Trump takes witness stand in New York civil fraud trial News
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Trump takes witness stand in New York civil fraud trial

Former US President Donald Trump took the witness stand on Monday in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil fraud trial against the Trumps. Trump refuted the state’s claims that his business manipulated property valuations and financial statements for financial gain. During Trump’s testimony, the judge overseeing the case repeatedly admonished Trump—who is the current Republican front-runner for the 2024 US presidential election—for several comments, stating, “This is not a political rally.”

The bench trial began on October 2 with opening statements from the state and Trump’s attorneys. Since then, the judge has heard testimony from witnesses such as former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, as well as Trump’s two sons, Eric and Donald Jr. Under New York law, the proceedings are closed to the media, so there is no footage of their testimony.

Reporters within the room, however, captured Trump’s testimony. State prosecutors called Trump to the stand and presented him with financial statements from his business, the Trump Organization, which they purported demonstrate financial fraud. Trump repeated his earlier legal defense that a certain clause located on the document—what Trump referred to as a “worthless clause”—shifted blame from him to the accountants who reviewed the financial documents. It is worth noting that Judge Arthur Engoron—the judge overseeing the case—previously dismissed Trump’s argument regarding the “worthless clause” in pre-trial motions.

After a short time on the stand, Trump began to attack the state prosecutors. At one point, Trump told the prosecutor, “You go around and try and demean me and try and hurt me, probably for political reasons.” Comments like this prompted Engoron to repeatedly scold Trump, reminding him to limit his statements to the case material.

Engoron previously issued a gag order against Trump for similar comments about the court and his staff. On October 20, Engoron imposed a $5,000 fine on Trump over posts about Engoron’s clerk on Trump’s presidential campaign site. Then on October 25, Engoron imposed a $10,000 fine on Trump over a comment the former president made to reporters about Engoron’s staff.

Trump spoke to reporters outside of the courtroom after concluding his testimony. He said, “This is a case that should have never been brought. It’s a case that should be dismissed immediately.” Trump went on to call the court a “fraudster” and claim that prosecutors misinterpreted financial records from the Trump Organization. Of note, the documents state prosecutors have presented to the court were obtained from Trump’s accounting firm, after much back and forth in 2022 during James’ investigation into the Trumps.

James also spoke to reporters outside of the courthouse after Trump’s testimony. She said, “The numbers don’t lie. And Mr. Trump, obviously, can engage in all of these distractions…But I will not be bullied. I will not be harassed. This case will go on. We look forward to hearing the testimony of Ivanka Trump on Wednesday.”

James first launched the civil suit against Trump in September 2022, claiming the Trumps and their business associates allegedly engaged in financial fraud to obtain more favorable loan rates and tax breaks. Originally, the lawsuit contained seven claims. Since then, however, Engoron found that James proved Trump inflated the value of various assets between $812 million and $2.2 billion each year since 2011. Because of that, the ongoing bench trial only relates to the six remaining claims. James is seeking more than $300 million in ill-gotten gains and a ban on the Trumps’ ability to conduct business in New York.