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Trump lashes out at judge, complains of treatment at New York fraud trial

NEW YORK: Donald Trump complained of unfair treatment in defiant and rambling testimony on the witness stand at the civil fraud trial about his New York business on Monday (Nov 6), prompting the judge at one point to threaten to cut his testimony short.

Under questioning about his company’s accounting practices, the former US president clearly aggravated Judge Arthur Engoron, who is weighing whether to impose hundreds of millions of dollars in fines and other penalties that could hobble the real estate empire that vaulted Trump to prominence.

Engoron warned Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination in the 2024 election, that he might remove him from the witness stand if he did not answer questions directly.

“Can you control your client?” Engoron asked Trump’s lawyer, Christopher Kise. “This is not a political rally. This is a courtroom.”

Trump’s testimony wrapped up in mid-afternoon. His daughter Ivanka is due to testify on Wednesday, although she is not a defendant in the case.

Over roughly four hours on the witness stand, Trump often avoided direct answers, instead bragging about his properties and his wealth. He accused New York Attorney General Letitia James, an elected Democrat, of targeting him to further her political career and accused Engoron of lowballing the value of his properties.

“I think this case is a disgrace. Many people are leaving New York because of exactly this kind of thing,” he said. “It’s election interference because you want to keep me in the courthouse.”

EX-LAWYER’S TESTIMONY ON VALUATIONS

Unlike the four criminal cases Trump faces, this civil trial does not threaten to put him in prison as he mounts a comeback White House bid.

James is seeking US$250 million in fines, as well as restrictions that would prevent Trump and his sons Eric and Donald Jr from doing business in their home state.

She said after Trump’s testimony that he would face penalties for what she called “repeated and consistent fraud against the citizens of New York”.

Trump’s former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen has testified that Trump directed him to doctor financial statements to boost his net worth.

Evidence also shows that Eric and Donald Jr, who ran the Trump Organization during their father’s 2017 to 2021 White House stint, manipulated the value of trophy properties including Mar-a-Lago.

In testimony last week, Trump’s sons said they were unfamiliar with the details of the valuation documents and blamed accountants for any errors.

Trump likewise sought to blame accountants but also acknowledged that he was involved in valuation efforts. “I would maybe on occasion have some suggestions,” he said.

Asked who at the company was responsible for preventing fraud, the elder Trump said: “Um, everybody.”

Engoron has fined Trump US$15,000 for twice violating a limited gag order that prevents him from criticizing court staff. He expanded it on Friday to cover Trump’s lawyers as well.

Trump’s crowded legal calendar threatens to take him off the campaign trail for much of next year. Nevertheless, opinion polls show he holds a commanding lead in the Republican nominating contest.

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