov as an expert in the past. In 2019, he testified as an expert witness for prosecutors as part of a James lawsuit that accused oil giant ExxonMobil of downplaying financial risks related to climate regulation, although Ms. James ended up losing the case.

Legal analyst Lisa Rubin, who said she attended the trial in New York on Thursday, said that Mr. Bartov also appeared to charm the judge, Arthur Engoron, who is presiding over the case because the two have a “shared NYU affiliation.” Mr. Bartov teaches accounting at the university, while Judge Engoron received his law degree there.

“Engoron qualifies him in all subjects, with the note that he is qualified in valuation insofar as it relates to accounting,” Ms. Rubin wrote on X, formerly called Twitter, on Thursday. She added that the judge dismissed prosecutors’ objections regarding his qualifications.

Elaborating on his testimony, Mr. Bartov said that from his accounting background and after reviewing credit reports, “he came to the conclusion that there is no evidence of any accounting fraud” in the Trump case. “There was no justification for any of these allegations,” he said at one point, referring to allegations contained in Ms. James’ lawsuit against the former president’s company.

Dave Aronberg, the state attorney for Palm Beach County, Florida, said that the expert’s “credentials make him a credible witness for Trump, but it will not matter much in the end” because Judge Engoron “has already granted the state’s motion for summary judgment on the issue of fraud,” reported Newsweek.

“Expert witnesses have more credibility when they testify for both sides: plaintiff/prosecution and the defense,” former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani told the news outlet.

Mr. Rahmani added that President Trump’s decision to use Mr. Bartov was a “good strategy” due to the credibility of the witness. However, he claimed that there is a “perception that those types of experts are paid to come up with favorable conclusions.”

Trump Comments

Earlier in the trial, President Trump attended several days and spent one on the witness stand while the state was presenting its case. But Thursday marked his first appearance since the defense began calling its own witnesses. He’s due to testify again on Monday.

He watched keenly Thursday, pointing out documents to his lawyers and, at points, slapping the defense table or shaking his head over prosecutors’ objections to some of Mr. Bartov’s testimony.

During breaks, the former lauded the witness and assailed the lawsuit, which is putting his net worth on trial and threatening to disrupt the real estate empire.

“This is a case that should have never been brought,” President Trump said as he left for the day, calling the trial “a witch hunt,” “election interference,” and “a disgrace to America.”

Former President Donald Trump departs for lunch and speaks to the media during his trial in New York State Supreme Court in New York, on Dec. 7, 2023. (David Dee Delgado/Getty Images)

The attorney general’s lawsuit accuses President Trump, his company, and top executives, including his sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., of misleading banks and insurers by giving them financial statements that padded his net worth by billions of dollars.

“Here’s a fact: Donald Trump has engaged in years of financial fraud. Here’s another fact: When you break the law, there are consequences,” Ms. James’ office wrote this week on X, referring to the case.

He has denied any wrongdoing, and he posits that the statements’ numbers actually fell short of his wealth. He has downplayed the documents’ importance in dealmaking, saying it was clear that lenders and others should do their own analyses. And he claims the case is a partisan abuse of power by Ms. James and the judge.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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