Trump's kids take the stand in N.Y. fraud trial — but only Ivanka matters

Donald Trump Jr. to testify Wednesday, with Eric to follow. But it's Ivanka who knows where the bodies are buried

By Heather Digby Parton


Published November 1, 2023 9:44AM (EDT)

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump test the teleprompters and microphones on stage before the start of the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump test the teleprompters and microphones on stage before the start of the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on July 21, 2016 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

If all goes according to plan, Donald Trump Jr. will testify at the Trump Organization's fraud trial in New York on Wednesday, as the first of the Trump offspring to be called to the stand, Eric Trump is scheduled to appear on Thursday and Ivanka Trump will reportedly testify next week. Their illustrious father is himself slated to appear on Monday, which will actually be the second time Donald Trump has personally taken the stand in this case. The first of those was a brief appearance last week, when he was cited for violating the gag order imposed by the judge and ordered to pay $10,000. In any event, we can expect quite a show over the next week, with the Trump family band in full effect.

You may (or may not) recall a deeply strange Trump press conference after the 2016 election, when he claimed he was "turning over" the business to Donald Jr. and Eric, while insisting he didn't need to do it but wanted to because he "didn't like the way it looked." His tax attorney, Sheri Dillon, spoke at length about the arrangement, standing before a table piled high with documents that Trump had supposedly signed but wouldn't allow the press to examine. In fact, Trump never personally divested from the Trump Organization or his nested network of companies in any way, and continued to market his golf resorts and hotels from the White House — talking them up whenever he got the chance and staying in them wherever he traveled, often at significant cost to the taxpayers. Foreign agents and supplicants of all kinds filled the family coffers, spending millions of dollars at Trump properties to curry favor and gain access during his entire four-year term (and thereafter). It was the most flagrantly corrupt behavior of any president in American history.

But none of that is the actual subject of this fraud trial. Trump was a corrupt businessman for many decades before that, and New York Attorney General Letitia James has collected a massive amount of evidence, which the judge in this case has already determined to prove that Trump's company has defrauded investors, banks and insurance companies of hundreds of millions over the years, largely by placing much higher values on their properties and businesses than the actual numbers could justify. The trial now taking place will determine what penalty the Trumps should pay.

James is asking for a $250 million fine, and also seeks to bar Trump and his company from any commercial real estate deals in New York or loans from any New York bank for the next five years. Furthermore, she wants to permanently ban Trump and his two adult sons from running any companies in the state. Justice Arthur Engoron has already ruled that the Trumps should be stripped of control over their signature New York properties, although that order has been stayed until this trial is complete. In other words, it's a lot.

It's likely that Donald Trump Jr. will testify that he really didn't know much of anything about the company, and to be fair that's probably true. He's not the "smart one." It actually appears that Eric Trump, despite his dunderhead reputation, was far more involved in running the place. He took the Fifth more than 500 times during his pre-trial deposition and also testified, "I pour concrete. I manage properties. I don't focus on appraisals. It's just not what I do in my day-to-day responsibilities." But other testimony by Trump Organization employees has suggested he was highly involved and James has documents to prove it. And, please: There's no evidence to suggest that Eric spent much time with the concrete mixer. That's just ridiculous, even if the Trumps like to pretend that because they are in real estate they do construction work instead of sitting behind desks wearing nice suits like the pampered Richie Riches they've always been. 

We need your help to stay independent

But what about Ivanka, you ask? Where is she in all this? Well, Trump's favorite got lucky once again when the courts decided she wasn't a party to this case because her main involvement in Trump's schemes took place outside the statute of limitations. At first, it looked like she could skip all this unpleasantness, but James has now called her as a witness and Engoron agreed that her testimony was relevant. (Ivanka's lawyers have until the end of the day on Wednesday to appeal that decision.)

Honestly, if any family member knows the details of the Trump companies' inflated valuations, it would be Ivanka. She was the main reason Deutsche Bank agreed to work with Trump in the first place, and bank officials apparently understood her to be the heir apparent. Forbes magazine dealt with Trump's valuation problems for years, and Ivanka was right in the thick of it. As the magazine reported this week:

The attorney general will have plenty of questions for Donald Trump’s eldest daughter. Ivanka helped lead the acquisition of two assets at the center of the lawsuit, the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C. and the Trump National Doral golf resort in Miami. She also lived in another property caught up in the proceedings, a condo building named Trump Park Avenue in New York City.

The article describe a meeting Forbes staffers had with Donald Trump  in 2015 when he tried to convince them he was far richer than he actually was. After the meeting began, they were "spontaneously" joined by "little Ivanka," who proceeded to give them a totally bogus valuation on the National Doral resort mentioned above. She and Trump worked the room like a tag team, massively inflating the club's worth and insisting it had no debt when in fact there were liabilities of more than $100 million. Virtually every detail of the Doral deal they presented was fiction. 

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

That, it would seem, was Ivanka's job. She did it with condo sales in the Caribbean and Mexico, she did it with investment banks and she did it with the financial press. Nobody in the family, except perhaps Donald Trump himself, knows more about the Trump Organization's systematic overvaluation of its businesses and properties than she does. It's possible that she wasn't intimately involved with the craptastic paperwork the Trumps submitted to the various entities that lent them money and sold them insurance, but her special relationship with Deutsche Bank would lead one to suspect she did.

If Ivanka were to take the stand and tell the truth, she could take down the company. She's not on trial so she has no personal exposure, and at this point her husband, Jared Kushner, is now wealthier than Trump, what with all his payoffs — sorry, his financing — from the Saudis and other foreign entities he got to know well while working in the White House. Ivanka doesn't need to inherit Trump's money. But of course that's not how it's likely to go. It's far more likely that Ivanka will have come down with the same case of amnesia that has afflicted her brothers. Through thick and thin, she's still Daddy's girl.

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton