NEW YORK (AP) - There was talk of impeachment Monday at the Trump Organization's criminal tax fraud trial - not former President Donald Trump's, which happened twice - but whether lawyers for his company were angling to impeach their own witness, longtime Trump accountant Donald Bender.
Defense lawyer Susan Necheles said Bender, a partner at Mazars USA LLP who spent years overseeing tax returns for Trump's hundreds of entities, "surprised" her when he testified that he didn't actually do much work on the company's tax returns.
Bender indicated he delegated some work to other firm employees.
"That answer surprised me because it's just not true," Necheles said during a court conference held after Bender and the jury left the courtroom for a lunch break.
Necheles was seeking permission to confront Bender with records showing he spent more time working on tax returns for the Trump Corporation, the company's main subsidiary, than he led on. But the defense lawyer stopped short of saying she wanted to undermine his credibility in front of jurors.
"I don't want to impeach the witness. I don't want to call him a liar," Necheles said. "That's impeaching the witness."
Judge Juan Manuel Merchan, already annoyed with the defense because it filed a court motion late Sunday night, appeared reluctant to grant Necheles' request, instructing her to refine her argument over lunch.
"I believe I've bent over backward to allow both defendants to prepare a defense," Merchan said, referring to the Trump Corporation and the other charged subsidiary, Trump Corp. and Trump Payroll Corp. As a gatekeeper, Merchan said, "I don't believe that means I have to let you to throw everything at the jury and see what sticks."
The Trump Organization, the holding company for Trump's buildings, golf courses and other assets, is charged with helping some top executives avoid income taxes on compensation they got in addition to their salaries, including rent-free apartments and luxury cars. If convicted, the company could be fined more than $1 million.
Trump has blamed Bender for not catching the scheme, writing on his Truth Social platform: "The highly paid accounting firm should have routinely picked these things up - we relied on them. VERY UNFAIR!"
Bender also prepared personal income tax returns for Trump and his wife, former first lady Melania Trump, his children and some company executives.
The Trump Organization's former finance chief, Allen Weisselberg, testified earlier in the trial that he came up with the scheme on his own, without Trump or the Trump family knowing. Weisselberg, who testified in a plea deal in exchange for a five-month jail sentence, said the company benefited because it didn't have to pay him as much in salary.
Mazars USA LLP has since dropped Trump as a client. In February, the firm said annual financial statements it prepared for him "should no longer be relied upon" after New York Attorney General Letitia James' office said the statements regularly misstated the value of assets.
James is suing Trump and his company over those allegations.