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Trump to appear in NYC courtroom for the first time since gag order was upheld

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Former President Donald Trump is expected back in a New York courtroom today in one of the final days for the defense in his civil fraud trial. He'll be there while defense witness Eli Bartov testifies about property valuations. It's also the first time Trump will be in the courtroom after a New York appeals court upheld the gag order prohibiting Trump from disparaging the judge's clerk. NPR's Andrea Bernstein has been covering the trial, and she's here with us now to bring us up to date. Good morning.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Good morning.

MARTIN: So the defense has been presenting witnesses for almost a month. Have we learned anything?

BERNSTEIN: Well, a lot of the testimony has sounded like Trump marketing. Don Jr. was the first defense witness, and he called Trump Tower, quote, "genius" and Mar-a-Lago, quote, "one of the few American castles." A real estate valuation expert, who is, by the way, a member of Mar-a-Lago, compared Trump to Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King Jr. The issue is whether Mar-a-Lago is worth 18 million, as Trump says on his taxes, or over $1 billion, as he said to banks. The theory of the case is that by inflating net worths, Trump lied about the risks banks were taking, getting better loan rates than he should have.

MARTIN: What have the bank witnesses said?

BERNSTEIN: Some of the most detailed testimony came from a former Deutsche Bank employee, Rosemary Vrablic. She was introduced to the Trump family by Jared Kushner at the time, right after the 2008 financial crisis when the Trumps had defaulted so much they couldn't get loans from most banks. They tried to go to the commercial real estate division at Deutsche Bank, but that group thought Trump was a risk and offered loans of about 8%. Then the Trumps connected with Vrablic, who was in the private wealth division. She testified she was courting the Trumps in her words, whale hunting. She ultimately offered a rate of about just 2%, but only after receiving financial statements that inflated Trump's value. This is the heart of the defense case that there was, quote, "a," quote, "fraud with no victims" as Trump attorney Charles (ph) Kise put it outside the courtroom.

MARTIN: So what about that? I mean, if the bank says it was happy with Trump's business, why is that a violation of the law?

BERNSTEIN: Under New York Business Law 63 (12), you can't have a business practice of lying or committing fraud, period. The idea is that if you do, you undermine the integrity of the entire business system. So it doesn't matter if banks and others say they were pleased, it's still against the law. Also, some of Trump's loans were publicly reported. If they were riskier than he acknowledged, they put a broad segment of the financial system at risk.

MARTIN: On another issue, earlier this week, Trump's lawyers tried to get an appeals court to lift the gag order that prevents Trump from disparaging the judge's clerk. Now, they were unsuccessful, but just tell us more about what happened.

BERNSTEIN: So this was quite something. Three Trump lawyers marched into the clerk's office at an appeals court in Manhattan. They'd been successful when one judge temporarily lifted the gag order, but last week, a three-judge panel reimposed it. So Trump's lawyers wanted yet another judge to give them permission to go to an even higher court. But the appeals court clerk, her name is Lauren Holmes - Lauren as in Bacall, Holmes is in Sherlock, as she told us. The clerk said, no, that's not how it's done. You have to get the three-judge panel to agree to let you appeal higher, not one judge, and all that can't happen until next week. Eventually, at Trump's lawyers' urging, Holmes went back to ask the judge that was presiding on Monday if the judge would break precedent. Minutes later, Holmes, the clerk, came back to tell Trump's lawyers their attempt was denied. She added under her breath, I told you. So what this practically means is that when Trump testifies on Monday, he cannot disparage the judge's clerk from the witness stand. Trump's lawyers say that's a violation of his constitutional rights.

MARTIN: That's NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Andrea, thank you.

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.

Michel Martin
Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered and host of the Consider This Saturday podcast, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Andrea Bernstein