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Trump and his companies are fined $355 million in New York civil fraud trial


The New York attorney general Letitia James took a victory lap tonight after a New York judge ruled in her favor.


LETITIA JAMES: Donald Trump may have offered the art of the deal, but he perfected the art of the steal. This long-running fraud was intentional, egregious, illegal.

SUMMERS: After a three-month trial, Judge Arthur Engoron ordered former President Donald Trump, his sons and his companies to pay well over $350 million plus interest to the state of New York. Trump called that decision a sham. NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering this case and joins us now.


SUMMERS: I mean, let's just start with the money here. How did the judge arrive at that number?

BERNSTEIN: So basically, New York State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron rejected every single defense Trump and his team presented in months of testimony. The judge said the law only requires that defendants intended to defraud, not that they were victims, not that anyone relied on his false statements. The judge said it didn't hold water, that it was Trump's accountant's fault. Indeed, the judge found almost all of the Trump witnesses not to be credible and that when Donald Trump testified, his, quote, "refusal" to answer the questions directly or, in some cases, at all severely compromised his credibility. The judge found New York Attorney General Letitia James proved her case that Trump lied over and over for decades about everything from the size of his apartment - it was one-third as large as he claimed - to his ability to sell Mar-a-Lago as a private residence. He cannot.

SUMMERS: One of the major witnesses who testified is Michael Cohen, and as many may remember, he pleaded guilty to lying. So given that fact, how did the judge evaluate his testimony?

BERNSTEIN: During the trial, Cohen described how Trump indicated to him he wanted him to, quote, "reverse engineer values" to get them to what Trump wanted them to be. Cohen is really the only former employee who said it in exactly this way in what Judge Engoron, describing Cohen's testimony, described as Trump's mob voice. The defense really leaned into the fact that Cohen has pleaded guilty to lying to Congress and to banks and accused Cohen of actually perjuring himself in this trial. But Judge Engoron rejected that, writing, quote, "a less forgiving fact finder might have concluded differently, might not have believed a single word of a convicted perjurer. This fact finder does not believe that pleading guilty to perjury means you can never tell the truth. Michael Cohen told the truth."

SUMMERS: Interesting. OK. The attorney general asked for $340 million. So help us with the math here. How did the judge get to 355 million?

BERNSTEIN: So to be clear, this is not a fine. New York law requires you to give back to the state whatever ill-gotten gains you made by committing persistent fraud. A hundred seventy million is the cash saved by lying to Deutsche Bank in loan applications. A hundred twenty-seven million is for the extra profit he made by selling the lease for the Trump Hotel in Washington, D.C., and 60 million is for extra money that he got for selling a New York golf course that he used this money to undergird. The judge called the Trumps' lack of remorse for all of this, quote, "bordering on the pathological."

SUMMERS: And that does not include interest, which the attorney general says could bring the total actually to over $450 million. Did Trump win anything here?

BERNSTEIN: Yep. The judge backed off an earlier decision to cancel Trump's business licenses and instead banned Trump from running his business and seeking loans from New York banks for three years because, the judge said, there is now sufficient oversight in place. Trump's lawyer, Alina Habba, issued a statement saying, this verdict is a manifest injustice, plain and simple. It is the culmination of a multiyear, politically fueled witch hunt that was designed to take down Donald Trump. Habba says they will appeal this verdict. And nothing will be final until it goes to New York's highest court, the Court of Appeals.

SUMMERS: NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thank you.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Andrea Bernstein
[Copyright 2024 NPR]