Defense Rests as Trump Company Trial Draws to Close
Defense lawyers representing Donald J. Trump’s family business rested their case Monday, marking the end of witness testimony in the company’s tax fraud trial and clearing the way for closing arguments this week.
The lawyers for the Trump Organization, which has been charged with letting some executives be compensated with off-the-books perks so that they could evade taxes, spent the vast majority of their defense time questioning a single witness: Donald Bender, who for years was an outside accountant for Mr. Trump and the company.
The defense lawyers sought to show that Mr. Bender bore some responsibility for not alerting the company that the executives — including the Trump Organization’s longtime chief financial officer, Allen H. Weisselberg — were failing to report apartment rentals, luxury cars and other benefits that they were receiving from the company.
But prosecutors with the Manhattan district attorney’s office have argued that under the terms of his arrangement with the company, Mr. Bender would not have been responsible for errors in the company’s tax reporting. Since at least last year, Mr. Bender has been cooperating with the prosecutors, who were originally going to call him as their own witness.
Monday’s Court Action
Susan Necheles, a defense lawyer, on Monday walked Mr. Bender through financial documents, including the company’s general ledger, in an effort to show that some perks that Mr. Weisselberg and other executives received were clearly visible, and that a meticulous accountant would have noticed them. (Mr. Weisselberg pleaded guilty and appeared as a prosecution witness earlier in the trial.)
Mr. Bender testified that it was not his job to look at the ledger line by line.
William J. Brennan, another defense lawyer, asked Mr. Bender on Monday about the “numerous discussions” that he has testified to having with Mr. Weisselberg about the executive’s improper use of a tax form for independent contractors.
Mr. Brennan showed Mr. Bender an engagement letter that stated that Mazars, the accounting firm that Mr. Bender worked for, would “provide all professional advice in writing,” and asked him why he hadn’t put that in writing.
“I am very conservative in nature, and there are a lot of things I wouldn’t do,” Mr. Bender said.
Mr. Brennan concluded by asking Mr. Bender whether he thought he had done a good job for the company.
“I did an amazing job,” Mr. Bender replied.
What happens next?
The judge, Juan Merchan, excused the jurors until Thursday, when the lawyers will begin to deliver their closing arguments, with the defense going first. The prosecution’s argument is expected to last into Friday, and Justice Merchan signaled that he expects jurors to begin deliberating on Dec. 5.
The case hinges on whether prosecutors have convinced the jurors that Mr. Weisselberg acted “in behalf of” the company. The lawyers on Tuesday are expected to argue over what this language actually means, and how that meaning should be communicated to the jury next week.