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2 of Donald Trump's sons are set to testify in a New York courtroom

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Two sons of former President Donald Trump are set to take the witness stand in New York today. The New York attorney general is trying to prove there was a conspiracy to commit repeated business fraud. And Eric and Donald Trump Jr. are defendants in the case. NPR's Andrea Bernstein joins us now to explain the state of the trial. Andrea, Donald Trump Jr. began to testify yesterday. What was he like under oath in a courtroom?

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: So on social media and conservative news networks, Don Jr. is an aggressive attack dog. For example, he's called this trial a sham and a kangaroo court. But when he took the witness stand, he cracked jokes, and he even made the judge laugh. At one point, the assistant attorney general, Colleen Faherty, rattled off a list of professional accounting organizations and asked if he was involved in any of them. And he said, sounds very exciting, but no.

MARTÍNEZ: OK, so what's the significance of his overall testimony? What's the AG trying to prove here?

BERNSTEIN: We're now in the fifth week of the trial. And up to now, we've heard mostly about the ways Donald Trump wanted to pump up values to get better loans and insurance rates. As Michael Cohen testified, Trump would say something like, I'm not really worth 4.5 billion; I'm worth 6 billion. And then Cohen and others understood it was their job to, quote, "reverse engineer" property values to get the numbers up to that 6 billion.

But there are a lot of years after Trump became president when he wasn't so involved. And that's where Don Jr. and Eric Trump come in. In early 2017, Donald Trump turned the daily management of the company over to them. We saw a document yesterday that showed Don Jr. and Eric with power of attorney over all matters, including real estate and banking. We saw Don Jr. has been trustee of the trust that held Donald Trump's company. So the AG wants to prove the conspiracy to inflate values kept going during the period when Donald Trump's sons ran the operation from 2017 until the present. That's potentially a lot more fraud and a lot more money the Trumps will have to pay New York state.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So how did Donald Trump Jr. react to all this?

BERNSTEIN: So even though he made his lack of accounting skills a joke, he was trying to distance himself from the fraudulent valuations. He kept saying, I trusted the accountants. I trusted the lawyers. He said, quote, "these people had an incredible, intimate knowledge, and I relied on them." There was one point where the AG's office showed Don Jr. the statement of financial condition for 2017, and it said right at the top the statement was done at the direction of the trustees, Don Jr. and then CFO Allen Weisselberg. But Don Jr. said he wasn't sure he'd seen it, didn't work on it, that, quote, "the accountants worked on it. That's what we pay them for." I expect more of that line of answers today.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. What about Eric Trump? What are we going to hear from Eric Trump?

BERNSTEIN: Even though he wasn't a trustee of the revocable trust - Don Jr. was - Eric Trump was actually running the company. We've seen evidence of his hand in some of these valuations. So we expect the AG to walk both brothers through all that. Each asset value that was used to get a better bank rate or lower insurance premiums is what the judge has called, quote, "ill-gotten gains." That money has to be paid back - potentially hundreds of millions. The Trumps are appealing the judge's partial verdict against them. They say they will appeal any additional verdict.

MARTÍNEZ: And the former president - when does he testify?

BERNSTEIN: He testifies next week, then Ivanka Trump, and then the AG is expected to wrap up its case. Then it's defense witnesses. We don't know how long - could be some time - before Judge Arthur Engoron delivers his verdict.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. NPR's Andrea Bernstein, thanks.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

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A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Andrea Bernstein