Donald Trump Jr stepped into the witness stand on Wednesday in a $250m civil fraud trial in New York stemming from a blockbuster lawsuit that threatens the Trump family business and its vast real-estate empire.
As the judge allowed photographers to take pictures of the former president’s oldest son, he quipped: “I should have worn make-up.”
Donald Jr, in a dark blue suit and pink tie, is the first among his children to testify in the trial, now in the middle of its fifth week, resuming inside a Manhattan courtroom on 1 November.
Before he took office in January 2017, then-President-elect Trump named his sons Donald Jr and Eric to run his company.
Seven years later, the former president and his two oldest sons are co-defendants in a case that could collapse the family business. Eric Trump also is scheduled to testify this week. Mr Trump will take the stand on 6 November.
More than a dozen witnesses have been called to the witness stand within the first month of the trial, as the office of state Attorney General Letitia James prepares to rest its case with some of the biggest names yet on the stand.
Last week, Mr Trump – who has sat with his attorneys and watched proceedings from the defence table over seven days during the last five weeks – was fined a second time for violating the court’s gag order. He abruptly left the courtroom last week after his attorneys failed to convince a judge to issue a ruling from the bench in his favour.
It is unlikely he will return to watch his children’s testimony.
The former president’s three oldest children are likely to discuss their relationships to the former president and the business, as attorneys with Ms James’s office bring home arguments that the Trump family and its chief associates inflated Mr Trump’s net worth and assets to fraudulently obtain financial benefits over a decade, at least.
Judge Arthur Engoron already has determined that a trial is not necessary to prove the claims of fraud outlined across more than 200 pages in Ms James’s complaint filed last year.
Mr Trump’s adult sons have played central roles in the Trump Organization and its business throughout their father’s four years in the White House and in the chaotic aftermath.
Donald Trump Jr was appointed as a trustee of his father’s trust when he took office, while Eric Trump – who has sat behind his father during his appearances in the courtroom – has effectively overseen daily control of the business.
The lawsuit from Ms James accuses both men of helping craft the Trump Organization’s statements of financial condition, the allegedly fraudulent documents at the centre of the case, though both men have denied any involvement.
In a taped deposition, Donald Jr claimed he had “no real involvement in the preparation of the statement of financial condition and don’t really remember ever working on it with anyone.”
He said during that deposition that accountants and other Trump Organization employees “would have more intimate understanding of the specifics of those things,” and that “whoever was bringing me a document, if it was more accounting, it was probably from accounting.”
“If it was more legal, it would be from legal. And, ‘Hey, are we OK signing this document? Do you believe it to be honest and accurate?’ And if they were OK with it, they’d have much more knowledge than I would ever be able to amass, so I would sign it,” he added.
On the witness stand, Donald Jr echoed the statements he gave during his taped deposition, seemingly pinning the responsibility of statements of financial condition on the accountants and Trump Organization executives who helped draft them.
“I listen to their expertise,” he said. “That’s what we paid them to do.”
Across nearly two hours of testimony, he repeatedly stated that he did not recall key points surrounding the Donald J Trump Revocable Trust – including whether he was still serving on it when his father restored himself as a trustee of his own trust in January 2021.
Donald Jr did, however, confirm that former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg was removed as a trustee following his indictment. He pleaded guilty to several tax charges stemming from a sweeping criminal investigation into the Trumps’ business empire.
He also repeatedly denied any knowledge of what constitutes “generally accepted accounting principles,” or GAAP, something he learned about in “accounting 101” when he was a student at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Donald Jr also said he did not recognise a document from March 2017 that designated him as his father’s agent for certain business dealings, including real estate and banking transactions. He confirmed his signature on the document.
Following testimony from the Trump family, the attorney general is expected to hand the case over to the defence. Judge Engoron is allowing the trial to last through the weekend before Christmas.
Donald Trump Jr, meanwhile, has spent recent days raging against familiar right-wing grievances, Ron DeSantis and President Joe Biden’s administration on his social media pages and his podcast.
In a series of furious Truth Social posts in the early morning hours before Wednesday’s hearing, the former president once again lashed out at Judge Engoron after he fined the former president a second time for violating the court’s gag order last week.
“Leave my children alone, Engoron. You are a disgrace to the legal profession!” he wrote.
Mr Trump, who has relied on the courthouse and the press pen to spout off on the case and raise millions of dollars for his campaign for the 2024 Republican nomination for president, has not returned to court since.
“Engoron is crazy, totally unhinged, and dangerous,” he wrote in another post. “Our Judicial System has gone to HELL.”