Updated Oct 2, 2023 - Politics & Policy

"They're trying to damage me": Trump New York civil fraud trial begins

Former President Trump speaks while the court takes a lunch recess during the first day of his civil fraud trial on Oct. 2 in New York City. Photo: Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images

Former President Trump appeared Monday at a Manhattan courthouse for the start of the civil fraud trial against him and his business brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Why it matters: Trump was not required to attend the trial, but he used the proceeding to repeatedly attack James, and criticize his other legal troubles as he vies for a second presidential term.

  • The trial, which may last more than two months, could give a closer glimpse into Trump and his business operation's worth.

Driving the news: "Year after year, loan after loan, defendants misrepresented Mr. Trump's net worth," Kevin Wallace, a lead lawyer for Ms. James, said during opening statements on Monday, per the New York Times.

  • Trump, who was mostly quiet at the defense table, spoke before cameras multiple times on Monday, accusing James of bringing the case to interfere with the 2024 election.
  • "They're trying to damage me so I that I don't do as well as I'm doing in the election," he said.
  • Trump, the 2024 GOP presidential frontrunner, also said before the trial that "there was no crime," and added that "the crime is against me."

Trump and his three eldest children — Don Jr., Eric and Ivanka — are listed as witnesses and could testify in the trial.

  • Eric Trump also arrived Monday morning at the lower Manhattan courthouse before opening statements began, per reports.

What she's saying: James in a short statement before the trial said: "My message is simple: No matter how powerful you are, no matter how much money you think you may have, no one is above the law."

State of play: In a win for James, a New York state judge overseeing the case ruled last week that Trump committed fraud by exaggerating his net worth on financial records.

  • Judge Arthur Engoron alleged that Trump fabricated the value of his apartment buildings, hotels and other assets.

Catch up quick: James filed a civil lawsuit last year accusing Trump and members of his family of financial fraud. She alleged that Trump and people working for him inflated his net worth by as much as $3.6 billion for more than a decade.

  • The Trump Organization could face steep financial penalties and restrictions on its ability to operate in New York state if he is found liable.
  • James is asking that Trump be fined as much as $250 million.

Zoom out: Trump, the frontrunner in the GOP presidential primary, has sought to capitalize on his legal troubles as he campaigns for a president term to invigorate his base.

  • Trump said Monday that he wanted to appear in person at the first hearing because he wanted "to watch this witch hunt" for himself, also invoking special counsel Jack Smith in reference to his other trials.
  • He has denied wrongdoing in the cases and has sought to cast himself as the victim of politically motivated prosecutors.

What to watch: Engoron said Monday that he expects the trial to last until Dec. 22, CNN reports.

Go deeper: Trump's courtroom calendar clashes with 2024 presidential election

Editor's note: This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

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