On Monday, Donald Trump clashed with the judge several times as he took the testimony in the New York civil fraud case that threatens to devastate his real estate enterprise.
Trump became the first former US president to testify as a defendant in a court case in more than a century, one year before an election he believes would return him to the White House.
During his evidence, Trump, 77, accused Judge Arthur Engoron of delivering “fraudulent” orders and called New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who filed the case against him, a “political hack.”
“He called me a fraud and he did not know anything about me,” Trump said of the judge, who was sitting right next to him, before calling the trial a “political witch hunt.”
“This is not a political rally,” the judge admonished Trump, the frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination. “Please, just answer the questions, no speeches.”
At one point, a visibly angry Engoron told Trump’s lawyer, Christopher Kise, to “control your client.”
Trump, dressed in a dark blue suit and tie with an American flag on his lapel, slammed a “very unfair” and “crazy trial” filed by Democrats “coming after me from 15 different sides.”
Trump, his two eldest sons, Don Jr. and Eric, as well as other Trump Organization executives, are accused of inflating the worth of their real estate assets by billions of dollars in order to gain better bank loans and insurance terms.
Trump denied charges that the company’s financial statements were fake while testifying under oath, describing them as “very conservative.”
“They were not really documents that the banks paid much attention to,” he said, and the value of the “Trump brand” was not taken into account in the valuations of his assets.
“I became president because of my brand,” Trump said under questioning from Kevin Wallace, a lawyer for the New York attorney general’s office.
‘Numbers, my friends, don’t lie’
James, the attorney general, told reporters before Trump’s testimony that the former president had “consistently misrepresented and inflated the value of his assets.”
“Before he takes the stand, I am certain that he will engage in name-calling and taunts and race-baiting and call this a witch hunt,” James said. “But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters are the facts and the numbers.
“And numbers, my friends, don’t lie.”
Trump has regularly referred to James as a “racist,” and he has also referred to Engoron as “unhinged” and a “Trump-hating radical left, Democrat operative.”
Engoron has retaliated by fining Trump $15,000 for violating a partial gag order issued after he criticized the judge’s clerk on social media.
Trump’s testimony follows that of his sons Don Jr. and Eric, who testified last week and blamed accountants for any mistakes in the company’s financial accounts.
According to The Washington Post, Theodore Roosevelt was the last former president to testify publicly as a defendant during a libel trial in 1915.
Trump has previously testified twice in this case, both times behind closed doors depositions.
First of several trials
Trump and his sons face no jail time, but they could face up to $250 million in fines and removal from the family business’s management.
Even before hearings began, Engoron decided that James’ office had presented “conclusive evidence” that Trump had inflated his net worth on financial documents by $812 million to $2.2 billion between 2014 and 2021.
As a result, the judge ordered the liquidation of the entities in charge of the disputed properties, which included the Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street skyscrapers in Manhattan.
That ruling is on hold pending an appeal, but its potentially far-reaching implications illustrate the former president’s high stakes.
The civil fraud trial is one of numerous legal battles Trump is waging in his bid to reclaim the office.
Trump, who was impeached twice while in office, will stand trial in March on allegations of conspiring to change the results of the 2020 election, which he lost to President Joe Biden.