Trump's Attacks On Fraud Trial Judge Could Backfire
On Day 1 of his New York fraud trial, Trump repeatedly attacked the judge who will decide his fate and continued to inflate the value of his assets.
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Donald Trump’s entire persona was built on a foundation of fraud. Now, it’s being proven in court. What’s at stake here goes to the heart of Trump’s identity and family business.
This trial isn’t about whether or not Donald Trump committed fraud. That has already been decided. What’s being decided here is how much Trump will pay for his corruption. That decision is totally up to Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, whom Trump decided to repeatedly attack today right outside the courtroom.
Last week, Justice Engoron ruled that Donald Trump and his sons are liable for a decade of fraud at the Trump Organization. Trump’s New York business licenses were revoked as part of this pre-trial ruling. The ruling came after New York Attorney General Letitia James sought a summary judgment against Donald Trump, which was granted. Now, that same judge will decide the fate of Trump’s business.
This non-jury trial is litigating the civil lawsuit New York Attorney General Letitia James filed against Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, Trump Organization executive Jeffrey McConney, and the Trump Organization. The trial will go further into the specifics of the allegations and determine the remedies for their fraudulent activities.
The lawsuit found fraud related to assets that were inflated every year between 2011 and 2021, totaling over “200 false and misleading valuations.” The fraudulent scheme involved inflating the valuations of his assets by as much as $2.2 billion to obtain loans with more favorable terms. Trump was also accused of deflating some assets to authorities to avoid taxes.
The stakes are high. At issue in this trial is whether Trump will have to pay the $250 million in damages requested by AG James and what will happen to the Trump Organization. Trump and his sons could be banned from ever doing business in New York again. Their real estate license could be revoked. The family could lose their New York properties. This would be the end of the Trump Organization as we know it.
Given the steep potential consequences Trump is facing, you would think he and his legal team would tread lightly and present an ironclad defense. Instead, they repeatedly attacked Justice Engoron and continued to hype up the valuation of Trump’s assets. They ran a public relations strategy targeting Trump’s base instead of a coherent legal strategy.
Let’s dive into what happened today and why things aren’t looking so good for Donald Trump and his legal team.
Attacks On Justice Engoron
Trump appeared in New York on Monday morning for Day One of his civil fraud trial. It was an optional appearance he chose to make. Outside of the courtroom, Trump launched vicious attacks on New York Attorney General Letitia James and Justice Engoron. Trump falsely called AG James a “racist” who is running a “scam.”
When it came to Justice Engoron, Trump went even harder. Trump called Engoron a “rogue judge” and launched multiple tirades whenever he walked out of the courtroom.
During the trial’s lunch break, Trump said, “We’re gonna be here for months with a judge who already made up his mind. It’s ridiculous. He’s a Democrat judge, he’s an operative, and it’s ridiculous.” Trump continued sarcastically, “Other than that, things went very well.”
Fact-check: Justice Engoron is, of course, not an operative.
Trump went on to call the judge a “disgrace,” suggest he should be charged criminally, said he’s “getting away with murder,” and accused him of election interference. Trump’s repeated, baseless attacks on Justice Engoron, who is unilaterally responsible for deciding how severe a punishment Trump and his sons will face, is a brilliant strategy if his goal is to lose everything.
It’s important to note that Trump’s attacks on Justice Engoron are an attempt to intimidate him. This is a tactic Trump has historically implemented. Trump is currently facing a gag order request from Special Counsel Jack Smith for his attacks on the judge and witnesses. Trump expects his base to issue threats and scare Justice Engoron out of a harsh penalty. In reality, this could result in a future gag order or worsen his penalty.
In legal proceedings, judges expect parties involved to maintain a certain level of decorum and respect for the court. If a defendant, especially in a bench trial where the judge is the sole decider of the case's outcome, openly attacks or disrespects the judge, it could potentially influence the judge's perception of the defendant's character and credibility.
