Donald Trump defies judge, gives courtroom speech on tense final day of New York civil fraud trial

Jan 11, 2024, 2:00 PM | Updated: 7:18 pm

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

In an extraordinary move for any defendant, Trump not only sought to make his own summation but then brushed past a question from the judge about whether he would follow rules requiring him to keep his remarks focused on matters related to the trial.

“I am an innocent man,” Trump protested. “I’m being persecuted by someone running for office, and I think you have to go outside the bounds.”

Judge Arthur Engoron let him continue almost uninterrupted for what amounted to a brief personal summation, then cut him off for a scheduled lunch break.

Trump’s in-court remarks, which were not televised, ensured a tumultuous final day for a trial over allegations that he habitually exaggerated his wealth on financial statements, deceiving a bank and insurance companies into giving him plum deals.

Engoron said he hoped to have a verdict by Jan. 31. He is deciding the case because state law doesn’t allow for juries in this type of lawsuit.

New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Trump in 2022 under a state law that gives her broad power to investigate allegations of persistent fraud in business dealings. She wants the judge to impose $370 million in penalties and forbid Trump from doing business in New York.

Adding to the day’s tension, the exchanges took place hours after authorities responded to a bomb threat at the judge’s house in New York City’s suburbs. The scare didn’t delay the start of court proceedings, and Engoron didn’t mention it in court.

Trump, the leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination, has disparaged Engoron throughout the trial, accusing him in a social media post Wednesday night of working closely with James. Both she and Engoron are Democrats.

The court action came days before the presidential primary season kicks off with the Monday’s Iowa caucuses.

Engoron had rejected an unusual plan by Trump to deliver his own closing remarks in the courtroom, in addition to summations from his legal team. The sticking point was that Trump’s lawyers would not agree to the judge’s demand that he stick to “relevant” matters and not try to introduce new evidence, make a campaign speech or lob personal attacks at the judge, James or the court system.

After three Trump lawyers delivered traditional closing arguments Thursday, one of them, Christopher Kise, asked the judge again whether Trump could speak. Engoron asked Trump whether he would abide by the guidelines.

Trump didn’t agree to do so, instead launching into his remarks.

“What’s happened here, sir, is a fraud on me,” Trump said, claiming he was being targeted by officials who “want to make sure I don’t win again.” He later accused the judge of not listening to him: “I know this is boring to you.”

“Control your client,” Engoron warned Kise.

Engoron then told Trump he had a minute left, let him speak a little more, and then adjourned.

James later said she wasn’t bothered by Trump’s personal attacks.

“This case has never been about politics or personal vendetta or about name-calling,” she said outside court. “This case is about the facts and the law. And Mr. Donald Trump violated the law.”

A lawyer for her office, Kevin Wallace, had argued in court that “fraud was central to the operation” of Trump’s business. Wallace asserted that inflating Trump’s fortune led to interest rate savings that “kept the company afloat” for a time when it was spending big on various projects, though Kise objected that there was no testimony to that effect.

The state insisted that the falsehoods were intentional and that Trump should be held accountable for them.

“Ask yourself: Would any of this persistent fraud have happened, over the course of 11 years, if it wasn’t directed from the top by Mr. Trump?” state lawyer Andrew Amer posited during summations.

Trump skipped the state’s closing arguments to hold a news conference that served as counter-programming. He reiterated his insistence that “they have no case.”

His lawyers had argued as much in their summations. Kise said Trump “should get a medal” for his business acumen instead of a potential punishment he deemed the “corporate death penalty.”

While he acknowledged that Trump’s financial statements may have made “immaterial” overstatements about some of his holdings, the lawyer maintained that many assets “were undervalued by substantial sums.”

The day began with police on Long Island checking out what they called a “swatting incident at Engoron’s home. Nassau County police said they found nothing amiss.

The false report came days after a fake emergency call reporting a shooting at the home of the judge in Trump’s Washington, D.C., criminal case. The incidents are among a recent spate of similar false reports at the homes of public officials.

Engoron ruled before the trial that Trump had committed years of fraud by lying about his riches on financial statements with tricks like claiming his Trump Tower penthouse was nearly three times its actual size.

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

In a ruling last month, the judge suggested he’s inclined to find Trump and his co-defendants liable on at least some claims. Assets can be valued in different ways, the judge wrote, “but a lie is still a lie.”

However, Engoron asked the state lawyers Thursday what evidence they had that Trump’s sons knew of the alleged fraud. “I just haven’t seen it,” the judge said.

Amer responded that the sons, as top executives, bore responsibility even if they claimed to be unaware of the purported wrongdoing.

Since the trial began Oct. 2, the former president has gone to court nine times to observe, testify and complain to TV cameras about the case.

He clashed with Engoron and state lawyers during 3½ hours on the witness stand in November and remains under a limited gag order after making a disparaging and false social media post about the judge’s law clerk.

On Tuesday, he was in court in Washington, D.C., 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. Trump has pleaded not guilty.


Associated Press reporters Michelle L. Price and Jake Offenhartz contributed to this report.


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Donald Trump defies judge, gives courtroom speech on tense final day of New York civil fraud trial