NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump has testified in court as a soccer ball owner, casino builder and airline buyer. He boasted in a statement that he saved “millions of lives” by preventing a nuclear war as president. On another occasion, he worried about the dangers of thrown fruit.
Conditioned by decades of trials and legal disputes, Trump is now prepared to resume his role as a witness under extraordinary circumstances: as a former Republican president fighting to save the real estate empire that brought him to stardom and the White House.
Trump will testify Monday at his civil fraud trial in New York, taking the stand in a deeply personal matter that is central to his image as a successful businessman and threatens to cost him control of prominent properties like Trump Tower. His long-awaited testimony in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit trial follows that of her eldest sons, Trump Organization executives Eric and Donald Trump Jr., who testified last week pass. His eldest daughter, Ivanka, will testify Wednesday.
As court ended Friday, a state attorney mocked the former president’s appearance. Asked who would testify Monday, Andrew Amer told the judge, “The only witness will be Donald J. Trump.”
Trump has testified in court in at least eight trials since 1986, according to a review of court records and Associated Press news coverage. He has also been questioned under oath in more than a dozen depositions and regulatory hearings.
In 1985, he was called to testify before Congress as owner of the New Jersey Generals of the USFL and testified on behalf of attorney and friend Roy Cohn at a state disciplinary hearing that led to Cohn’s disbarment. In a first flash of his incendiary personality, in 1986, Trump told the New Jersey casino commission that plans to build freeway overpasses near one of his casinos “would be a disaster.” “It would be a catastrophe.”
Those testimonies, captured in thousands of pages of transcripts and some on video, offer clues about the approach Trump is likely to take when he testifies in Manhattan.
They show clear parallels between Trump as a witness and Trump as president and current candidate for office. His rhetorical style in legal proceedings over the years has echoes of his political verve: a mix of ego, charm, defensiveness, aggressiveness, biting language and deflection. He has been combative and boastful, but at times lazy and prone to being evasive or dismissive.
Testifying in the USFL’s antitrust lawsuit against the NFL in 1986, Trump denounced allegations that he had spied on NFL officials at one of his hotels, calling the claim “a misinterpretation so false it’s sickening.”
In 1988, while seeking to buy Eastern Air Lines’ northeastern shuttle, Trump put on his charisma, flashing a broad smile at the judge’s law clerks and shaking the bailiff’s hand during a break in his testimony at a hearing in a federal court in Washington. Trump testified that his $365 million purchase, later approved, would be a “major morale booster” for employees.
On the stand in a boxing-related case in 1990, Trump described a fight with Mike Tyson he planned for one of his casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, as “one of the best rematches I could have.” Accused by two men of excluding them from a riverboat gambling project, Trump professed ignorance and testified in 1999: “This whole case shocked me. “I had no idea who these people were.”
Trump was briefly called to the witness stand in the New York case last month to explain comments outside court that the judge said violated a limited gag order.
Before that, he last testified in court in 2013, two years before launching his winning presidential campaign. An 87-year-old widower from a Chicago suburb had sued him over changes to the terms of the contract for a hotel and condominium tower in which he had purchased investment units. Trump became increasingly agitated as his testimony progressed, and at one point he raised his arms and shouted, “And then she sued me. Is incredible!”
Chicago attorney Shelly Kulwin questioned Trump on behalf of the plaintiff, Jacqueline Goldberg. She said the tenor of Trump’s testimony inside Chicago federal court echoed the forceful ebb and flow later seen at campaign rallies and on television.
“His behavior was calm at first, and then argumentative, defensive, off-topic, making speeches. Exactly what he does today,” Kulwin said in an interview.
“From my experience with him, you better be able to have very strict questions, with documents to back them up, so he can’t move,” Kulwin added. “I would go up to the judge and have him admonish him before he even got on the stand: ‘Mr. Trump, this is not a political campaign. These people, you’re not trying to get his vote. This is a judicial procedure.’”
Goldberg lost to Trump, but said he had no regrets about suing him and testified: “Someone had to stand up to him.” He died in August at age 97.
Trump has attended seven days of the trial in New York, silently studying witnesses at the defense table as he railed against the case, the judge and state attorneys in front of television cameras in the hallway. He called the case a “farce,” a “scam,” and “a continuation of the greatest witch hunt of all time.”
