Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Trump Distorts the Facts About His New York Civil Trial

Former President Donald Trump made false and questionable claims in a brief press conference on Jan. 11 after the closing arguments in a New York civil fraud trial. The lawsuit, filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, alleges that Trump repeatedly inflated the value of his assets to bilk banks and insurance companies.

  • Trump claimed lawyers for the state attorney general’s office “don’t have any evidence against us.” The judge has ruled there is “indisputable documentary evidence” that Trump filed false financial statements, but said there “doesn’t have to be evidence of harm to a third person.”
  • Trump said his former personal attorney Michael Cohen “took back everything he said in court” leaving the state with no case against him. Cohen testified that Trump never specifically told him to inflate asset values, but he said Trump “speaks like a mob boss” and “tells you what he wants without specifically telling you.”
  • The former president claimed that he had “won this case already” in an appeals court. He has not. The appeals court has allowed the case to proceed.
  • Trump accused President Joe Biden of setting up “every one” of his civil and criminal cases — a claim that is not backed by evidence.
  • He also claimed without support that the New York attorney general’s visits to the White House in 2022 and 2023 were part of “a conspiracy” against Trump.

The Evidence Against Trump

In its civil suit filed in September 2022, the New York attorney general’s office alleged that Trump and his company filed fraudulent statements of financial condition “repeatedly and persistently to induce banks to lend money to the Trump Organization” at favorable terms and interest rates and “to induce insurers to provide insurance coverage for higher limits and at lower premiums.”

In September, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron granted a partial summary judgment in favor of New York, saying the attorney general’s office provided “conclusive evidence” that Trump and his company inflated the value of its assets by an amount of between $812 million and $2.2 billion from 2014 and 2021.

“What OAG [Office of the Attorney General] has established, in many cases by clear, indisputable documentary evidence (as discussed infra), is not a matter of rounding errors or reasonable experts disagreeing,” Engoron said in his summary decision.

Former President Donald Trump sits in a courtroom during his civil fraud trial at New York Supreme Court on Jan. 11 in New York City. Photo by Jefferson Siegel-Pool/Getty Images.

Yet, after the trial to determine penalties concluded on Jan. 11, Trump said in a press conference that there is no evidence against him and his company.

“We’ll have to see what happens exactly. But we’ve proven this case so conclusively,” he said. Trump then went on to say, “They don’t have any facts. They don’t have any evidence against us.”

The former president and his lawyer have repeatedly argued that there is no evidence financial institutions were hurt by doing business with the Trump Organization.

In his opening statement when the trial started in October, Trump attorney Christopher Kise said: “There was no intent to defraud, there was no illegality, there was no default, there was no breach, there was no reliance from the banks, there were no unjust profits, and there were no victims.”

A month later, Kise asked the court for a “directed verdict,” which is a motion seeking to have the case dismissed for a lack of evidence. “There’s no victim. There’s no complainant. There’s no injury. All of that is established now,” he said.

On the last day of the trial, Trump echoed his attorney’s legal argument. “All the banks got all their money back,” Trump said. “They were great loans. They’re as happy as can be.”

Engoron addressed this line of defense on the last day of the trial, as explained in an article by the New Yorker. “If you do something wrong, whatever that is, and you earn money from it, you are supposed to disgorge the profits,” Engoron said. “There doesn’t have to be evidence of harm to a third person.”

In an analysis of the trial, Norman Eisen, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and attorney Andrew Warren wrote: “Unfortunately for Trump, even assuming he is able to disprove any monetary loss, a fraud with no victims is still a fraud. It appears that Trump has led his legal team down a path of arguing ‘we lied, but so what.’ That path cannot end well for Trump in light of the law.”

Cohen Did Not ‘Take Back’ Testimony

Trump claimed the prosecution’s case hinged on one witness who “took back everything he said in court.” Trump is referring to Michael Cohen, his former personal attorney, who testified that he was “tasked by Mr. Trump” to inflate the value of assets “based upon a number that he arbitrarily elected.”

At the post-trial press conference, Trump said, “There’s not one witness against us other than one person [Cohen], who is a deranged, he’s got a lot of problems. He’s a man who’s been convicted of lying. He’s a felon, convicted felon, and not a good person. But that’s the only witness and he’s now crashed and burned. They have no witnesses. And by the way, that witness took back everything that he said. He took back everything he said in court, took it all back. So they have no case.”

On Aug. 21, 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to charges of tax evasion, making false statements to a federally insured bank and campaign finance violations. Later that year, he was sentenced to three years in federal prison. So he is a convicted felon, and he was convicted of lying. (The campaign violations are related to $130,000 in hush money payments he made to porn star Stormy Daniels, whose real name is Stephanie Clifford, to silence her during the 2016 presidential election “at the direction of” Trump.)

In his testimony in New York court in October, Cohen said Trump misled banks and insurers by providing financial statements that inflated the value of his assets.

“I was tasked by Mr. Trump to increase the total assets, based upon a number that he arbitrarily elected,” Cohen testified on Oct. 24, according to an Associated Press report. Cohen testified that he and former Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg would “reverse-engineer the various different asset classes, increase those assets, in order to achieve a number that Mr. Trump had tasked us.”

Under cross-examination by Trump lawyer Cliff Robert, Cohen said Trump never overtly directed him to inflate the real estate values, the New York Daily News reported.

“So Mr. Trump then never directed you to inflate the numbers on his personal statement, correct — yes or no?” Robert asked.

“Correct,” Cohen responded.

