Legal expert: Trump kids will turn fraud trial testimony into a "political spectacle"

Trump's three oldest children are expected to take the stand at trial that will determine Trump Org.'s future

By Areeba Shah

Staff Writer

Published October 30, 2023 3:46PM (EDT)

Eric, Ivanka and Donald Jr. look on as Donald Trump speaks during a press conference January 11, 2017 at Trump Tower in New York. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)
Eric, Ivanka and Donald Jr. look on as Donald Trump speaks during a press conference January 11, 2017 at Trump Tower in New York. (TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images)

Former President Donald Trump’s three oldest children are set to testify next week in the $250 million civil fraud lawsuit by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

The lawsuit accuses the former president and other defendants of committing massive fraud in New York for years by repeatedly inflating Trump’s wealth by hundreds of millions of dollars to get better terms for loans and insurance policies while building his real estate empire. 

Prior to the trial, Judge Arthur Engoron ruled that Trump as well as the other defendants were liable for fraud and that the trial would determine how much of a penalty Trump should pay. The judge canceled Trump’s business licenses, but an appeals court paused that part of the judge’s order. 

While Trump’s control of the companies may still be in jeopardy, there's no immediate requirement for him to dissolve the legal entities he uses to manage his properties, The New York Times reported.

After more than four weeks of the trial, James is planning to call Trump’s sons and his daughter Ivanka to the witness stand. Donald Trump Jr. is set to testify next Wednesday, Eric Trump on Thursday and Ivanka Trump on Nov. 3, but her lawyers may appeal to try to block her testimony. Trump himself is set to testify Nov. 6. 

To date, sixteen witnesses have provided their testimonies in the trial. However, Gregory Germain, Syracuse University law professor, told Salon that he doesn't expect that the testimony of the Trump children to contribute to the primary issue under consideration by the judge — a central issue that revolves around determining the extent to which the Trump Organization may have benefited unjustly by using inflated financial statements to secure loans and insurance policies.

“I suspect that they will say that Donald was advised by experts in everything he did, and they will try to justify their valuations as statements of opinion that are not actionable,” Germain said. 

But, for Trump, this case is not just about the remaining legal issues, he added.

“It's also about publicity and politics, and trying to show in the court of public opinion that the decision the judge already made was wrong and unfair,” Germain said. “So his sons' testimony is likely to be a political spectacle rather than anything relevant to the remaining legal issues.”

The former president himself has participated in different spectacles since the trial began. Last week, he abruptly left the trial in frustration when Engoron issued an unfavorable ruling. Trump also lashed out on his social media platform Truth Social, posting about how Ivanka was initially released from this case and complained about how he is a victim of a "Trump-hating" judge.

“[B]ut this Trump Hating, Unhinged Judge, who ruled me guilty before this Witch Hunt Trial even started, couldn’t care less about the fact that he was overturned,” Trump wrote. I also won on Appeal on Statute of Limitations, but he refuses to accept their decision. I truly believe he is CRAZY, but certainly, at a minimum, CRAZED in his hatred of me…”

Within the first week of trial, Engoron issued a limited gag order against Trump, prohibiting him from making comments about individuals working on the judge's team on social media. The order came after Trump had posted an image of the judge’s clerk, Allison Greenfield, with Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, and mocked her as “Schumer’s girlfriend.”

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While Trump’s post was deleted on Oct. 3, a version of it was displayed on the ex-president’s campaign website until last week. Engoron called the post a “blatant violation” of his gag order and fined Trump $5,000. 

Engoron fined Trump another $10,000 after he left the courtroom on Wednesday and proceeded to tell the media that Engoron is partisan and so is the person who’s “sitting alongside him. Perhaps even much more partisan than he is,” appearing to go after Greenfield again. 

Even though Trump tried to defend himself and said his remark wasn't about the clerk, the judge called his testimony "not credible.” Trump has paid the $15,000 in fines, but is expected to appeal the gag order, according to a court filing Friday.

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Now, as Trump’s children are being asked to testify, things are beginning to heat up again. 

"The fact that Ivanka was originally a defendant and is now being called as a witness might indicate some form of cooperation, but it remains to be seen what form that cooperation may take — it may be minimal, and I wouldn't expect any explosive revelations from Trump's own daughter,” Jamie White, an attorney who handles criminal defense and civil rights cases, told Salon. 

James, who is an experienced prosecutor, would not issue “frivolous subpoenas, or bring people to the witness stand knowing they'll simply take the 5th,” White added, explaining that it would be a “waste of the prosecutor's resources.”

"Because Judge Engoron has already ruled that Trump is liable for fraud by falsely inflating the value of his company's properties, all that remains is to decide the penalties,” White said. “So there's no reason for Letitia James to bring the Trump children to the stand simply for purposes of showmanship. The only real question is establishing damages, and it is not unreasonable to assume that Ivanka or the other Trump children who were involved in running the family business may have that information."

By Areeba Shah

Areeba Shah is a staff writer at Salon covering news and politics. Previously, she was a research associate at Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a reporting fellow for the Pulitzer Center, where she covered how COVID-19 impacted migrant farmworkers in the Midwest.

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