Defiant Trump tangles with judge at NY fraud trial
Donald Trump often avoided direct answers, instead bragging about his properties and his wealth. Photo: Getty
Donald Trump has complained of unfair treatment in defiant and rambling testimony at the civil fraud trial about his New York business, prompting the judge at one point to threaten to cut his testimony short.
Under questioning about his company’s accounting practices, the former US president clearly irritated Judge Arthur Engoron, who is weighing whether to impose hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and other penalties that could hobble the real estate empire that vaulted Trump to prominence.
Engoron warned Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the 2024 election, that he might remove him from the witness stand if he did not answer questions directly.
“Can you control your client?” Engoron asked Trump’s lawyer, Christopher Kise, on Monday.
“This is not a political rally. This is a courtroom.”
Trump’s testimony wrapped up in the middle of the afternoon. His daughter Ivanka is due to testify on Wednesday, though she is not a defendant in the case.
Over four hours on the witness stand, Trump often avoided direct answers, instead bragging about his properties and his wealth.
He accused New York Attorney-General Letitia James, an elected Democrat, of targeting him to further her political career and accused Engoron of lowballing the value of his properties.
“I think this case is a disgrace. Many people are leaving New York because of exactly this kind of thing,” he said.
“It’s election interference because you want to keep me in the courthouse.”
Both Engoron and Trump repeatedly raised their voices as the judge sought to prevent Trump using the court to air his grievances.
“I’m not here to hear what he has to say. I’m here to hear him answer questions. Sit down already,” Engoron told Alina Habba, another one of Trump’s lawyers.
Engoron has already found Trump, his adult sons and 10 of his companies liable for fraud, describing in scathing terms how the defendants made up valuations.
Amid the fireworks, Trump acknowledged he was involved in some of the documents at the heart of the fraud case, in which New York state lawyers say his company pumped up the value of apartment towers, golf courses and other assets to win better financing terms.
Trump acknowledged those estimates were not always accurate but that should not matter because the estimates included language saying they might not be accurate and his lender Deutsche Bank cared more about how much cash he had on hand.
New York state lawyers say the estimates misled lenders and insurers, earning him more than $US100 million ($A154 million) and exaggerating his wealth by $US2 billion.
Trump accused legal authorities of paying unduly close attention to his business after he won the 2016 presidential election.
“This is a very unfair trial, very, very unfair, and I hope the public is watching,” he added later.
Unlike the four criminal cases Trump faces, this civil trial does not threaten to put him in prison.
James is seeking $US250 million in fines, as well as restrictions that would prevent Trump and his sons Eric and Donald Jr doing business in their home state.
Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen has testified that Trump directed him to doctor financial statements to boost his net worth.
Evidence also shows that Eric and Donald Jr, who ran the Trump Organization during their father’s 2017-21 White House stint, manipulated the value of trophy properties including his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
In testimony last week, both sons said they were unfamiliar with the details of the valuation documents.
Trump made that argument as well, saying accountants did the bulk of the work.