At that point, Trump’s lawyers immediately asked Judge Engoron for a directed verdict throwing out the case. According to the Daily News, when Engoron denied it, “Trump got out of his seat and remarked it was ‘unbelievable’ before storming out of the courtroom with his Secret Service entourage and son, Eric.”

Later, under questioning from New York Attorney General James, Cohen said Trump’s directives to inflate asset values were not overt, but were, nonetheless, clear.

“He did not specifically state, ‘Michael, go inflate the numbers,’” Cohen testified, according to the New York Daily News. “Donald Trump speaks like a mob boss, and what he does is he tells you what he wants without specifically telling you.”

When Cohen left the stand, Trump’s attorneys again asked the judge to throw out the case because Cohen was untrustworthy.

“Absolutely denied,” said Engoron, who added that he did not consider Cohen to be a key witness. “No way, no how … there is enough evidence in this case to fill this courtroom.”

Case Hasn’t Been ‘Won’ Already

Trump claimed that he had “won this case already” in an appeals court. He has not. The trial to determine how much Trump and his companies should be fined for committing fraud ended on Jan. 11, and the judge said his final decision in the case should come by Jan. 31.

Trump: We won this case already in the court of appeals, the court of appeals voted in favor of us, but this judge has been very, very slow to accept that opinion, because that’s not the opinion that he wants. But we won in the court of appeals, that’s the boss of this judge. He has to know that. And there was a conclusive victory, statute of limitations and other things.

Trump’s lawyers have secured some victories, namely allowing Trump to maintain control of his businesses while the case proceeds and removing his daughter Ivanka Trump as a defendant. But an appeals court judge rejected a request to pause the trial.

On Sept. 26, Engoron ruled that Trump had committed fraud, and he ordered the cancellation of some of Trump’s business licenses in the state. Trump’s lawyers appealed the order. On Oct. 6, the state intermediate appeals court declined to pause the trial, but it did pause the dissolution of Trump’s businesses while it considers the appeal of the determination that Trump had committed fraud.

Earlier last year, in June, the state intermediate appeals court had ordered that Ivanka Trump be removed as a co-defendant in the case and said that claims before 2014 or 2016, depending on the defendant, couldn’t be part of the case, due to the statute of limitations. That decision came before Engoron’s September ruling that Trump, his sons Eric and Donald Jr., and their businesses had committed fraud.

Engoron also referred to the statute of limitations on the first day of the trial in October, which prompted Trump to proclaim “the judge essentially conceded that the statute of limitations, that we won at the court of appeals, is in effect.” Trump said: “Therefore about 80% of the case is over.”

But Engoron also acknowledged the statute of limitations in his September ruling, which still said that there was “conclusive evidence” of fraud from 2014 to 2021.

Trump’s Legal Problems

As he has before, Trump faulted Biden for Trump’s own legal woes.

“Well, see my legal issues, every one of them, every one, civil, and the criminal ones, are all set up by Joe Biden,” he said. “They’re doing it for election interference.”

But there is no evidence that Biden is responsible for the state or federal cases that have been brought against Trump.

To start, Biden has no control over state-level prosecutors who have brought cases against Trump in Manhattan and Georgia. Also, James, the New York attorney general, began investigating Trump’s company for fraud in March 2019 — long before Biden was president.

Furthermore, E. Jean Carroll, who last year won a sexual abuse and defamation lawsuit against Trump, is a private citizen. Carroll, in June 2019, publicly accused Trump of sexually assaulting her in the 1990s. A few months later, in November, she filed a defamation suit against Trump, who denied the allegations and claimed he had “never met” her.

Biden did appoint U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland, who in 2022 assigned special prosecutor Jack Smith to investigate Trump for his post-presidency handling of classified documents and any unlawful interference with the certification of the 2020 Electoral College vote. Those investigations led to two federal indictments against Trump, whose trials are scheduled for 2024.

But as we have written, Biden has denied any involvement in those pending federal cases.

“Look, I made a commitment that I would not in any way interfere with the Justice Department, who they prosecuted, if they prosecuted, how they proceeded,” Biden said in an MSNBC interview in June 2023. “I have not spoken once, not one single time with the attorney general, on any specific case, not once.”

James’ Trips to the White House

In his post-trial remarks, Trump also said James “visited Joe Biden in the White House numerous times during the Trump witch hunt,” suggesting they strategized against Trump. He said “it’s all a conspiracy to try and get Biden” reelected.

James did visit the White House three times between 2022 and 2023, according to a Gateway Pundit story Trump referenced in a post on Truth Social. But there is no evidence that James met with Biden or any other administration official to discuss the civil fraud case she filed against Trump in 2022.

Records show that James first visited the White House on April 8, 2022, the day more than 400 people attended an event held on the South Lawn in honor of Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson, who had recently been confirmed by the Senate as the first Black female justice on the court.

James was back at the White House on July 18, 2023, for a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris and other state attorneys general about the fentanyl crisis. And a White House official told CNN that James also visited the vice president’s residence on Aug. 31, 2023, the day Harris co-hosted an event for Black women in elected office. Over 250 people were reported to have attended the event.

The White House told the AP that Biden didn’t attend the July 2023 meeting or the August 2023 gathering, and that he only made remarks at the April 2022 event without meeting with guests individually.

Editor’s note: FactCheck.org does not accept advertising. We rely on grants and individual donations from people like you. Please consider a donation. Credit card donations may be made through our “Donate” page. If you prefer to give by check, send to: FactCheck.org, Annenberg Public Policy Center, 202 S. 36th St., Philadelphia, PA 19104.