Trump storms out of his civil fraud trial after facing off with foe … – NBC News
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Donald Trump stormed out of a New York City courtroom Wednesday after a heated day in court in which the former president was called to the witness stand in his $250 million state fraud case and fined $10,000 for violating a gag order.
Trump’s abrupt departure appeared to surprise even his own lawyers and his Secret Service agents, who went scurrying after him. He returned to the courtroom in Manhattan after the court day ended and after his former lawyer Michael Cohen finished his contentious testimony.
Judge Arthur Engoron handed down the financial penalty after having called Trump to testify under oath in the afternoon about whom he was talking about when he told reporters earlier in the day that the person sitting next to the judge was “very partisan.”
Trump said he was referring to Cohen, whom he has called a rat, a liar and a felon.
Engoron asked Trump whether he’d previously referred to his law clerk as “partisan,” and Trump said, “Maybe unfair.”
“I think she is very biased against us. I think we’ve made that clear,” Trump added.
But, Trump insisted, he was referring to Cohen when he told reporters earlier that Engoron is “a very partisan judge with a person who’s very partisan sitting alongside him, perhaps even much more partisan than he is.”
Engoron’s law clerk sits next to him and has been the subject of complaints from Trump’s team, including earlier Wednesday when Trump lawyer Alina Habba asked that there be no eye-rolling or whispers from the bench during her questioning of Cohen.
Engoron asked Trump whether he generally referred to Cohen by his full name. “No,” Trump responded. Trump lawyer Chris Kise added that Trump would normally call him “worse” names.
Engoron said he found Trump’s brief testimony “not credible.” He fined Trump for violating the gag order he issued this month after Trump had smeared his law clerk on social media.
A red-faced and angry-looking Trump stormed out of the courtroom about 45 minutes later after Engoron denied a motion from his lawyers on a separate legal issue. Trump lawyer Cliff Robert had seized on Cohen’s testimony that Trump never explicitly instructed him to inflate his financial statements to ask Engoron for a directed verdict dismissing the state attorney general’s claims about the statements, which Engoron refused.
The abrupt departure appeared to catch even his attorneys by surprise and caused gasps throughout the courtroom.
“The witness just admitted that we won the trial and the judge should end this trial immediately. Thank you,” Trump told reporters after he left.
Under questioning from the state attorney general’s office, Cohen testified later that Trump didn’t specifically tell him to inflate the numbers and said he was like a “mob boss” who tells you what he wants without directly telling you.
When Cohen wrapped up his fiery two days on the witness stand, Robert again asked Engoron for a directed verdict, a request he said was “absolutely denied.”
“This case has credible evidence all over the place,” said the judge, who has already ruled that Trump engaged in “persistent fraud” with his financial statements. “There is enough evidence in this case to fill this courtroom,” he added.
Cohen told reporters after he left the courtroom: “They wanted to make a motion to dismiss the case, to which the judge responded: ‘Yeah, absolutely not.’ You know why? Because he will ultimately be held accountable.”
State Attorney General Letitia James said Cohen, who admitted to having previously lied under oath in court and to Congress while he was on the witness stand, is “not the main witness” in the case. She added that his “evidence has been corroborated by the mountains of evidence.”
Trump’s lawyers had earlier asked Engoron to reconsider the fine, again contending the “partisan” person Trump referred to was Cohen.
Kise said Trump had been focused on Cohen’s testimony, an argument Engoron didn’t buy, noting that their cross-examination of Cohen had focused on past contradictory statements, with no discussion of his political leanings.
“The focal point was he’s dishonest, not that he’s some sort of partisan Democrat,” Engoron said.
“The ruling stands,” he said, telling Trump: “You’re fined $10,000. Don’t do it again, or it will be worse.”
It is the second time Engoron has fined Trump for violating the gag order.
Engoron issued the order on the second day of the trial after Trump posted on Truth Social a different user’s Instagram post showing the law clerk at an event where she posed with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. In his post, Trump falsely insinuated that the clerk had a personal relationship with Schumer and then pointed it out to reporters during a break in the trial.
“You saw what was just put out about Schumer and the principal clerk? That is disgraceful,” Trump said.
Schumer’s office has called the post “ridiculous, absurd, and false.”
Engoron ordered Trump to take down the “disparaging” and “untrue” post, which he said he was concerned could lead to threats and violence.
“Consider this a gag order on all parties with respect to posting or publicly speaking about any member of my staff,” he said.
“Personal attacks on members of my court staff are unacceptable, inappropriate, and I won’t tolerate it,” he added.
Last week, Engoron said he’d learned the offending post had remained on Trump’s campaign website for 17 days. Kise told Engoron the posting had been automatic and was “truly inadvertent.”
Engoron fined Trump $5,000 and warned in a written decision that “future violations, whether intentional or unintentional, will subject the violator to far more severe sanctions, which may include, but are not limited to, steeper financial penalties, holding Donald Trump in contempt of court, and possibly imprisoning him.”
Adam Reiss is a reporter and producer for NBC and MSNBC.
Chloe Atkins reports for the NBC News Investigative Unit, based in New York. She frequently covers crime and courts, as well as the intersection of reproductive health, politics and policy.
Dareh Gregorian is a politics reporter for NBC News.
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