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Prosecution rests in former President Trump's civil fraud trial

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

OK. After a 10-week fraud trial where Donald Trump and his three oldest children testified in public for the first time ever - well, testimony is over. An assistant attorney general said the people have rested, and soon the case goes to a judge. NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering the case and joins us now. Andrea, good morning.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

INSKEEP: What's at stake here?

BERNSTEIN: So in this trial, even before testimony began, the judge ruled in favor of the New York attorney general in the first claim of her case - that the Trumps had committed persistent and repeated fraud. And the judge ordered the Trumps to start turning over their business certificates in preparation for a possible dissolution of the company. That part's been put on hold. At one point in the trial, the judge said, I've already decided these were ill-gotten gains. So the question is, by how much will he order the Trumps to pay back the state?

INSKEEP: OK, so if it's already decided that they did the thing that they're accused of, why did they go on with 10 weeks of testimony?

BERNSTEIN: So the judge only ruled on one of seven counts, and there was a lot more to learn - first from the employees, appraisers and accountants who really divulged the details of all this. So let's take the value of the triplex at Trump Tower...

INSKEEP: OK.

BERNSTEIN: ...Which Trump said was three times as big as it really was. Here's how it worked. Trump's chief financial officer told a broker that worked for the Trumps that the apartment was 30,000 square feet instead of 10,000. So the broker came up with a value that was three times bigger than it should have been, and then that false value was attributed back to the broker. So when the Trumps were caught lying by Forbes about the value of the triplex, what happened is Trump's employees pumped up the value of another property at 40 Wall Street to make up the difference in the lowered value on the statement of financial condition. This was what former Trump corporate vice President Michael Cohen testified was called reverse-engineering of the numbers.

INSKEEP: And I guess we'll remind people that this matters not just because you're bragging, but because you may borrow money on the value of properties or do any number of other things based on the value of your properties, and that's what prosecutors describe as fraud - or what the court - rather, the people, so to speak - the government describes as fraud. What did the former president's testimony teach us, if anything?

BERNSTEIN: Well, one of the things that we learned is that he actually admitted that he was in charge of those statements of financial condition that the judge had found were fraudulent. So even though he was somebody himself who'd been in real estate all his life, he said, well, maybe this was because the broker mistakenly included the roof or the elevator shafts.

Meanwhile, Trump's sons, Don Jr. and Eric, who really were in charge of the company when Trump took over the White House, said, well, it wasn't us. It was our lawyers. It was our accountants. And then there was Ivanka Trump, who is not a defendant, but who acknowledged sending emails and letters that really laid out how, based on these fraudulent statements, the Trumps were able to get loan rates maybe around 2% when, out in the market, they're about 30%.

INSKEEP: Wow. OK, that's a difference. So very briefly, what is the defense case here?

BERNSTEIN: So a big part of what the Trumps have said is no one was harmed. A major bank involved said it was seeking out Trump's business. One executive called it whale hunting. And inside and outside the courtroom, the Trumps have accused the AG and the judge of bias. They've made it very clear they will appeal. But in any event, we should see a verdict from the judge in January after we get some closing briefs and arguments.

INSKEEP: NPR's Andrea Bernstein, thanks so much.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Andrea Bernstein
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.