Key Takeaways From the First Day of Trump’s Civil Fraud Trial

Donald J. Trump went on trial Monday in a New York courtroom facing a threat to the business empire that informed his public persona and undergirded his run for the White House.

The trial stems from a lawsuit brought last year by New York’s attorney general, Letitia James accusing Mr. Trump and other defendants, including two of his adult sons and his companies, of fraudulently inflating the value of their assets to obtain favorable loans and insurance deals.

The judge in the trial, Arthur F. Engoron, has already found that Mr. Trump and the other defendants were liable for fraud, and that the annual financial statements on which they listed their assets were filled with examples of such misconduct.

The trial will determine whether Mr. Trump will pay a significant penalty, as well as any other punishments. Ms. James has asked that he pay $250 million and that he and his sons be permanently barred from running a business in New York.

Here is what happened in the trial Monday:

Trump Attacks

Outside the courtroom, Mr. Trump blasted Justice Engoron, a Democrat, saying that he had engaged in election interference, and suggested that he should be criminally investigated. Mr. Trump has denied all wrongdoing, and has accused Ms. James, also a Democrat, of being politically motivated.

Opening Statements

Kevin Wallace, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office, delivered an opening statement, followed by three lawyers for the Trump family: Christopher M. Kise, Alina Habba and Clifford S. Robert.

In their respective opening statements, the attorney general’s office and lawyers for Donald J. Trump spoke past each other: While the attorney general’s lawyer focused on the mechanics by which properties were valued — and why — Mr. Trump’s lawyers continued to argue that, overall, there had been nothing wrong with the former president’s financial statements.

Mr. Wallace told the courtroom that employees of Mr. Trump had arbitrarily assigned value to individual assets — properties like Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street — to arrive at the former president’s desired net worth. He played a clip of Michael D. Cohen, Mr. Trump’s former fixer, explaining the process, prompting the former president to cross his arms and shake his head, scowling.

Mr. Kise responded in his opening that the assets had no objective value and that differing valuations were standard in real estate.

“There was no nefarious intent, it simply reflects the change in a complex, sophisticated real estate development corporation,” he said of the way Mr. Trump’s company represented the assets’ value.

A First Witness

In the afternoon, Mr. Trump’s former accountant, Donald Bender, testified about his own involvement in the compilation of Mr. Trump’s annual financial statements. He said that it was the responsibility of the Trump Organization to ensure that the financial statements were in line with generally accepted accounting principles — which they sometimes would not follow.

The Client Is Present

The tenor of the trial changed after a lawyer for Mr. Trump, Alina Habba, gave what she said was an extemporaneous presentation in which she attacked Ms. James as politically motivated and again declared that her client’s business partners had made money from the deals. Mr. Trump watched intently, occasionally nodding in agreement.

That kicked off a sequence in which Justice Engoron went back and forth with Ms. Habba and the other defense lawyers, correcting what he said were legal errors from their presentations. Mr. Trump seemed to enjoy this portion of the proceeding most, leaning forward as Justice Engoron and the lawyers bickered.

Still, the judge tried to keep things lighthearted, joking about the pronunciation of his name and ribbing a court officer for shouting loudly in calling the room to order.

In the afternoon, as the fire of the opening statements gave way to testimony about the details of Mr. Trump’s finances, it became easy to forget that the former president was even in the room.

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