ADRIAN MA, HOST:
Former President Trump is facing multiple charges in multiple states. And this past week, all eyes were on the court in New York. This is because his two sons, Eric and Donald Jr., testified in a public fraud trial there. Now, the crux of the case, involving cheap financial statements, both brothers deny being involved. And, like his father, his brothers are defendants in this case. Each week, we take a few minutes to talk about important events in the former president’s case. And this week, my colleague Scott Detrow is joined by two guests, NPR senior political editor and reporter Domenico Montanaro and New York University law professor Melissa Murray, co-author of the upcoming book, “The Trump Indictments.” The trio began by digging into what the Trump brothers stood out as witnesses.
DOMENICO MONTANARO, ONLINE: Well, I mean, the fact is, we have these two sons, no one is taking responsibility for any of this that the Trump Organization is accused of, and, you know, not only was he accused of it but he was found guilty. it comes to fraud, for example. And their names and fingerprints are all over, you know, emails, and yet no one is taking any kind of responsibility for any of that.
SCOTT DETROW, ONLINE: Melissa, what did you make of this from a legal standpoint, this common argument from both sons that the financial documents in question were just something that wasn’t on their radar, that there was no weed on these, that you can’t really charge them with possible fraud on these documents?
MELISSA MURRAY: Both sons said that when they did this business instead of their father, they were paper pushers. They had these measurements. The audit was done by an accounting firm, and he just signed off on it. And that’s probably a little surprising. In publicly traded companies, the majority of the people who manage these companies must sign that they have done their due diligence in reviewing these accounting statements, and that they basically attest to the truth and accuracy of those statements. And even though it’s not required for private companies like the Trump Organization, it’s basically a corporate governance feature now, that all companies follow the same set of rules, that if you have these statements, verify them. You look at them. You don’t just sign up for them because someone else did.
DETROW: So, basically, there was a recurring theme of, yes, I was on that call. Yes, I was on that email, but I had so many other things going on that it didn’t register with me. I wasn’t there growing up with that. Isn’t that, in general, a legally valid argument?
MURRAY: Eric Trump, I think, was being transparent by distancing himself in this way. And he was like, you know, I’m a construction guy. I do projects. I work with concrete. I’m not a guy who digs for valuations. I rely on accountants for that. And if you are the head of an organization and you sign these statements of how you value things, how you calculate the income and expenses of your company, you are doing something. should be that information guy.
MONTANARO: I also think it’s interesting because during the trial, you had the administrator of the Trump Organization, Jeff McConney, testify that Eric actually directed him to make decisions that led to these rising values. So, you know, you have Eric and then he denied that he was paying much attention to that. And it’s like, you know, the ghost came down and made these decisions when you’ve got this trend over time within the Trump Organization, and somebody called the shots.
DETROW: You would think differently about the evidence if you knew it was the judge making the decision and not the judge who might not have it, even though they would get the context of the case, the law and the law. the financial framework of the level of detail we are talking about here.
MURRAY: So a bench trial is very different from a jury trial. You know, judges, there are a lot of emotions that can go into the way a case is presented. You are meant to create a narrative, tell a story. Here, there is a story to be told, but for a more informed, professional audience. And Judge Engoron knows what the principles are. You will know exactly what happens in court and what it takes for the government to open its case. And again, this is a civil case, so the government only needs to establish their case by a preponderance of the evidence. A much lower standard than reasonable doubt is found in criminal cases.
DETROW: I wanted to switch gears so we can talk next week. The big news will be Donald Trump testifying. Domenico, we have had countless numbers of depositions that Trump has sat on over the years. Do you see an idea of what the pattern has been, how Donald Trump conducts himself on the witness stand under oath compared to how he conducts himself running for president?
MONTANARO: It’s still very sobering on the witness stand and under oath because there are real penalties that go along with lying under oath. There is no punishment for simply lying in public, talking to people or running a political campaign. There are real penalties if you swear. But the fact that his organization, a place with his name on it, is threatened with extinction after, you know, growing up in Queens – and anyone who grew up in Queens – yours truly – knows that way of “doing it,” quote-unquote, is that you did it in the city, that the city…
DETROW: Wait, Domenico, are you from Queens? I didn’t know.
MONTANARO: You didn’t know, I know.
MURRAY: Can I add something to that, Domenico?
DUTROW: Yes. Are you from Queens, though, Melissa?
MURRAY: I’m not from Queens. I’m from Brooklyn.
MONTANARO: OK. But you can – where you go. That’s right.
MURRAY: Brooklyn. Same idea. Same vibe.
MONTANARO: BQE continues, yes.
DUTROW: Yes. Miles Morales-Peter Parker split here. Keep going, Melissa.
MURRAY: His political future, his political approach, the nature of his political legacy depends on the story of the mogul, the outsider, who shook New York and then went to shake 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
DUTROW: Last question for both of you, and, Melissa, I’ll start with you. What’s your biggest takeaway this week?
MURRAY: I think the Trump team knows they’re on the hook for some of this evidence, and, you know, if the law’s not on your side, go to the facts. If the facts are not on your side, go to the law. And if it’s not on your side, press the table and make a noise.
MONTANARO: Yes. I really think the biggest thing here is to see, right? I mean this is about the politics of the former president. It is very much about his business. But if he can convince his base that he’s done nothing wrong and that this is all, quote-unquote, a “witch hunt,” then he still has a strong political chance of becoming the Republican nominee. But if it starts to sink in – that he’s done something wrong and it starts to sink in to the Republican base that maybe he’s not going to be a strong candidate in the general election, that could be a real problem for him. And you have candidates on the Republican side, like Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who said this week that a conviction could, quote-unquote, “kill” former President Trump if he were to run for office.
DETROW: That’s great political editor and reporter and perennial Queens native Domenico Montanaro. Thank you, Domenico.
MONTANARO: I don’t think you can change that.
DETROW: We’re also joined by Melissa Murray, a law professor at New York University and co-author of the forthcoming book “The Trump Indictments.” Thanks to you too.
MURRAY: Thank you.
MA: Scott and his team will be back next week about Trump’s latest charges.
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