Letitia James goes after Donald Trump's family, puts his children on the witness stand in N.Y. trial

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Former President Donald Trump’s oldest child is scheduled to take the witness stand Wednesday in the New York trial against the ex-president and his business, kicking off a chain of family testimony and high drama in the long-running civil case. New York Attorney General Letitia James and her team will confront Donald Trump Jr. with accusations the family business manipulated assets on financial forms to gain favorable terms on loans and insurance. His brother, Eric Trump, is scheduled to testify Thursday before his father — the 2024 GOP front-runner for president — and his daughter, Ivanka Trump, take the stand the following week. The witnesses could be challenging for Ms. James’s team. They will try to weave a plausible or believable narrative against the lawsuit and “do so in a mutually supportive manner,” said Robert Sanders, a law professor at the University of New Haven. “They are unlikely to pull this off,” he added. He pointed to the plight of Sam Bankman-Fried, the founder of the doomed FTX cryptocurrency exchange, who offered evasive answers in his own trial only to be confronted by hard evidence of alleged fraud. Mr. Trump and his adult children could assert the Fifth Amendment and stay silent. Yet unlike in criminal cases, a judge or jury in civil trials can infer some degree of guilt from their silence. Appearances by the Trump family will inject more drama into a trial that’s already seen its share of theatrics. Mr. Trump’s lawyer-turned-accuser, Michael Cohen, offered testy testimony in support of the state’s lawsuit, prompting the ex-president to accuse his former fixer of lying like a dog. Judge Arthur Engoron also fined Mr. Trump twice after concluding the ex-president violated a gag order. Before the trial began, Judge Engoron found Mr. Trump liable for misrepresenting the value of some of his properties, handing Ms. James an early victory on one of her claims. Mr. Trump said he did nothing wrong and that Ms. James and the presiding judge do not understand basic real estate practices. The former president is attending some days of the trial in Manhattan while campaigning in Iowa and elsewhere on other days. Speaking from courtroom hallways, he said the Biden administration is using the federal government and New York Democrats to thwart his political ambitions. “My guess is that most hard-core Trump supporters are seeing all of these prosecutions and lawsuits involving Trump and his family as a kind of ordeal by fire. Martyrdom fits nicely with the long-term Trump argument that he is the target of the deep state,” said Ross Baker, a politics professor at Rutgers University in New Jersey. Mr. Trump has confidently dismissed witnesses such as Mr. Cohen, though some pundits think he will have a hard time seeing his children on the stand. “He’s going to be on edge hearing them admit that they didn’t have a basis for things or saying that daddy told me to do it,” George Conway, a lawyer and frequent Trump critic, said on MSNBC’s “Inside with Jen Psaki.” “That’s what I would be worried about if I were him, but I don’t know what they’re going to say.” Defense attorneys tried to keep Ivanka Trump off the witness stand. Unlike her brothers, she is not named in the suit and left the organization in 2017 to work at the White House. However, the court said Ms. Trump conducted business in New York and owns property there, so her testimony is relevant. She is scheduled to testify on Nov. 8 — two days after her father is scheduled to take the stand. Ms. Trump has tried to distance herself from the polarizing atmosphere that surrounds her father, announcing in late 2022 that she does not plan to be involved in politics or her father’s 2024 campaign. “She is not a Michael Cohen. She does not want to intentionally hurt the [other] kids,” Mr. Sanders said. “But she will not take a bullet for Team Trump. If the right question is asked and she has the answers, it could be like Team Trump touched an exposed live wire in real-time.”

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