NEW YORK — When Donald Trump takes the stand in a Manhattan courtroom on Monday to testify in his civil fraud trial, it will be an undeniable spectacle: a former president and leading Republican presidential candidate defending himself against allegations that he dramatically inflated his net worth.
The allegations strike at the heart of the brand that Trump has carefully crafted for decades and puts him at risk of losing control of much of his business empire.
But the appearance could also mark the beginning of what will likely be a defining feature of the 2024 election if Trump becomes his party’s nominee: a primary candidate who stands trial and uses the witness stand as a campaign platform while pushing for a return to the White House goes after House as he faces multiple criminal charges.
“It will be an overwhelming moment. That’s dramatic enough considering he’s just an ex-president facing these allegations. But the fact that he is the overwhelming favorite to lead the GOP makes this a stunning Monday,” said presidential historian Douglas Brinkley.
The courtroom at 60 Center Street has already become a familiar destination for Trump. He has spent hours over the last month volunteering to sit at the defense table and observe the proceedings. Trump once took the stand – unexpectedly and briefly – after being accused of violating a partial gag order. Trump denied breaking the rules, but Judge Arthur Engoron disagreed and fined him anyway.
The vast majority of his speeches took place outside the courtroom, where he took full advantage of the assembled media to express his outrage and frame the proceedings in the best possible way.
In addition, on Monday he will again face Engoron, whom he has insulted in recent days on his social media page as a “madman” and a “RADICAL LEFT, DEMOCRATIC OPERATIVE JUDGE” who has already ruled “viciously” against him.
Trump will also be accompanied by his former fixer and lawyer and witness Michal Cohen, who said in an interview that he planned to attend Monday’s trial.
“My intention is to attend Donald’s appearance since he was kind enough to attend my court appearances,” he said.
Topics expected to be covered include: Trump’s role in his company’s decision-making, valuing his properties and preparing his financial statements. Trump is likely to be questioned about loans and other deals made using the statements and whether and what intentions he had in presenting his assets to banks and insurance companies in the manner described in the documents case was.
Trump will also likely be asked how he views and values his brand — and the economic impact of his fame and time as president — and may be asked to explain claims that his financial reports have actually understated his assets.
Trump has argued that disclaimers in his financial reports should have alerted people relying on the documents to do their own homework and verify the numbers themselves – an answer he is likely to repeat on the witness stand. Trump said the disclaimer absolved him of wrongdoing.
Eric Trump, the former president’s middle son who testified in the case last week, said his father was excited about his appearance on the witness stand.
“I know he’s really excited to be here. And he thinks this is one of the most incredible injustices he has ever seen. And it really is,” the younger Trump told reporters on Friday, emphasizing that his family would win despite the judge having already largely ruled against them.
Unlike most Americans, Trump has extensive experience answering questions from lawyers and has a long history of testimony and court testimony that shed light on how he might respond. But Cohen, who worked for Trump for more than a decade, said nothing in Trump’s past came even close to what he is facing now, since most of them are civil matters “where the dollar amounts may be in the millions lay, but they never mattered.” any real consequence for him or obviously for his freedom.”
“Right now, this case by the New York attorney general poses a threat to the extinction of his namesake company and his financial future,” he said. The upcoming criminal cases against Trump — in which he is accused of misclassifying hush-money payments, illegally trying to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and hoarding documents at his Mar-a-Lago club — “have far more serious consequences , especially the termination of his freedom.”
Brinkley, the historian, said there was little precedent for Trump’s performance, but said it was not the first time a former president has taken the stand in a trial and accused him of wrongdoing. He pointed to a case in 1915 when former President Theodore Roosevelt, after unsuccessfully running for a third term as a third-party candidate, was sued for libel for criticizing New York Republican Party chief William Barnes.
After a five-week trial in which the former president sat on the witness stand for eight days, the judge finally ruled in Roosevelt’s favor.
“It was five weeks of great stress,” he wrote in a letter to his son. “But the result was a great triumph and I am sure that there will be no more defamation suits for me and no further active participation in politics for me, at least for the time being.”
Associated Press writer Eric Tucker in Washington contributed to this report.