A combative Donald Trump took the stand on Monday (6) in the New York civil fraud case threatening his real estate empire, clashing repeatedly with the judge and denouncing the trial as a “disgrace.”
One year out from an election he hopes will return him to the White House, the 77-year-old Trump became the first former US president to testify as a defendant in a court case in more than a century.
Trump had a number of heated exchanges with Judge Arthur Engoron and lawyers for the New York attorney general’s office during his daylong appearance in a Manhattan courtroom, prompting the judge to tell him at one point to “please, just answer the questions, no speeches.”
“This is not a political rally,” the New York Supreme Court justice told the 2024 Republican presidential nomination front-runner.
Trump accused the judge of being “very hostile” and denounced New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought the case against him, as a “political hack.”
“I think this case is a disgrace,” he said. “It’s election interference.”
At one point, a visibly angry Engoron told Trump’s lawyer, Christopher Kise, to “control your client.”
Engoron slapped Trump with $15,000 in fines earlier in the trial for violating a partial gag order imposed after he insulted the judge’s law clerk on social media.
Trump, his eldest sons Don Jr and Eric, and other Trump Organisation executives are accused of exaggerating the value of their real estate assets by billions of dollars to obtain more favorable bank loans and insurance terms.
Dressed in a dark blue suit with an American flag on his lapel, Trump denounced what he called a “crazy trial” brought by Democrats “coming after me from 15 different sides.”
He dismissed allegations that his firm’s financial statements were fraudulent, describing them as “very conservative.”
“They were not really documents that the banks paid much attention to,” he said. “The banks were paid off.”
The former president also said the value of the “Trump brand” was not always taken into account in the valuations of his assets.
“I became president because of my brand,” he said.
‘The court was the fraudster’
Speaking to reporters after his testimony, Trump said the case “should have never been brought.
“The fraud was on behalf of the court,” he said. “The court was the fraudster in this case.”
James, the attorney general, told reporters the former president had “consistently misrepresented and inflated the value of his assets,” and shrugged off Trump’s personal attacks on her.
“The numbers don’t lie,” James said. “I will not be bullied. I will not be harassed. This case will go on. Justice will prevail.”
James said the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, would testify on Wednesday (8). She left the Trump Organisation in 2017 to become a White House advisor and is not a co-defendant in the case.
Trump’s testimony followed that of his sons Don Jr. and Eric, who took the stand last week and blamed accountants for any inaccuracies in the company’s financial statements.
According to the Washington Post, the last former US president to testify publicly as a defendant was Theodore Roosevelt, who took the stand during a 1915 libel trial.
Trump and his sons do not risk going to jail, but face up to $250 million in penalties and potential removal from the management of the family company.
Even before opening arguments, Engoron ruled that James’s office had already shown “conclusive evidence” that Trump had overstated his net worth on financial documents by between $812 million and $2.2 billion between 2014 and 2021.
As a result, the judge ordered the liquidation of the companies managing the assets in question, such as the Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street skyscrapers in Manhattan.
That order is on hold pending appeal, but its potentially sweeping consequences highlight the high stakes for the former president.
The civil fraud trial is one of several legal battles Trump faces as he seeks to recapture the presidency.
In March, Trump — who was impeached twice while in office — faces a federal trial in Washington on charges that he conspired to overturn the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to president Joe Biden.