Trump defies judge, gives short speech before being cut off

Trump defies judge, gives short speech before being cut off

By Michael R. Sisak and Jennifer Peltz | Associated Press

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

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

After a few minutes, Judge Arthur Engoron — who had denied Trump permission earlier to give a closing statement at the trial — cut him off and recessed for lunch.

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

On Wednesday, Engoron had nixed an unusual plan by 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 Trump’s lawyers had 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 he had laid out earlier, which included not trying to introduce new evidence or making a campaign speech.

Trump then launched into his remarks.

“This is a fraud on me. What’s happened here, Sir, is a fraud on me,” Trump said. 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, 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 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 5:30 a.m. on Thursday, hours before the trial’s final day was to begin, Nassau County police said they responded to a “swatting incident” at Engoron’s Great Neck home. 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 Trump’s Washington, D.C. 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, 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 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 honor, and said there was fraud,” 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 in penalties. Trump says he did nothing wrong. He contends outside accountants that helped prepare the statements should’ve 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, Engoron warned that Trump couldn’t 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,” Kise said in his closing argument. “It has been press releases and posturing but no evidence.”

Lawyers from James’ office were to deliver their closing argument Thursday afternoon.

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

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

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.

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

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.

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

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

Engoron decided some of the key issues before testimony began. In a pretrial ruling, he found 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, including allegations 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.

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

State lawyers say that by making himself seem richer, Trump qualified for better loan terms from banks, saving him at least $168 million.

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Kise, praising Trump as “part of the fabric of the commercial real estate industry” for a half-century, pointed to Trump’s testimony that he intended lenders to do their own research and vetting after receiving his financial statements.

The lawyer also argued that the documents understated — rather than overvalued — the former president’s net worth.

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.”

Engoron said he is deciding the case because neither side asked for a jury and state law doesn’t 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 defense bid for an early verdict, the judge signaled he’s inclined to find 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 analyzed in different ways,” Engoron wrote in the Dec. 18 ruling. “But a lie is still a lie.”

Associated Press reporters Michelle L. Price contributed to this report.