For the first time in a decade, former President Donald Trump himself will be sworn in Monday to testify in open court. His testimony in the New York civil fraud case again him and his company follows three days of questioning of his sons/co-defendants Eric and Don Jr., with his daughter Ivanka still set to testify, as well. Even if Trump is on his best behavior and avoids the sort of wild tangents he followed in his deposition for this case back in April, the prosecution is even less likely to get a straight answer out of him than it was his sons.
In Trump’s world, he is as little at fault for anything that goes wrong as he is quick to claim credit for victories that weren’t his. There’s always a scapegoat for his many failures. And his sons’ testimony shows he has passed on this trait to his children.
In Trump’s world, he is as little at fault for anything that goes wrong as he is quick to claim credit for victories that weren’t his.
Trump Jr. shrugged off any suggestions that his signature on falsified documents was at all his responsibility. Yes, he is an executive vice president at the Trump Organization and, along with Eric and former chief financial officer Weisselberg, one of the trustees who ran the company while his father was in office. But he told prosecutors Wednesday that he had “no knowledge” of accounting or the complexities of the forms with his name on them. Instead, he blamed accountants at Mazars, lawyers in the Trump Organization and Weisselberg, who pleaded guilty to tax fraud last year and is also a co-defendant in the current case. (Weisselberg also testified against the Trump Organization in last year’s criminal case against the company, which was found guilty of tax fraud and fined $1.6 million.)
But former Trump accountant John Bender testified during the beginning of the trial that the Trumps were the source of the inflated numbers in the financial statements used to obtain loans. When Trump’s lawyers tried to blame any inaccuracy in the forms on Bender during cross-examination, he countered that it was on the family to give him correct information to determine the value of properties and Trump’s overall net worth. Bender also told prosecutors that he’d learned that Trump and his company had been withholding other documents from him as he compiled those statements, even though Weisselberg sent him letters saying otherwise.
Eric fared less well than his older brother under the prosecutors’ examination. He insisted both in court and in his previous deposition that he had “never worked” on the company’s statement of financial condition — only for prosecutors to confront him with evidence that he had, in fact, provided information for the annual statements. As my colleague Lisa Rubin noted Thursday, the prosecution “got Eric to concede today, in essence, that his unambiguous, confident declarations of zero knowledge of or involvement in the statements were, at best, based on a very faulty memory and at worst, constituted deliberate falsehoods.”
Trump’s lawyers declined to cross-examine either of Trump’s sons, instead most likely intending to call them as witnesses once the defense begins its case. But given the partial ruling Judge Arthur Engoron has already issued against the defendants, the Trump legal team’s strategy seems less focused on winning and more on diluting any further penalties. Its efforts are likely to focus again on shunting the blame away from the family and onto others lower down the chain.
For all his bragging about his supposed competency, he quickly feigns ignorance when confronted with problems that happened under his watch.
That fits well with everything we know about Trump. For all his bragging about his supposed competency, he quickly feigns ignorance when confronted with problems that happened under his watch. As president, he would blame his Cabinet members and other advisers whenever anything went south, conveniently forgetting the praise he’d heaped upon them when he first picked them. He regularly pretends not to know longtime associates the moment they are in trouble. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors are waiting for a confirmation that Trump’s defense in the election interference case against him will focus on blaming the advice of his lawyers. (Several of those lawyers have already entered guilty pleas and agreed to testify in a state-level case dealing with his attempt to overturn the 2020 election results in Georgia.)
Trump may famously insist on loyalty, but the buck always stops somewhere other than him. And while it would be tremendously funny if he were to spend his testimony blaming his kids for not doing their due diligence, it feels more likely that he’ll adopt their tack of blaming the accountants and lawyers. The problem is that prosecutors have plenty of documents in their possession that show Trump was not just aware of the scheme but was orchestrating it — and they would be more than happy to catch the former president in a lie on the witness stand.