On Thursday, attorneys for former President Donald Trump and the state of New York met in court after New York state Attorney General Letitia James sought the selection of a monitor for certain aspects of the Trump business.
James wanted the monitor after Trump registered a new business known as Trump Organization II, the name and nature of which led to concerns about the former president potentially trying to move his assets out of New York, which could help evade scrutiny from James. The top law enforcement official has sued Trump over a years-long pattern of deceptive financial statements covering dozens of assets, and she is seeking — among other consequences — the return of $250 million she connected to the deceptive statements of value. On Thursday, attorney Christopher Kise, representing Trump in court, tried to downplay one of the concerns from James’s team about a substantial difference in the reported size of a piece of Trump’s property.
After a memo last month accusing the Trump Organization, which is the former president’s family business, of “using objectively false factual assumptions like inflated square footage,” Kise asked Thursday: “Objectively according to whom?” New York Judge Arthur Engoron didn’t sound thrilled. “Objectively doesn’t mean according to anybody. Objectively means objectively,” he replied. Across Kise’s arguments, he both undercut James’s general case and the specific course of action she was seeking in court. Predictably, he even characterized the attorney general’s push for a monitor, who would oversee company financial movements, as a ploy to bolster her public image ahead of the midterms. (She’s on the ballot.) In discussion of the broader case, Kise attacked the idea that James was legitimately representing any sort of public interest — a contention to which Engoron also pushed back.
“You mentioned something about how ‘free markets work.’ But don’t they only work if people are being truthful?” Engoron asked Trump’s lawyer. He also pushed back on the Trump lawyer’s dispute over the amount of evidence produced by the attorney general’s team in support of their efforts. “You talked a lot about corporate titans. Don’t we want them to be truthful? Don’t we want to put that fear in them – if we have to?” Engoron asked Kise. “The 800 pound gorilla in this case is when does reasonable disagreement become fraud?” A variety of specific discrepancies in the Trump Organization’s statements came up in court, supporting the legitimacy of the state’s underlying case. An attorney on James’s team “says the state knows” a certain piece of Trump property “is 11,000 square feet and that this is objectively known due to measuring,” but “it was represented as 30,000 square feet for years,” as Colin Kalmbacher, a journalist, summarized the prosecutor’s remarks. Remarkably, Kise claimed to Engoron the difference could stem from good-faith disagreements about the property.