Donald Trump defies judge and addresses civil fraud trial

The former US president says he did nothing wrong, did not lie about his fortune and is the victim of political persecution.

Donald Trump defies judge and addresses civil fraud trial PA Media

Barred from giving a formal closing argument, Donald Trump still seized an opportunity to speak in court at the conclusion of his New York civil fraud trial, unleashing a barrage of attacks in a six-minute diatribe before being cut off by the judge.

Mr Trump spoke as the judge was trying to find out if the former US president would follow rules requiring him to keep his remarks focused on matters related to the trial.

Asked whether he would comply with the guidelines, Mr Trump defied the judge and simply launched into his speech.

“We have a situation where I am an innocent man,” Mr Trump protested.

Judge Arthur Engoron attends the closing arguments in the Trump Organisation civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court (Shannon Stapleton/Pool Photo via AP)

“I’m being persecuted by someone running for office and I think you have to go outside the bounds.”

Judge Arthur Engoron – who had denied Mr Trump permission earlier to give a closing statement at the trial – let him continue almost entirely uninterrupted for what amounted to a brief personal summation, then cut him off and recessed for lunch.

Mr Trump, the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, has repeatedly disparaged Judge Engoron, accusing him in a social media post on Wednesday night of working closely with the New York attorney general “to screw me”.

On Wednesday, Judge Engoron had nixed an unusual plan by Mr Trump to deliver his own closing remarks in the courtroom, in addition to summations from his legal team, after lawyers for the former president would not agree to the judge’s demand that he stick to “relevant” matters”.

After two of Mr Trump’s lawyers had delivered traditional closing arguments on Thursday, one of them, Christopher Kise, asked the judge again whether Mr Trump could speak.

Judge Engoron asked Mr Trump whether he would abide by the guidelines he had laid out earlier, which included not trying to introduce new evidence or making a campaign speech.

Mr Trump then launched into his remarks.

“This is a fraud on me. What’s happened here, Sir, is a fraud on me,” Mr Trump said.

Former US president Donald Trump before the start of closing arguments in his civil business fraud trial at New York Supreme Court (Seth Wenig, Pool/AP)

He later accused the judge of not listening to him.

“I know this is boring to you.”

“Control your client,” Judge Engoron warned Mr Kise.

Judge Engoron then told Mr Trump he had a minute left, and then adjourned for lunch.

The exchange took place hours after authorities responded to a bomb threat at the judge’s house.

Police checked out the threat at Judge Engoron’s Long Island home, which came a day after he denied the former president’s extraordinary request to deliver his own courtroom close, officials said.

The proceedings were not delayed.

At 5.30am local time on Thursday, hours before the trial’s final day was to begin, Nassau County police said they responded to a “swatting incident” at Judge Engoron’s Great Neck home.

New York attorney general Letitia James awaits the start of closing arguments in the civil business fraud trial against the Trump Organisation at New York Supreme Court (Seth Wenig, Pool/AP)

Nothing amiss was found at the location, officials said.

The false report came days after a fake emergency call reporting a shooting at the home of the judge in Mr Trump’s Washington, DC criminal case.

The incidents are among a recent spate of similar false reports at the homes of public officials.

Taking the bench a few minutes late, Judge Engoron made no mention of the incident at his home.

Thursday’s court action featured the start of closing arguments in the trial over allegations that Mr Trump exaggerated his wealth on financial statements he provided to banks, insurance companies and others.

“Forty-four days of trial – not one witness came into this courtroom, your honour, and said there was fraud,” Mr Kise said, contending his client “should get a medal” for his business acumen instead of punishment he deemed the “corporate death penalty”.

New York attorney general Letitia James, a Democrat, wants the judge to impose 370 million dollars (£291 million) in penalties.

Mr Trump says he did nothing wrong.

He contends outside accountants that helped prepare the statements should have flagged any discrepancies and that the documents came with disclaimers that shield him from liability.

The former president had hoped to make that argument personally, but the judge – initially open to the idea – said no after a Trump lawyer missed a deadline for agreeing to ground rules.

Among them, Judge Engoron warned that Mr Trump could not use his closing remarks to “deliver a campaign speech” or use the opportunity to impugn the judge and his staff.

“This entire case is a manufactured claim to pursue a political agenda,” Mr Kise said in his closing argument.

“It has been press releases and posturing but no evidence.”

Lawyers from Ms James’s office will deliver their closing argument on Thursday afternoon.

Mr Trump returned to court as a spectator on Thursday despite the death of his mother in-law, Amalija Knavs, and the launch of the presidential primary season on Monday with the Iowa caucus.

Since the trial began on October 2, Mr Trump has gone to court nine times to observe, give evidence and complain to TV cameras about the case, which he called a “witch hunt and a disgrace”.

Donald Trump at New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York (Jefferson Siegel/The New York Times via AP, Pool).

He clashed with Judge Engoron and state lawyers during three-and-a-half hours in the witness box in November and remains under a limited gag order after making a disparaging and false social media post about the judge’s law clerk.

Thursday’s arguments are part of a busy legal and political stretch for Mr Trump.

On Tuesday, he was in court in Washington, DC, to watch appeals court arguments over whether he is immune from prosecution on charges that he plotted to overturn the 2020 election – one of four criminal cases against him.

Mr Trump has pleaded not guilty.

In New York, Ms James sued Mr Trump in 2022 under a state law that gives the state attorney general broad power to investigate allegations of persistent fraud in business dealings.

Mr Kise argued the case amounted to the “weaponisation” of a consumer protection statute and, urging Judge Engoron to consider his legacy as a judge, warned that a ruling in the state’s favour would have a chilling effect on every company doing business in the state.

Judge Engoron decided some of the key issues before evidence began.

In a pre-trial ruling, he found that Mr Trump had committed years of fraud by lying about his riches on financial statements with tricks such as claiming his Trump Tower penthouse was nearly three times its actual size.

The trial involves six undecided claims, including allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records.

Mr Trump’s company and two of his sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr, are also defendants.

Eric Trump was also in court for closing arguments.

Besides monetary damages, Ms James wants Mr Trump and his co-defendants barred from doing business in New York.

State lawyers say that by making himself seem richer, Mr Trump qualified for better loan terms from banks, saving him at least 168 million dollars (£132 million).

Mr Kise acknowledged that some holdings may have been listed “higher by immaterial” amounts, but he added “there’s plenty of assets that were undervalued by substantial sums”.

Judge Arthur Engoron hopes to have a decision by the end of the month (Jefferson Siegel/The New York Times via AP, Pool).

Judge Engoron said he is deciding the case because neither side asked for a jury and state law does not allow for juries for this type of lawsuit.

He said he hopes to have a decision by the end of the month.

Last month, in a ruling denying a defence bid for an early verdict, the judge signalled he is inclined to find Mr Trump and his co-defendants liable on at least some claims.

“Valuations, as elucidated ad nauseum in this trial, can be based on different criteria analysed in different ways,” Judge Engoron wrote in the December 18 ruling.

“But a lie is still a lie.”

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