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Trump clashes with judge during testimony at New York fraud trial today

Former President Donald Trump is on the stand in a New York courtroom Monday to testify in the fraud trial that could determine the fate of his business empire.

His testimony so far has been marked by Trump repeatedly straying from the questions posed by a lawyer from New York Attorney General Letitia James’ office. Sworn in and under oath, Trump took the opportunity to repeatedly lash out at the New York Judge Arthur Engoron, who is seated four feet to his right. Engoron is overseeing the civil case and will decide the outcome of the bench trial himself.

“I’m sure the judge will rule against me, because he always rules against me,” Trump said at one point.

As Trump repeatedly gave long-winded answers to questions about the valuations of various Trump Organization properties, Engoron’s patience wore thin. Christopher Kise, one of Trump’s attorneys, encouraged Engoron to allow Trump to give answers his own way.

“With this witness, it’s far more efficient to listen and take it all in,” Kise said, prompting laughter from Kevin Wallace, an attorney for the state who led the questioning.

Engoron’s voice rose as his anger seemed to boil over, and his microphone struggled to handle the sudden change in volume.

“No, I’m not here to hear what he has to say,” Engoron said, his voice rising. “I’m here to hear him answer questions. Sit down!”

Engoron said he was considering drawing negative conclusions from Trump’s testimony.

“We got another speech. I beseech you to control you if I can. If you can’t, I will. I will excuse him and draw every negative inference that I can,” Engoron.

The trial stems from a $250 million civil lawsuit filed by James’ office accusing Trump, his two oldest sons, the Trump Organization and several executives of a yearslong fraud scheme. The state alleges Trump and his co-defendants inflated the value of the company’s assets and Trump’s personal wealth to obtain better terms on loans and insurance. They have denied wrongdoing, and Trump has repeatedly accused James of pursuing him for political reasons.

The judge has not allowed TV cameras to film the trial, meaning the former president’s questioning is not being live-streamed. CBS News has reporters on the scene to witness his testimony, and this story will be updated with the latest developments.

Trump’s testimony

Trump arrived shortly before 10 a.m. and made brief remarks before entering the courtroom, reiterating his criticism of the trial.

“It’s a terrible, terrible thing. These are political operatives that I’m going to be dealing with right now,” Trump said in brief remarks before entering the courtroom. “It’s a very sad situation for our country.”

Outside the courtroom, James predicted Trump would “engage in name-calling, taunts and race-baiting,” but said, “At the end of the day, the only thing that matters are the facts and the numbers, and numbers, my friend, don’t lie.”

Wallace, the lawyer from the attorney general’s office, kicked off the questioning by asking Trump about a trust he established to manage his assets before he entered the White House. When he left office in 2021, he took control of the trust, only to relinquish it again in July 2021. He testified that he did so because of increasing legal pressure from a number of fronts.

“You and every other Democrat district attorney, A.G., and U.S. attorney were coming at me from 15 different sides, all Democrats, all haters,” Trump said, adding that he had “great confidence” in his son to manage his assets.

Wallace’s questioning continued with lines of inquiry about the valuations of Trump Organization properties, including Mar-a-Lago, Trump Tower in Manhattan and an upstate New York estate known as Seven Springs. Trump defended the valuations that are at the center of the case, saying that even those valuations that have been determined to be inflated were too low. He added that he would not be willing to sell several properties because they were worth so much.

The fraud trial

Trump is accused in the civil suit of being the primary beneficiary of a scheme to fraudulently portray his wealth as far greater than it is, and his properties as far more valuable, in order to get undeservedly favorable loan and insurance terms. The judge in the case has already found Trump, his two adult sons and their company liable for fraud, determining that the scheme led to hundreds of millions in unearned profits.

The trial is continuing over other allegations, including falsification of business records, conspiracy and insurance fraud, as well as disgorgement — the exact amount of “ill-gotten gains” the Trumps must pay the state.

Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump both testified in the case last week, and Ivanka Trump is scheduled to take the stand on Wednesday. She had originally been named in the lawsuit as well, but the claims against her were thrown out on appeal due to the statute of limitations.

Though Monday was Trump’s first testimony related to fraud during the trial, it was not his first time in the courtroom nor his first time on the stand. The last time Trump was in the room, on Oct. 25, Judge Arthur Engoron ordered him to the stand to determine if Trump had violated a limited gag order in the case earlier in the day, when Trump appeared to reference the judge’s clerk while talking to the press.

Trump had previously been barred from speaking publicly about court staff after making a derogatory social media post about the same clerk. Engoron, with his clerk sitting just to his right, as she almost always is in court, questioned Trump, who had said the judge was “with a person who’s very partisan sitting alongside him.”

Trump and his legal team claimed Trump was referring to another key witness in the case, Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, who had been on the stand that day. Engoron found Trump “not credible” and fined him $10,000, on top of a previous $5,000 fine.

James’ investigation began after Cohen testified to Congress in 2019 that he had personal knowledge of Trump inflating his wealth for banks, and decreasing valuations for tax purposes.

Cohen took the stand earlier in the trial and testified that Trump’s three eldest adult children were occasionally involved in preparing Trump’s annual statements of financial conditions — documents with falsified data that are at the center of the fraud case. The testimony drew a reaction of disbelief from Trump, who threw his hands in the air and shook his head. Under cross-examination, Cohen admitted to previously lying under oath on more than one occasion.

The lawsuit is seeking $250 million and sanctions designed to limit the Trumps’ ability to do business in New York, including permanently barring Donald Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump from serving as an officer or director in any business in the state.

Trump and his company have for more than a year blamed their former outside accountants, Mazars USA, for any inaccuracies in their statements. Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump reiterated that defense in testimony last week, saying they “trusted” internal and external accounting teams.

But their former Mazars accountant, Donald Bender, testified in October that his firm merely compiled reams of financial information provided to them by the Trumps and their company.

Trump attended Bender’s testimony as well, sitting perhaps 20 feet from James, whom he rarely appeared to acknowledge.

But just outside the courtroom, Trump accused James, a Democrat, of a “witch hunt” — repeating a claim he has made frequently about her pursuit of the case.

Standing in the same spot outside the courtroom on Oct. 4, James accused Trump of turning the proceedings into a “show.”

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