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Trump fraud trial hears final witness before closing arguments begin in January

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

With the words the people rest, testimony concluded today in the $250 million civil fraud trial against former President Donald Trump. NPR's Andrea Bernstein is here to talk about the overall case and what's coming next. Hey there.

ANDREA BERNSTEIN, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So to recap, Trump was supposed to testify this week, and he changed his mind at the last minute, said he wasn't coming. So how did the case end up?

BERNSTEIN: With a battle of the expert witnesses. Trump's final witness was an accounting professor at New York University who said he saw no accounting fraud in Trump's financial statements. So the AG put on a rebuttal witness, an accounting professor from another prestigious New York school, Cornell University, to say, wait a minute, that's not how it's done. The professor, Eric Lewis, testified that Trump had not followed the rules when it came to valuing his properties. Lewis wasn't five minutes into his testimony before Trump lawyer Charles Kise (ph) started objecting very strenuously, which prompted the assistant attorney general, Kevin Wallace, to erupt - referring to the professor - he's been qualified as an expert. Kise said, not in the real world. Wallace said, he is out of order. And that's kind of how the case ended up.

SHAPIRO: Sounds like a lot of drama in the courtroom. Was that pretty typical of how the last 10 weeks of testimony have gone?

BERNSTEIN: Yeah. So the differences in the way the parties see the facts got pretty heated at times. The AG's theory is that Trump lied and lied about the value of his assets, that he fudged the books, and that a result - as a result of that lying, Trump made hundreds of millions of dollars that he shouldn't have made. And the judge has partially endorsed that theory. Even before the trial began, he issued a ruling saying the AG had proven persistent and repeated fraud. So the trial was really about the issue of intent and how much in ill-gotten gains Trump will have to pay back to the state. For its part, the defense argued no one was harmed. The main bank involved in all of this, Deutsche Bank, wanted Trump as a client in its private wealth division and was willing to give him great loan rates and that Trump properties are, well, all spectacular and able to command top dollar.

SHAPIRO: All throughout this trial, Trump has had a running commentary outside of the courtroom. Has that affected what's going on inside the court?

BERNSTEIN: Inside the courtroom, which he visited nine times, Trump had to be quiet, to rise when the bailiff yelled, all rise. He had to sit through - one of his attorneys said at the outset would be, quote, "excruciating detail." She made good on that, by the way. Donald Trump did testify vociferously as part of the AG's case, but he seemed to be getting the most energy from these quick hallway scrums he held outside the courtroom where he called the trial rigged and the judge biased - pre-butting (ph) a possible bad verdict. It's kind of like how he said the 2020 election was going to be rigged before balloting had even started.

SHAPIRO: So when are we going to see the verdict?

BERNSTEIN: The judge asked for legal briefs January 5. The briefs will be argued January 11, and then there will be a verdict sometime in the weeks after that. For context, the Iowa caucus is January 15. The New Hampshire primary is January 23. So sometime around then.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Andrea Bernstein. Thanks.

BERNSTEIN: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF DANIEL CAESAR SONG, "DO YOU LIKE ME?") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Andrea Bernstein