Discussing the case on social media, he waxes lyrical about what he calls the “Perry Mason” moments of the trial — testimony and arguments he believes have helped his side — while paying homage to the classic television courtroom drama.
In 1990, Trump testified in a failed effort in a lawsuit over his company’s failure to make pension contributions on behalf of about 200 undocumented Polish workers hired to tear down a building to make way for Trump Tower. A year later, he was back in court in Manhattan, testifying against a man who claimed he had a contract to develop Trump’s board game and was owed 25% of the profits from “Trump: The Game.”
Trump won that and another lawsuit in 2005, where he testified that a construction company had “shirked” him by overcharging him $1.5 million for a job at a golf course in New York’s Westchester County.
Trump’s current trial in New York depends in part on how much he and other Trump Organization executives were involved in valuing his properties and calculating his wealth for annual financial statements that were provided to banks, insurers and others for close deals and secure financing.
James alleges that the statements inflated Trump’s net worth by billions of dollars, making him appear to lenders as a more worthy credit risk and allowing him to get better interest rates and insurance. Trump has denied wrongdoing.
Eric and Donald Trump Jr. testified that they relied on an outside accounting firm and the Trump Organization’s financial team to prepare the statements and that they assumed those statements were accurate.
Trump testified in a deposition in a case in April that he never felt his financial statements would be “taken very seriously” and that a disclaimer in them warned people who did business with him to do their own homework.
He insisted that the banks that James said were deceived by inflated valuations were not harmed, received payments in their settlements and “to this day have no complaints.” Trump denounced the lawsuit as “a terrible thing” and told James and his staff that “they have no case.”
Before the trial, the judge ruled that the statements were fraudulent. He put in place a punishment that transfers control of some Trump companies to a court-appointed receiver. An appeals court has put that on hold, for now.
The bench trial, now in progress for two months, involves allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. James, who is suing Trump, his company and his top executives, including his eldest children, is seeking $250 million in fines and a ban on the defendants doing business in New York.
When asked in the past about his businesses and financial transactions, Trump has sometimes deflected responsibility and blame. In a 2013 deposition about a failed condo project in Florida, Trump blamed an employee for documents that said he was developing a project when, in fact, he was not.
“I have a woman who does it,” he said. Then he began to analyze the wording in question and said, “But you know, develop, the word develop, can be used in many different contexts.”
Another refrain in Trump’s statements is his disbelief that he is taken so seriously for exaggerating his real estate projects.
“You always want to put the best possible spin on a property,” Trump said in a December 2007 deposition in his lawsuit against a journalist he had accused of downplaying Trump’s wealth. “He is no different from any other real estate developer, he is no different from any other businessman, he is no different from any politician.”
Trump’s penchant for grandstanding is sure to come to the fore on Monday. He and his company are accused of inflating the value of his properties and using a variety of methods to maximize results. For years, he even listed his penthouse in Trump Tower in Manhattan as being three times his actual size. He now claims that his financial statements understated his wealth and that his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida is worth more than $1 billion.
Trump is portraying the civil fraud case and his four criminal cases as political persecution tips designed to impede his bid as the Republican front-runner for president in 2024. He has referenced his political position in previous legal environments, including during a 2016 deposition. when he pointed out, unprompted, how he had defeated his Republican opponents in the primaries.
“Obviously I have credibility because it turns out that now I became the Republican candidate against, we have a total of 17 people who were mostly senators and governors, very respected people. So it’s not like he said anything that could be that bad,” he said.
In his April statement, Trump soberly described the presidency as “the most important job in the world” before boasting about saving lives by preventing North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un from launching a nuclear attack.
In an October 2021 statement, Trump talked about weapons of a different kind and warned of the dangers posed by tomatoes and other fruits, which he feared would be thrown at him on the campaign trail.
“If they hit you with fruit, it’s… no, it’s very violent,” he said. Trump was testifying in connection with a lawsuit filed by a group of protesters who said they were mistreated by Trump’s private security guards when he was running in 2015.
Trump was asked about a rally where he told the crowd: “If you see someone getting ready to throw a tomato, just hit them, will you?”
“It was said as a joke. Buy maybe, you know, a little bit of truth,” Trump said of his comments.
“It is something very dangerous. They can kill you with those things,” she warned. “I wanted people to be prepared because they put us on alert that they were going to bear fruit. And some fruits are much worse than tomatoes, by the way, they are bad. But it is very dangerous.”
Tucker reported from Washington. Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.
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