Former President Donald Trump made a dramatic appearance at his New York civil fraud trial, where he expressed dissatisfaction with a partial gag order imposed by a judge in a separate case. Originally, Trump’s former personal lawyer turned adversary, Michael Cohen, was set to testify at the trial but had to postpone due to a medical issue.
As Trump, a potential 2024 Republican presidential nominee, arrived at the Manhattan courtroom, he launched a scathing critique, targeting New York attorney general Letitia James, who initiated the civil fraud case against him, the presiding judge, and President Joe Biden. He claimed it was a “witch hunt” by a “radical lunatic attorney general” and labeled the trial as “rigged” with a “Democrat judge” who he deemed “very liberal.”
Furthermore, Trump falsely alleged that the federal judge overseeing his trial for conspiring to overturn the 2020 US election had taken away his “right to speak.” In reality, US District Judge Tanya Chutkan had not deprived Trump of his speech but instead ordered him not to publicly attack prosecutors, court staff, or potential witnesses leading up to the trial in Washington, set to commence in March 2024.
This gag order followed a motion from special counsel Jack Smith, a frequent target of Trump’s criticism, who expressed concerns that Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric could undermine the trial for election subversion. Judge Arthur Engoron, who is overseeing the civil fraud trial, also issued a limited gag order on Trump after he insulted a court clerk in a social media post. This order forbade “all parties from posting, emailing, or speaking publicly” about his court staff.
It’s important to note that Trump is not obliged to attend the New York trial. Nevertheless, he appeared during the first three days of the case and used these appearances to portray himself as the victim of a Democratic plot to interfere with his presidential campaign.
The New York attorney general has accused Trump, as well as his sons Eric and Don Jr and other Trump Organization executives, of significantly inflating the value of their real estate assets to secure more favorable bank loans and insurance terms. While Trump doesn’t face incarceration in this trial, James is seeking $250 million in penalties and the removal of the former president and his sons from the management of the family business empire.
Before the commencement of the New York trial, Engoron ruled that Trump, his sons, and other Trump Organization executives had misled tax collectors, lenders, and insurers for years by inflating the value of their properties between 2014 and 2021. He also ordered measures to confiscate and liquidate Trump companies, which could potentially lead to the dismantling of Trump’s real estate empire. However, these actions were suspended pending appeal.
In addition to his civil fraud trial, Trump faces federal charges for alleged mishandling of classified documents after leaving the White House and has been charged with racketeering in Georgia for attempting to overturn the 2020 election results in the southern state. These legal battles are unfolding against the backdrop of his potential run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination.