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Donald Trump downplays role in Trump Tower in federal courtroom

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Updated: June 16, 2013 6:39AM

He’s one of America’s most accomplished self-promoters.

He wasn’t about to stop just because he was being grilled in federal court.

“I don’t want to be braggadocious,” Donald Trump testified before a packed Chicago courtroom Tuesday afternoon. “I build great buildings.”

But when it came to the gleaming downtown skyscraper that bears his name, the 66-year-old real estate magnate, TV celebrity and onetime presidential hopeful was unusually modest.

Wearing a blue suit, a red tie and his trademark comb-over hairdo, Trump repeatedly downplayed his role in the creation of the 1,389-foot-tall Trump Tower during his hour on the stand, instead crediting his executives and everyone from the Chicago Sun-Times to former Mayor Richard M. Daley with the major decisions that got the iconic tower built.

He was trying to convince a civil trial jury that his company didn’t pull a bait-and-switch con job on 87-year-old Jackie Goldberg in 2006 when it told her she’d get a stake in the Trump International Hotel’s convention and wedding business if she bought two hotel condo units.

Goldberg’s attorneys accuse Trump of being at the center of the alleged scam. They say their client was told she would get a cut of the income from the hotel’s lucrative ballroom and catering operations in addition to rent or income from the condo. They argue Trump always knew he’d snatch back control of those extras once condo buyers including Goldberg had been lured into paying $1 million per unit.

During fiery exchanges Tuesday afternoon, lawyer Shelly Kulwin ridiculed the idea that an experienced and skilled hotel developer such as Trump ever intended to risk his “classy” brand by letting novice hotel condo unit owners decide who ran the hotel’s food and drinks business.

“I certainly wouldn’t want Burger King running my ball room!” Trump responded.

His attorneys deny that Trump misrepresented his plans. They say that Greenberg and other condo owners signed a deal giving Trump the right to seize the hotel’s estimated $5 million annual revenue from catering and other extras. They have tried to distance Trump from the decisions to first give away control of the hotel, then to grab it back.

Though one of Trump’s top executives at the time, Charlie Reiss, earlier testified that Trump himself had “ultimate authority” over every aspect of the tower’s development, Trump said he was only “one piece” of the team.

He testified he delegated to “thousands” of employees, adding that the idea for the skyscraper “came from the Chicago Sun-Times,” which originally owned the 401 N. Wabash site, and said “it was actually Mayor Daley” who demanded a spire on the tower’s roof.

Kulwin then played Trump a video of a deposition in which Trump previously claimed the idea for the tower was his, and showed Trump a brochure in which Trump appeared to take credit for the spire decision.

As the pair squabbled and interrupted each other, a weary Judge Amy St. Eve said she’d heard enough for one day.

Trump is due back on the stand for several hours Wednesday morning.

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