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Trump will not testify in his civil fraud trial

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Donald Trump plans to avoid testifying for a second time in the New York civil fraud trial against him and his company.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

His lawyers had said he would take the witness stand in his own defense today. But on the eve of the hearing, Trump posted on social media, I have already testified to everything and have nothing more to say.

FADEL: NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering the case and joins us now from New York to explain what's coming next. Hi, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

FADEL: So what happened?

BERNSTEIN: Well, it may be true that when it comes to testifying, Trump really doesn't have anything more to say. For a while now, Trump's legal team has been saying that Eric Trump and Donald Trump would be among the trial's final witnesses. But first Eric and then Donald Trump abruptly changed plans. One former Donald Trump lawyer, Ty Cobb, had even predicted last week on CNN that Trump wouldn't show up. Trump told me last night, that's because of the legal risk that the attorney general could cross-examine Trump on some of his lies and misstatements, which could hurt his legal strategies also in other cases.

That leaves the defense final witness as Eli Bartov, a New York University professor, who testified last week that he saw no accounting fraud and said of Trump's financial statements, quote, "I have never seen a statement that provides so many details and is so transparent as this statement. It doesn't exist."

FADEL: Now, Trump's lawyers say he was being made to unfairly testify while under a gag order. What is that about?

BERNSTEIN: Right from the beginning of this case, Trump started going after the judge's clerk, accusing her of bias. She received so many death threats, she can no longer take the subway to work.

FADEL: Wow.

BERNSTEIN: So Judge Arthur Engoron said to Trump, you can come after me, but not my staff. Trump did anyway, twice, and the judge fined him twice. Then Trump tried to get an appeals court to overturn the gag order. He was briefly successful, but it was reinstated, so Trump couldn't go after the judge's clerk from the stand. On Sunday, Trump's lawyer called this unconstitutional. The New York AG, Letitia James, is shrugging off Trump's cancellation, saying, quote, "Donald Trump already testified in our financial fraud case against him." She added, quote, "we have already proven that he committed years of financial fraud and unjustly enriched himself and his family. No matter how much he tries to distract from that reality, the facts don't lie."

FADEL: Now, what happened when Trump testified the last time?

BERNSTEIN: So it went like this. In that last appearance, Trump was asked a yes or no question about property values. And he answered, you know, you sued me on the basis that Trump had no money and he wrote up phony statements and defrauded banks, even though they were represented by the biggest law firms in the world and the most sophisticated and best lawyers, and even though those banks were paid back in full. There was no harm. So that's his defense. It's not how a witness is supposed to testify. I should add that under New York law, it doesn't matter if there was no harm. The law is clear - you cannot have a business model of persistent fraud. And of course, the judge admonished Trump's lawyers, saying this is not a political rally. So maybe Trump's lawyers concluded having the case end with Trump at odds with a judge wasn't the best way to go.

FADEL: So what do we know about what's next?

BERNSTEIN: So court resumes tomorrow with the cross-examination of the expert, two rebuttal witnesses - after that, written briefs in January, then arguments from each side on January 11, and after that, a verdict.

FADEL: NPR's Andrea Bernstein in New York. 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.

Leila Fadel is a national correspondent for NPR based in Los Angeles, covering issues of culture, diversity, and race.
Andrea Bernstein