There was a recent moment when Eric Trump complained about the run-down courthouse in which he, his older brother, their father and others are being tried on multiple civil fraud claims in a lawsuit from the New York attorney general. The Manhattan courthouse at 60 Centre St. is an architectural gem, with an especially gorgeous rotunda, but ask anyone who has used a bathroom there: He’s not wrong.
On Monday, I thought back to that moment as Donald Trump Jr., the first witness in the defense’s case, took the courtroom gallery on a verbal historical tour of the Trump Organization, from his dad’s role in the construction of the Grand Hyatt at Grand Central in the 1970s through their more recent acquisition and/or redevelopment of several golf courses from California to Ireland. And as he waxed rhapsodic about the centuries-old castle on Trump’s property in Aberdeen, Scotland, one of many assets he described as uniquely spectacular, I again thought: He’s not wrong.
My personal style doesn’t run to the ornate, gilt-and-crystal aesthetic most closely associated with Trump Style, nor am I fond of English baronial manors. But there’s no question that from Turnberry, another Scottish resort that is one of Trump’s coastal golf properties, to Trump Park Avenue, where Ivanka Trump lived with her family before she left New York for the White House, many of the properties Trump has developed and/or managed are gorgeous.
The question, of course, is does it matter? I would submit that the answer is that it depends on who the audience is.
Yes, it matters to the extent that through Trump Jr.’s enthusiastic retelling of the family’s trajectory, from his grandfather Fred Trump’s “Horatio Alger story” to his dad’s visionary transformation of the Manhattan skyline, Judge Arthur Engoron has finally listened to the Trumps’ version of their incredible success. And given how much latitude Trump Jr. has had to tell the family story, complete with a clip of a rock-fueled promotional video for a New York golf course and photos of opulent lobbies, the former president’s prior accusation that Engoron has judged him without knowing him won’t be true going forward. Several hours of Monday’s testimony were like a self-produced documentary, relevance be damned.
The question also matters in that Engoron’s allowing of Don Jr. to narrate the Trump Organization’s development and licensing history should deprive Team Trump of at least one basis for its inevitable appeal. As Engoron himself said before the lunch break, when the attorney general objected to the use of a hearsay document: “Do you really want to risk reversal on the basis of one stupid question?” (The implication was that Engoron still believes, as he said weeks ago, that the amount of evidence supporting the attorney general’s claims could fill this courtroom — and, therefore, that insisting he exclude most likely inadmissible testimony or documents is a mistake, especially when such a decision could be questioned on appeal.)
No vaulted ceilings, wood-paneled amenity rooms, oceanfront golf courses or wraparound terraces overlooking Central Park can disguise, much less erase, what the trial is really about.
But in the end, no vaulted ceilings, wood-paneled amenity rooms, oceanfront golf courses or wraparound terraces overlooking Central Park can disguise, much less erase, what the trial is really about: whether Don Jr. and the other defendants knowingly and intentionally inflated the value of the assets he praised in a stampede of superlatives.
And through the shortest cross-examination I’ve seen in this trial, Colleen Faherty of the AG’s office highlighted how partial and selective Trump Jr.’s account was. Yes, Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles, for example, sits atop the Pacific Ocean. And yes, its 18th hole fell into said ocean. Yes, Trump was party to a profitable licensing deal for a Hawaiian hotel. But the owners of that Waikiki hotel are in the process of removing the Trump name in exchange for a brand that is less controversial.
In all, Engoron seems inclined to let the Trump side put on the case it wants to make. But don’t be lulled into thinking it will matter. Because with the exception of an audience of one — Trump himself — it almost certainly won’t.