The civil trial of former President Donald Trump in New York City is becoming a major family affair. Three of the former president’s children, Donald Trump Jr., Ivanka Trump and Eric Trump, are slated to testify on behalf of their father.
Donald Trump Jr. is set to testify Wednesday in the trial, which is examining the business practices of the family’s namesake Trump Organization. A $250 million lawsuit had previously been filed against the company by New York Attorney General Letitia James, alleging that Trump and his associates inflated his net worth and value of his assets — thereby committing fraud.
Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled against the Trump Organization, confirming that the company did indeed commit fraud. As a result, the majority of the trial is serving to levy potential financial and civil penalties, meaning that the testimony of Trump’s children could be a make-or-break moment for the former president. If an appellate court upholds Engoron’s ruling, the Trump Organization’s real estate sector would lose its ability to operate in New York state, which would undoubtedly be a massive blow to Trump. And while the former president himself is also expected to take the stand next week, what will happen before that — when his children are called to testify?
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It’s likely that many of the questions asked by prosecutors will elicit an “I don’t recall” response from Trump’s children. But they “will probably have to face the facts and figures shown in the documents,” Laurie Levenson, a law professor at Loyola Marymount University, told The Guardian.
However, there’s also a chance that some of Trump’s kids, particularly the media-savvy Donald Trump Jr., “may take the bait and make explanations.” So “even when you try to prepare [witnesses], expect the unexpected,” Levenson added.
All three children previously worked at the Trump Organization. However, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. are considered the primary front-facing figures of the company these days, and ran the day-to-day operations of the business when their father was president. As a result, this trial “strikes at his identity and the family. His kids, what he’s been able to build over years,” former Trump adviser David Urban told The Washington Post. While the civil trial does not put prison time on the table for Trump, it could take away something that he is arguably more concerned with — his brand.
Since Trump has already been found guilty, the trial is serving to determine a penalty based on the amount of fraud he committed — something his children likely have insider knowledge of. Given that they were top-level executives within the Trump Organization, the three Trump kids “have information that could shed light on the valuation of properties at the heart of the case,” Barb McQuade, a former federal prosecutor and law professor at the University of Michigan, told USA Today. Since the crux of the case revolves around Trump inflating the value of his brand, his children “are being called to testify not because of their relationship to Trump but because of their roles in the business,” McQuade added.
And while the Trump children can invoke the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination, the judge “can essentially say, ‘I’m going to assume the worst about what your testimony would’ve done,'” CNN legal analyst Elie Honig said. But the risk of the trio testifying “is even greater,” Honig added, because “prosecutors can … hear something in testimony and say, ‘let’s reopen this,'” which could the entire Trump family at fault for “some sort of criminal liability.”
What next? Donald Trump Jr. is slated to testify on Wednesday, while his brother Eric is scheduled to testify Thursday. Ivanka Trump was once a party in the lawsuit, but was eventually dismissed from the case. Her lawyers had then attempted to block her testimony from being compelled, but Engoron has ruled that she must take the stand.
As Ivanka has always been extremely close with her father, she’s “going to have to figure out whether or not she wants to perjure herself in a courtroom and whether or not the fact pattern is just completely damning in her own role that Donald Trump and his sons and she have all played,” Trump biographer Tim O’Brien told MSNBC.
Trump’s sons have lambasted the trial and maintained that they have done nothing wrong. And Ivanka’s true feelings are unclear — ahead of her testimony, Vanity Fair reported that she celebrated her birthday with Kim Kardashian in Florida.