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Donald Trump Jr. takes the stand in family business fraud trial

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Donald Trump Jr., the son of the former president, testified in court today. This is the $250 million civil fraud trial claiming the Trump family defrauded lenders, insurers and tax authorities. This afternoon, he took the stand and began to talk about his role in the company. NPR's Andrea Bernstein joins us from outside the courthouse. Hi, Andrea.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: All right. You were in there. What did Don Jr. say about his alleged role in this case?

BERNSTEIN: So for most of his adult life, before his father ran for president, Donald Trump Jr. worked for the family business, eventually becoming executive vice president of the Trump Organization. In early 2017, he got an even bigger role. While his dad was president, Don Jr. and Eric were put in charge. In some ways, Don Jr. has retreated from the family business, spending time writing books and is a very popular speaker to conservative crowds. But he's still, on paper, in charge of the company, and that's what he had to begin to reckon with today.

SHAPIRO: So what did he say from the witness stand?

BERNSTEIN: So he's a defendant in this case, but that didn't prevent him from cracking jokes. For example, 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, dryly, sounds very exciting, but no. Faherty then led him through a series of transactions about who was in charge of the company, and Don Jr. was trustee of his dad's company except for a brief period where his dad put himself in charge and then removed himself after he left the presidency in 2021.

So there's Don Jr., in charge of the company. But when the AG asked him about the company's statement of financial condition, he basically said, that wasn't me. That was my chief financial officer. That was my accountant. I relied on them. I expect a lot more of this tomorrow if the AG tries to bring forth testimony about who ran the company, who made decisions. We'll learn more when Don Jr. is back. And then his brother Eric is set to testify.

SHAPIRO: Well, earlier in the day, the attorney general presented an expert witness on how much money Donald Trump made by allegedly lying about the value of his assets. How'd that go?

BERNSTEIN: Because the judge in the case already ruled that Trump and his co-defendants, including Don Jr., committed persistent and repeated business fraud, one of the big issues in this trial is how much the Trumps will have to pay back the state for that fraud.

Today's expert, Michael McCarty, went a long way to showing how Trump's high values artificially lowered his interest rates. So, for example, Trump got a loan for his golf club at Doral near Miami. That was a project that he was pulling out of bankruptcy. So the witness said it was risky. According to this witness's calculations, the interest rate should have been around 8%. Instead, it ranged from about 2 to 4%, saving Trump $73 million. All told, the witness said Trump saved nearly 170 million in interest costs on the base of four properties alone by inflating the values of his assets.

SHAPIRO: And how did the defense respond to that?

BERNSTEIN: Oh, they got heated. And at one point they said, look, this is not a real business decision in the real world. Then the judge became agitated at that. He said, I've already decided these were ill-gotten gains. So now they'll have to decide how much money, if any, they'll have to pay. That's what we're expecting later in this case.

SHAPIRO: NPR's Andrea Bernstein reporting from outside the courthouse in New York. Thanks a lot.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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