(NEW YORK) — Former President Donald Trump, fighting to maintain the real estate empire that helped propel him to the White House, spent at least $2.5 million on expert testimony on expert witnesses who have testified in his New York civil fraud trial over the last month, according to a review of testimony and court records.
But the expenditure represents just a fraction of the former president’s growing legal bills, as he fends off four separate criminal trials and the lingering costs of additional civil trials using a mixture of personal funds and political donations from his supporters.
In just the first half of this year, according to the most recent disclosure report available, his Save America PAC reported more than $20 million in legal spending across various court battles, including roughly $7 million paid to defense lawyers handling his fraud case. Last week’s testimony from accounting expert Eli Bartov alone added an additional $900,000 to Trump’s legal bills.
Along with testimony from Deutsche Bank executives, Trump’s expert witnesses have been at the crux of his defense strategy after Judge Arthur Engoron, in a partial summary judgment issued before the trial started, ruled that Trump had used financial statements with fraudulent valuations to get better loan terms from lenders.
At trial, however, Engoron has repeatedly criticized Trump’s experts for offering what he’s characterized as irrelevant or redundant testimony.
“I am not trying to figure out what the value is,” the judge said after a defense witness testified about the worth of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club on Tuesday. “I don’t necessarily consider it relevant.”
“Why are we wasting our time if nobody is considering the words coming out of our experts’ mouths?” Trump’s legal spokesperson Alina Habba asked Engoron in open court on Friday.
‘Hired to say whatever it is they want’
In total, Trump’s lawyers have called a dozen experts to testify on topics ranging from contract procurement to Palm Beach residential real estate, paid at an hourly rate ranging from $350 to $1,595.
While some experts were paid less than $50,000 for their work, two experts were individually paid over $800,000 for their analysis. Real estate valuations expert Fredrick Chin was paid $850,000 for 1,000 hours of work, and New York University accounting professor Eli Bartov was paid $877,500 for 650 hours of work.
Excluding one expert who declined to estimate how many hours he worked on the case, Trump’s expert witnesses testified that they were compensated a total of $2.45 million.
Expert witnesses in New York normally charge “shockingly high rates,” according to Syracuse University College of Law professor Gregory Germain, who said the amount of resources spent on Trump’s trial contributes to “very expensive political theater.”
The state attorneys handling the case seem to agree, suggesting on Thursday that Bartov — who four years ago testified as an expert witness for the New York attorney general’s fraud case against Exxon Mobil — had a financial incentive to potentially offer biased testimony.
“This is pure speculation from someone they hired to say whatever it is they want,” state attorney Kevin Wallace said in response to testimony Bartov offered in defense of Trump.
“You make up allegations that never existed,” Bartov yelled back. “I am here to tell the truth. You ought to be ashamed of yourself for talking like that.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James called just a single expert witness — paid roughly $350,000 for his work — to provide testimony about how much Trump’s alleged deception cost his lenders in lost interest. James also retained five additional experts who have not testified, and their rate and total compensation is under seal.
‘Friends and golf buddies’
Trump used the services of an expert consulting group, as well as his personal network, to find experts for the trial.
At least three of Trump’s experts work for Ankura Consulting Group, which employs more than 200 expert witnesses. An Ankura spokesperson declined to comment about the company’s engagement with Trump.
Trump was personally involved with recruiting Palm Beach-based real estate broker Lawrence Moens to testify at the trial after running into him at Mar-a-Lago, where he is a member.
“I hadn’t seen him in quite some time, and he said, ‘Can I ask you if you would help me with something? I’ve got an issue in New York that I’m dealing with. I would like to see if you could render an opinion for my attorneys,"” Moens explained during his testimony.
Moens was paid $975 an hour to determine the value of Mar-a-Lago, which he testified is worth more than a billion dollars.
Two witnesses also testified in Trump’s defense at no cost to the former president, citing their personal relationship with Trump.
Steven Witkoff, who was qualified as an expert in real estate development, has donated, together with family members, nearly $2 million to Trump’s various fundraising committees over the last few years, and last week hosted a $23,000-per-ticket fundraiser for Trump, which the former president attended instead of participating in the fourth GOP debate.
Witkoff said he testified at no cost to Trump due their long-standing personal and business relationship.
“He’s been a really good friend to me and my family, particularly after the death of my son,” Witkoff said on the witness stand.
Gary Giulietti, an insurance underwriter whose company made $1.2 million in commission from Trump in 2022, also testified as an expert at no cost to Trump. In addition to occasionally golfing and sharing meals with Trump, Giulietti said his testimony was “included in the business relationship” with the Trump Organization.
In a statement following their testimony, New York Attorney General Letitia James criticized Trump for using his “friends and golf buddies” as experts.
‘Nothing will have any bearing’
When defense lawyers called Witkoff as their first expert witness, Judge Engoron barred him from testifying in support of an argument that assets that were overvalued on Trump’s financial statements were allegedly balanced out by assets that were undervalued.
“The reader of the financial statement has the right to know whether each particular number was accurate,” Engoron said in sustaining an objection from state attorneys.
The testimony of zoning expert John Shubin — which cost Trump at least $125,000 — was largely reduced to reading documents into the record after Engoron ruled that the status of a deed restriction governing the use of Mar-a-Lago was a conclusion of law, about which experts cannot testify.
Trump’s lawyer Chris Kise requested that Shubin’s testimony continue for the defense’s record when they appeal — an approach that Professor Germain told ABC News could help the defense’s case.
“Those issues will be front and center on appeal, and it’s important for the Trump Organization to create a factual record that preserves the legal issues on appeal,” Germain said.
The defense’s frustration with Engoron appeared to come to a head Friday after state attorneys objected to defense attorneys questioning Bartov about the value of the assets listed in Trump’s financial statements.
“If they don’t call anyone to dispute our values, how have they proven their case?” Kise said, arguing that the state had failed to prove what they claimed the values should have been.
“You can’t just say it’s a misstatement because you feel like it,” he argued, saying there has to be “some sort of standard.”
“The standard is truth,” Engoron responded, reiterating the findings in his pretrial ruling.
It appeared that even Trump began to feel that his experts’ testimony was unlikely to convince Engoron. Despite reiterating to reporters Thursday that his accounting expert “found absolutely no fraud,” the former president remarked that “I’m sure nothing will have any bearing on what this judge does.”
‘My poll numbers are the highest’
As much as Trump has spent on experts in this trial, he stands to more than cover that amount through a boost in fundraising.
Trump’s team has been aggressively fundraising off of his court developments this year, blasting out multiple fundraising emails to supporters every day about his indictments, court appearances and gag orders — as well as promoting campaign merchandise featuring his famous mug shot from Atlanta’s Fulton County jail.
Donations collected through such fundraising efforts are split between Trump’s third presidential campaign committee and his Save America PAC, which was originally set up as a leadership PAC shortly after Election Day 2020.
It’s not known how much Trump’s civil fraud trial has helped his fundraising, because his latest campaign disclosure covers through the end of September, while the trial started in early October. But records show that Trump’s criminal charges earlier this year were followed by a boost in campaign donations, including at least $9 million raised in the week after his Fulton County mug shot was released.
While exiting court on Thursday, Trump credited the ongoing trial with driving his poll numbers to a new high.
“It’s driving up my polls because the people of our country get it. My poll numbers are the highest I’ve ever had,” he said.
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