The former US president has stirred outrage at his New York fraud trial, calling the case against him a “political witch hunt”
Former US President Donald Trump has taken the stand in the New York civil fraud case against him, angering the judge by criticizing the court and arguing that he is being attacked by politically motivated prosecutors around the country.
The trial resumed on Monday with Trump testifying for the first time to rebut allegations by New York Attorney General Letitia James that he and other executives in his real estate organization fraudulently inflated the value of key properties to get favorable loan terms. James is seeking $250 million in damages in her lawsuit, which comes at a time when the ex-president also faces felony charges in four separate criminal cases against him.
While being questioned by state attorney Kevin Wallace, Trump said, “You and every other Democratic district attorney, AG, US attorney were coming after me from 15 different sides – all Democrats, all Trump haters.” He accused James of perpetrating a “political witch hunt” and claimed that Judge Arthur Engoron was biased against him.
The judge repeatedly interrupted Trump’s testimony to complain that his answers were not directly responsive to the questions and veered off into political speeches. “This is not a political rally,” Engoron told Trump’s lawyers, suggesting that they “need to have a talk with him right now.” As the ex-president continued to offer his opinions on the case, the judge said, “I beseech you to control him if you can. If you can’t, I will. I will excuse him and draw every negative inference that I can.”
At stake is the future of Trump’s real estate empire. The judge, who has already found Trump and his co-defendants liable for “persistent and repeated” fraud, will decide on penalties at the end of the trial. He has said that he will dissolve some of Trump’s companies, which could result in the ex-president losing some of his most prominent New York properties. Trump, who is polling as the leading Republican candidate in the 2024 presidential race, has called Engoron a “deranged, Trump-hating judge.”
The loans related to the disputed property valuations have already been repaid. Trump testified on Monday that although he lowered the valuations on two of his properties, his holdings were actually worth more overall than claimed on the financial statements given to lenders. “The most valuable asset was the brand value,” he said. “I became president because of my brand.”
Christopher Kise, one of Trump’s lawyers, told Engoron that it was only fair for the American people to hear the ex-president’s views on the case. “This is a situation where you have on the stand a candidate for president of the United States,” Kise said. “The court needs to hear what he has to say about these statements.”
Engoron shot back, “No, I am not here to hear what he has to say.” When another Trump lawyer stood up to argue that Trump should be allowed to answer the questions in his own way, the judge shouted, “Sit down already. Sit down.”
Undeterred by the judge’s interjections, Trump said, “This is a very, very unfair trial – very — and I hope the public is watching it.”