While judges are trained to remain impartial, repeated and overt disrespect could be seen as contemptuous behavior. When it comes to deciding the potential penalties, that is fully up to the judge’s discernment. Trump's attacks could potentially affect the judge's discretion and prove indicative of a lack of remorse or acknowledgment of wrongdoing.
Apparently, the reason this will be up to one judge instead of a jury is the fault of Trump’s team. Justice Engoron said that Trump’s lawyers never filed a request for a jury trial, which is a simple procedural step. Because of his legal team’s incompetence, Trump is about to have the fate of his business unilaterally decided by a judge who already ruled he’s liable for a decade of fraud.
Continued Inflation Of Assets
Other than the short period of time at the beginning of the hearing, cameras weren’t allowed in the courtroom. So, most of what we know about what happened came from journalists who were sitting inside.
The picture of what happened below is a result of cross-referencing multiple live updates of the events that unfolded, including from The Messenger’s Senior Legal Correspondent Adam Klasfeld and from a team of reporters at NBC News. What happened outside of the courtroom was broadcast on multiple networks.
Inside the courtroom, Trump’s team was at times bombastic. Lead Trump attorney Chris Kise and Trump attorney Alina Habba tried their best to appease Trump, who demanded a more passionate defense rather than a reasoned one.
In their opening statements, Trump’s lawyers confrontationally argued that there was no intent to defraud and that Trump’s assets really were worth what Trump claimed. Meanwhile, Trump was reportedly visibly angry, crossing his arms.
Outside of the courtroom, Trump ludicrously claimed that Mar-a-Lago is worth over a billion dollars. In court, Trump’s claims were echoed. Trump lawyer Alina Habba accused Justice Engoron of ruling that Mar-a-Lago was worth $18 million. That is not true. Engoron simply cited a Palm Beach County Tax Assessor who found the value to be between $18 million - $27.6 million.
This is important because one of the specific overvaluations Justice Engoron noted in his ruling is the fact Donald Trump valued Mar-a-Lago at up to $612 million on his financial statements between 2011 and 2021.
In other words, Trump and his lawyers are still publicly inflating his assets in the courtroom, committing the very same conduct Trump was just found liable for.
Donald Trump’s History Of Fraud
This ruling adds to Trump’s well-documented history of fraudulent behavior. Donald Trump paid a $25 million settlement for defrauding customers with Trump University – a payment made after winning the presidency. Trump Foundation was ordered to shut down after New York Attorney General Letitia James Found a “pattern of illegality.”
In 2019, The New York Times reported that Donald Trump received, at least, the equivalent of $413 million from his father’s real estate empire and used shady methods, sometimes constituting fraud, to funnel the money to himself. So much for being self-made
Trump can try and spin all these facts, but his entire identity as a savvy businessman has already been ruled a con.
What Happens Next?
Justice Engoron said that this trial will likely last into December. There is a laundry list of over 100 witnesses that could be called in this case, including Michael Cohen, Eric Trump, Donald Trump Jr., and Ivanka Trump.
This timeline complicates things for the former president. Trump is running to be re-elected in the 2024 election, but he also faces 91 criminal charges across four indictments. His road to election day is paved with criminal and civil trials. This is the path ahead for Trump:
Next few months: New York Civil fraud trial
January 15, 2024: 2nd E. Jean Carroll defamation trial
January 15, 2024: Iowa kicks off the primary season with its caucuses
March 4, 2024: DOJ trial over 2020 election interference
March 5, 2024: Super Tuesday sees 15 states, including Texas and California, holding primaries
March 25, 2024: NYC Hush Money trial begins
May 20, 2024: Classified document trial begins
June 4, 2024: Last primary elections take place
July 15-18, 2024: GOP convention in Milwaukee to announce their presidential nominee
November 5, 2024: Election Day
Any other candidate would be unelectable amid all of this corruption. Currently, he is leading the Republican primary field by 40 points.
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