Trump tangles with judge as New York civil fraud trial wraps up

Trump tangles with judge as New York civil fraud trial wraps up

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Former U.S. President Donald Trump gestures while leaving the courtroom during a break, as he attends the Trump Organization civil fraud trial, in New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., December 7, 2023.

By Jack Queen and Luc Cohen

NEW YORK (Reuters) -Donald Trump on Thursday accused the New York judge in his civil fraud trial of “having your own agenda” – and the judge told his lawyer to control his client – as a months-long case that could hobble the former U.S. president’s business empire neared its end.

During a contentious final day of the trial in Manhattan, Trump once again tangled with Justice Arthur Engoron, who is considering what penalties to impose after earlier finding that Trump’s company inflated his net worth to win better financing terms.

“You have your own agenda. I understand that you can’t listen for more than one minute,” Trump said in court, as he denied wrongdoing and repeated claims of political persecution.

Trump’s legal team and the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James made closing arguments in a case accusing him of inflating his net worth to dupe banks. Kevin Wallace, a lawyer from her office, said Trump’s company issued false financial statements every year between 2011 and 2021.

“Fraud was central to the operation of the Trump Organization’s activities,” Wallace told the judge.

Trump and Engoron have clashed repeatedly over the course of the trial. Engoron, who earlier on Thursday had faced a security threat at his suburban home, did not appear to be impressed with Trump’s argument.

“Please control your client,” the judge told Trump’s lawyer, Christopher Kise.

Engoron had earlier reacted skeptically to Kise’s argument that Trump should not be penalized for allegedly manipulating the value of his properties because lenders and insurers that did business with him still turned a profit.

“There does not have to be any evidence of harm,” Engoron said.

Engoron also said he did not find a defense witness to be credible.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought the case, is seeking nearly $370 million and a lifetime ban on Trump from the state’s real-estate industry.

Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the November election.

Shortly before Trump’s legal team concluded its arguments, Alina Habba, another of his lawyers, pointed out that James pledged to scrutinize Trump’s business practices while she was campaigning for office as a Democrat. Engoron said that was not relevant to the case.

The trial’s closing arguments took place in an atmosphere of heightened security after media outlets reported a bomb threat at Engoron’s suburban home. The judge has been a frequent target of Trump’s criticism.


Security has been an issue throughout the months-long trial. Engoron’s top staffer faced threats after Trump criticized her as politically biased, prompting the judge to issue a gag order barring him from disparaging court staff. Trump has been fined $15,000 for twice violating the order.

As James arrived at the courthouse, onlookers cheered and chanted, “Thank you, James.” Police stood guard and tightly controlled entrances to the building.

Trump repeated his claims of political persecution and accused Biden, without offering evidence, of orchestrating the lawsuits and criminal cases against him.

“I’m going to go to all of my trials,” Trump said at a news conference at one of the buildings he owns. “This is their new form of cheating.” Supporters chanted his name as he left.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in four criminal prosecutions, including two that charge him with unlawfully trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Biden. All could go to trial before this year’s election.

Engoron will issue a verdict at a later date without a jury. He found Trump liable for fraud in September, leaving the trial to focus largely on how much money Trump should surrender as ill-gotten gains.

Trump has appealed Engoron’s prior order and is almost certain to appeal any verdict against him, which could delay a final judgment for many months to a year or more.

Throughout trial, the state’s lawyers sought to show that Trump consistently overvalued many of the towers, golf clubs and other assets that burnished his reputation as a business mogul before he entered politics.

Trump admitted to providing inaccurate property valuations during defiant and meandering testimony in November.

Kise argued on Thursday that any alleged manipulation was harmless. Kise said banks and insurers would have been eager to do business with Trump even if his net worth was far lower, Kise said.

“He’s a whale client,” Kise said.

The trial earlier featured a tense face-to-face reunion between Trump and his onetime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who testified that Trump directed him to manipulate asset values. Kise on Thursday called Cohen a “serial liar.”

A lawyer for Trump’s adult children Donald Jr. and Eric, who are also defendants in the case, told the judge there was no evidence that they were significantly involved in the financial statements.

“This is a press release wrapped up in a lawsuit,” lawyer Clifford Robert said of the case brought by the attorney general.

Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire will be the first to decide their preferred nominee this month to face Biden. Trump’s legal troubles have not diminished his commanding lead over party rivals.

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