- The Trump civil fraud trial is now in its eighth week in New York.
- The defense called Trump’s former spreadsheet czar, Jeffrey McConney, to testify.
- McConney confirmed he scribbled “DJT to get final review” on an allegedly fraud-filled document.
Donald Trump had his worst day yet in his ongoing civil fraud trial in New York on Tuesday, and at the hands of his own key witness, a former Trump Organization executive who linked the former president directly to the fuzzy math at the center of the case.
The witness was Jeffrey McConney, Trump Org’s ex-comptroller and spreadsheet czar. McConney had been called to the witness stand by the defense, but on cross-examination by lawyers for the state attorney general’s office Tuesday, he linked Trump firmly to the conspiracy and fraud counts that have yet to be decided in the non-jury trial.
McConney was handed People’s Exhibit 3054, a draft of Trump’s net-worth statement for 2014. He was asked to look at his own scribbled note, “DJT TO GET FINAL REVIEW,” which he’d written in thin blue ink on the draft’s first page.
Trump has denied involvement in preparing a decade’s worth of these annual net-worth statements, which New York Attorney General Letitia James has alleged – and the trial judge has agreed – were each year riddled with billions of dollars of exaggerations.
The particular net-worth statement that McConney was handed the draft for, from 2014, contained $3.5 billion in exaggerations, the AG has alleged.
“Donald Trump would get final review?” the state’s lawyer, Andrew Amer, asked McConney.
“That was my understanding, yes,” McConney answered from the witness stand, his voice gruff.
Amer asked next if Trump would get final review of every net-worth statement until leaving for the White House in 2017, after which Eric Trump would approve the drafts.
“That was my understanding, yes,” McConney answered again. Asked if that was his handwriting on the drafts – his thin blue pen marks – McConney also said yes, it was.
Why the spreadsheet czar’s scribbles matter
McConney’s testimony was significant for several reasons, and not just for the damage it did to Trump, but to Trump’s two eldest sons, to former Trump Org CFO Allen Weisselberg, and to himself as well.
The three Trumps and the two ex-executives are all defendants in the AG’s lawsuit, which alleges that Trump used net-worth exaggerations to win hundreds of millions of dollars in interest-rate discounts and property-sale profits. James is seeking at least $250 million in penalties, and to ban the five defendants from ever running a New York business again.
Starting with the damage to McConney himself, his blue-ink notations directly contradict his testimony from the prior day.
The spreadsheet czar had testified on direct examination Monday that he would review each year’s draft net-worth statement with then-CFO Weisselberg, who would then give the approved draft to the outside accounting firm, Mazars USA, which would print the final statement.
This chain of command — McConney to Weisselberg to Mazars — leaves out one very important link, the state’s lawyer, Amer, pointed out on cross on Tuesday.
“I believe there was a step in between, that involved Donald Trump, prior to 2017?” Amer asked McConney, who appeared uncomfortable on the stand as he admitted that Trump indeed did the ultimate signing off.
Trump, who has not attended the trial for the past two weeks, had claimed on the witness stand on Nov. 6 that he had little involvement in the drafting of these net-worth statements. And in a pre-trial deposition, he denied knowing who had written, “DJT to get final review” on that 2014 draft.
But McConney’s blue-ink handwriting is all over the net-worth statement drafts, showing he revised language and even added cautionary notes that were then passed along for Trump’s “final review,” according to McConney’s own description of the drafting process.
In one key cautionary note from the 2015 draft, McConney made a notation in ink that, “This computation also includes forecasted deals that have not signed yet.” In the note, McConney was suggesting Trump forego including some $151 million in as-yet-fictional assets in the net-worth statement, arguing that these deals “have not signed yet.”
The final version of that year’s net-worth statement shows McConney’s suggestion was ignored, possibly by Trump himself. The AG alleges that Trump routinely padded out his net-worth statements with these same sorts of non-existent assets.
McConney’s many handwritten notes show that it was Trump and his top executives who made the last edits and then signed off on these net-worth statements. As such, the notes do serious damage to the primary Trump defense: blame Mazars, blame the accountants.
The attorney general’s office also appears poised to argue that these handwritten notes show McConney, Weisselberg, and Trump intentionally conspired in cooking the numbers each year. Intent and conspiracy are two elements that must be proven for the attorney general to win all six of the yet-decided counts in the case.
Still to be proven, or disproven: conspiracy and intent
New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron has already found, pretrial, that Trump’s 2014 through 2021 statements fraudulently inflated his wealth.
The trial will determine if the five defendants further broke six specific state laws: falsifying business records, filing false financial statements, insurance fraud, and conspiracy to commit each of these counts. These six counts all require proof that the frauds and falsehoods were committed intentionally.
Since the case is civil, not criminal, the judge will not issue a “guilty” verdict. Instead his verdict will find if the five defendants are “liable” for monetary and other penalties for violating these six laws.
How else do McConney’s hand-written notes harm the defense?
The fact that these incriminating, hand-scrawled drafts were turned over to authorities by Mazars, but not by the Trump Organization, could come up at the end of the trial as evidence that Trump’s side failed to retain and turn over documents as required by state subpoenas.
McConney’s cross-examination came minutes after a dramatic, tearful conclusion to his direct testimony.
The longtime Trump executive became weepy in answering the final question from defense lawyer Jesus Suarez, who asked why he’d left the Trump Organization after 35 years working there.
He left to “stop being accused of misrepresenting assets for the company that I loved working for,” he said, wiping away tears as he described a history of being subpoenaed on the federal and state level in connection with the Trump Organization.
“It was like working with family,” he said. “I feel proud of what I did.”
The trial continues on Monday with testimony expected by the chief accounting officer for Trump Hotels, Mark Hawthorn. It will be the ninth week of trial, and the third week of the defense case.