scorecardDonald in Wonderland: lawyers for New York and Trump trade 'looking glass' jabs ahead of business-fraud trial
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Donald in Wonderland: lawyers for New York and Trump trade 'looking glass' jabs ahead of business-fraud trial

Laura Italiano   

Donald in Wonderland: lawyers for New York and Trump trade 'looking glass' jabs ahead of business-fraud trial
PoliticsPolitics4 min read
  • Lawyers for New York's attorney general and Donald Trump sparred in a Manhattan courtroom Friday.
  • Each invoked "through the looking glass" references, saying each other's arguments distorted reality.

Donald Trump so obviously misled banks with distorted, Alice-In-Wonderland exaggerations of his worth that a good portion of New York's fraud lawsuit against the former president should be decided pretrial, a lawyer for the state's attorney general said in court Friday.

Attorney General Letitia James wants Trump banned from doing business in New York for allegedly inflating his net worth by as much as $3.6 billion a year in a decade's worth of financial statements, a fraud allegation she plans to take him to trial on next month.

In sarcasm-tinged arguments before a Manhattan judge, one of her lawyers attacked on Friday what he called a "through the looking glass" defense that Trump plans to roll out at trial: that as a real-estate "visionary" he deserves wide latitude in telling banks what his properties are worth.

Some of Trump's exaggerations are so untethered from reality, so indisputably false, they can be decided before the case is even argued at next month's civil trial, the lawyer for New York, Andrew Amer, countered.

"The defendants have clearly stepped through the looking glass," Amer told the judge, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron.

"But on this side of the looking glass,"Amer said, a property's value can't be "whatever Mr. Trump decides is the number he wants to see in his statement."

Trump's lawyer quickly parried his opponent's "looking glass" reference, telling the judge that it is James who distorts reality by questioning what the former president – "an investment genius" – believes his properties are worth.

Trump is "probably one of the most successful real estate developers in the country," attorney Christopher Kise told the judge, insisting Trump's disputed property valuations "are actually low."

"We're through the looking glass here, too," Kise, who Trump has paid a $3 million retainer, promised the judge. "You're going to hear of a very different world."

And in the defense's world, Trump is not exaggerating the value of his properties at all.

Instead, "President Trump is a master at finding value where others see nothing," Kise argued.

"I'll tell you this," Kise said of the attorney general's far lower numbers. "If I had money to invest in real estate, I'm not going to ask the attorney general."

Amer, in asking for an early, partial trial win for the AG's side, walked the judge through what the attorney general says are Trump's most obvious exaggerations of property values, including for 40 Wall Street and the family's Seven Springs estate in upstate New York.

First on Amer's list was Trump's triplex penthouse, an apartment atop Trump Tower on Manhattan's Fifth Avenue.

For five years of his financial statements, from 2012 through 2016, Trump tripled the apartment's square-footage, fraudulently claiming it was 30,000 square feet when it was only 10,996 square feet, the AG alleges.

Trump used that inflated square footage to claim the triplex was worth $327 million, a valuation James has called "absurd."

But Trump is arguing in court papers that the square-footage error was an innocent mistake, and that even the calculation of square footage can be, somehow, a subjective process, Amer complained to the judge.

"In the defendant's world, there is no objective truth," Amer told the judge.

During his own turn at the podium, Kise doubled down on the subjectivity of real-estate valuations.

He also accused James' side of "hyperbole," and brushed aside the significance of that sentence in each of Trump's financial statements that promise, "assets are stated at their estimated current values."

"We agree on what the standard is here," Kise said. "We just disagree on how that standard is applied.

The judge said he will hand down a decision Tuesday on both sides' requests for pre-trial wins in their favor.

He'll also decide Tuesday, he said, on a separate request by the AG for $10,000 sanctions against all 15 defendants and their lawyers – penalties James hopes he'll set for their alleged repetitive filing of "frivolous" arguments in court papers.

James hopes to take Trump, the Trump Organization, his two eldest sons, and his senior management to trial in two weeks on a year-old civil lawsuit that seeks to bar them from ever running a company in New York again.

She's also asking the judge to ban Trump and Trump Org for five years from buying real estate in the state.

Her lawsuit centers on the annual "Statements of Financial Condition," that Trump Organization issued for each year from 2011 to 2021, documents that she says exaggerated the value of his real-estate and golf-resort empire.

Each statement promises that "assets are stated at their estimated current values," meaning any of his skyscrapers, or golf courses, or even Mar-a-Lago, could be sold for that value.

"But his perspective is light years away from what the estimated value really is," Amer told the judge.