Donald Trump complained of unfair treatment in a defiant and rambling performance on the witness stand on Monday, prompting the judge overseeing his New York civil business-fraud trial to threaten to cut his testimony short.
Under questioning about his company’s accounting practices, Trump repeatedly clashed with 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 former US president 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.
“Mr Kise, can you control your client?” Engoron asked Trump’s lawyer, Christopher Kise. “This is not a political rally. This is a courtroom.”
Amid the fireworks, Trump acknowledged that his company did not provide accurate estimates of the value of apartment towers, golf courses and other assets. New York state lawyers said those values were pumped up to win better financing terms, and Engoron has already ruled that they were fraudulent.
But Trump said many of them, such as his Mar-a-Lago estate and Doral golf course in Florida were undervalued, and that banks did not take the valuations seriously.
“It wasn’t important. You’ve made it important, but it wasn’t,” Trump said of the estimates.
New York state lawyers said in their lawsuit that the estimates misled lenders and insurers, earning him US$100 million and exaggerating his wealth by US$2 billion.
Trump has repeatedly called the case a “witch hunt” and has accused Engoron and New York Attorney General Letitia James of political bias.
He kept up those complaints on the witness stand, where he accused legal authorities of paying unduly close attention to his business after he won the 2016 presidential election.
“I’m sure the judge will rule against me because he always rules against me,” he said.
“This is a very unfair trial,” he added later.
James brushed aside Trump’s attacks ahead of his testimony.
“At the end of the day, the only thing that matters are the facts and the numbers. The numbers, my friends, don’t lie,” James said outside the courthouse.
‘Explain the rules’
At one point when Trump was on the stand, Engoron asked Kise to take Trump to the back of the courtroom and “explain the rules.”
“The former and again soon to be president of the United States understands the rules,” Kise responded.
Unlike the four criminal cases Trump faces, this civil trial does not threaten to put him in prison as he mounts a comeback White House bid.
Indeed, Trump has sought to take advantage of the legal cases, using them to solicit campaign donations and argue that he is being targeted for his political views.
James is seeking US$250 million in fines, as well as restrictions that would prevent Trump and his sons Eric and Donald Jr. from doing business in their home state.
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.
Engoron has already cancelled business certificates for companies that control large portions of his business, though that order is on hold during appeal.
Evidence introduced at trial so far has revealed that company officials, including Trump’s sons Eric and Donald Jr., tried to manipulate the assessed value of trophy properties like the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
One witness, his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, testified that Trump directed him to doctor financial statements to boost his net worth.
Trump has been fined by judge
Though his presence until Monday has not been required in court, he has already appeared several times to glower at the proceedings from the defendant’s table and complain about the case to TV cameras outside the chamber.
That has earned him fines of $15,000 for twice violating a limited gag order that prevents him from criticising court staff. Trump’s lawyers have chafed at that order and indicated they might use it as the basis for an appeal, but Engoron expanded it on Friday to cover them as well.
Trump’s crowded legal calendar threatens to take him off the campaign trail for much of next year.
Republican voters do not seem to be bothered by his legal woes, as opinion polls show he holds a commanding lead in the party’s presidential nominating contest.
The trial was originally scheduled to run through early December but could wrap up sooner as the state calls its final witnesses this week. It is unclear how many witnesses the defence will call.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka is due to testify on Wednesday, though she is not a defendant in the case.
– This article was originally published by Reuters.
https://www.rnz.co.nz/news/world/501848/trump-defiant-at-ny-fraud-trial-judge-threatens-to-cut-off-testimony Trump defiant at NY fraud trial, judge threatens to cut off testimony