“During a deposition in his civil case, the former president offered a series of defenses, digressions and meandering explanations of his political and professional dealings.
Under oath and under fire, Donald J. Trump sat for a seven-hour interview with the New York attorney general’s office in April, part of the civil fraud case against him and his company.
But as lawyers from the office grilled Mr. Trump on the inner-workings of his family business, which is accused of inflating his net worth by billions of dollars, he responded with a series of meandering non sequiturs, political digressions and self-aggrandizing defenses.
Asked about his authority at the Trump Organization while he was in the White House, Mr. Trump responded that he considered the presidency “the most important job in the world, saving millions of lives.”
Understand New York State’s Civil Case Against Trump
An empire under scrutiny. Letitia James, New York State’s attorney general, has been conducting a yearslong civil investigation into former President Donald Trump’s business practices, culminating in a lawsuit that accused Trump of “staggering” fraud. Here’s what to know:
“I think you would have nuclear holocaust, if I didn’t deal with North Korea,” he explained, and then added: “And I think you might have a nuclear war now, if you want to know the truth.”
Although Mr. Trump invoked his constitutional right against self-incrimination when initially questioned by the office last year, he answered questions from the attorney general, Letitia James, and her lawyers in the April deposition, a transcript of which was unsealed on Wednesday.
The transcript shows a combative Mr. Trump, who was named as a defendant in the case alongside his company and three of his children, at times barely allowing lawyers to get a word in. The former president frequently seems personally offended by the idea that his net worth is being questioned.
Mr. Trump is seeking to have the case thrown out. A judge could rule on that effort next month, but for now, the case appears headed to trial in early October.
Below are some of the highlights from the transcript of his deposition:
Mr. Trump refers to his time in the Oval Office with a notable understatement.
The former president was asked by Kevin Wallace, a senior lawyer in Ms. James’s office, about his relationship to his company. He said that he was not the final decision maker, though he later suggested he might be involved in “something major, final decisions, whatever.”
KEVIN WALLACE: Mr. Trump, are you currently the person with ultimate decision-making authority for the Trump Organization?
DONALD J. TRUMP: No.
MR. WALLACE: Who would that be?
MR. TRUMP: My son Eric is much more involved with it than I am. I’ve been doing other things.
Mr. Trump claims to have protected the world from nuclear war while in office.
In an exchange soon after that, Mr. Trump acknowledged that those other things included having been president.
MR. TRUMP: I was very busy. I was — I considered this the most important job in the world, saving millions of lives. I think you would have nuclear holocaust, if I didn’t deal with North Korea. I think you would have a nuclear war, if I weren’t elected. And I think you might have a nuclear war now, if you want to know the truth.
Mr. Trump declines to say who has expressed interest in buying Mar-a-Lago.
During the deposition, Mr. Trump claimed to own “the greatest pieces of property in the world” and said that if he were ever to put them up for sale, the prices offered would be staggering. At one point, Mr. Wallace decided to test one of those assertions.
MR. TRUMP: I’ve had people say, if you ever sell Mar-a-Lago, please call me. That’s not for sale.
MR. WALLACE: Who, for example, has told you that?
MR. TRUMP: Well, I rather not say because I don’t want to embarrass them, and I may be putting some of these people on the stand.
Later in the session, Mr. Trump said while he didn’t know who the specific people were who had made such offers, “I know they’re very rich people.”
Mr. Trump derides his annual financial statements, saying that he never felt they would be taken seriously.
The attorney general’s case against Mr. Trump focuses on his annual financial statements, which she says overvalue his property by up to $2.2 billion each year.
Each of Mr. Trump’s financial statements includes a number of disclaimers, which acknowledge that Mr. Trump’s accountants had not reviewed or authenticated his claims. During the interview, Mr. Trump refers to those disclaimers, saying that they essentially render the statements meaningless.
MR. TRUMP: I never felt that these statements would be taken very seriously, because you open it up and right at the beginning of the statement, you read a page and a half of stuff saying, go get your own accounting, go get your own this, go get your own that.
MR. WALLACE: So why did you get these statements prepared?
MR. TRUMP: I would say more for maybe myself just to see the list of properties. I think more for myself than anything else. Sometimes an institution would like to see.
Mr. Trump then went on to say that his properties were even more valuable than was reflected in the statements themselves.
Mr. Trump attacks the case.
The former president frequently used the deposition to attack the case itself. At one point he told Mr. Wallace that the banks from which he had received loans were “shocked” at the lawsuit.
MR. TRUMP: The banks — the banks are shocked by this case. That’s my opinion, because they’ve never had anything like this. Do you know the banks were fully paid? Do you know the banks made a lot of money? Do you know I don’t believe I ever got even a default notice, and even during Covid, the banks were all paid? And yet you’re suing on behalf of banks, I guess. It’s crazy. The whole case is crazy.
Mr. Trump describes the value of his brand.
When asked during the deposition what might have been left out of his annual financial statements, Mr. Trump at first seemed to dispute the premise of the question, saying, “They list everything in the kitchen sink here.” But he then elaborated.
MR. TRUMP: The biggest thing that is not included is my brand. My lawyers never bring it up, but the brand is the biggest, and cause you can, maybe you can double or triple my statement. But my brand is — if I wanted to create a good statement, I would put — I’d start off with Sentence 1, my brand is worth billions and billions of dollars.
Mr. Trump’s friends say he is “the most honest person in the world.”
Asked about policies and procedures to ensure that the Trump Organization complies with the law, he said: “That’s why we have law firms. You know, we have law firms that do this.”
MR. TRUMP: And friends of mine have said, you are the most honest person in the world. So we’ve done a good job. Don’t get credit for it. That’s OK.
The lawyers fought.
Depositions are often contentious, and there were a few highlights from the exchanges between Mr. Wallace and lawyers for Mr. Trump, Christopher M. Kise and Alina Habba.
CHRISTOPHER M. KISE: We’re going to be here until midnight if you keep asking questions that are all over the map.
MR. WALLACE: Chris, we’re going to be here until midnight if your client answers every question with an eight-minute speech. So let’s get down to business.