NEW YORK, Oct 25 (Reuters) – The former U.S. president was fined $10,000 on Wednesday after a New York judge overseeing a civil fraud trial against Donald Trump said he violated a strict order barring defamation of court officials for a second time.
Judge Arthur Engron issued the order on October 3 after the judge’s top clerk falsely called her Schumer’s “girlfriend” after Trump shared a photo on social media posing with US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat.
During a break Wednesday in the lawsuit filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James over Trump’s business practices, Trump told reporters in a hallway, “This judge is a very biased judge, the most biased person sitting with him, maybe even. More biased than him.”
Engoron, guessing that Trump was referring to his clerk, called the comments a “flagrant” violation of the gag order.
Trump’s hallway comments came as his one-time attorney and fixer, Michael Cohen, testified against him for a second day.
Before being fined, Trump briefly took the witness stand and said he was referring to “you and Cohen” in his comments to Engron. The judge rejected the idea, echoed by Trump’s attorney Christopher Kiss, that Cohen was the “partisan” person Trump referred to.
“I don’t understand the idea that that statement would constitute testimony,” Engoren said. “Don’t do it again or it will get worse.”
Trump, the Republican front-runner to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the 2024 US election, left the courtroom after being fined.
On Oct. 20, Engoron fined Trump $5,000, finding that he had not removed the clerk’s derogatory designation, and warned that future violations could bring “very severe” sanctions, including prison. In first imposing the gag order, Engoron said the comments against his staff were “unacceptable, inappropriate and will not be tolerated under any circumstances”.
Engron’s clerk sits next to the judge during the hearing, standard practice in New York state court.
Alina Hubba, one of Trump’s lawyers, told Engoron that she saw the clerk roll her eyes during Cohen’s testimony, which was “totally inappropriate.”
Cohen defends authenticity
The trial is related to allegations that Trump and his family business, the Trump Organization, illegally defrauded lenders and insurers by defrauding property values and his net worth. The case could shatter Trump’s business empire.
Cohen’s two days of testimony marked his first face-to-face meeting with Trump in five years. Trump “arbitrarily” inflated the value of real estate properties to get favorable insurance premiums, Cohen testified Tuesday.
Since cutting ties and becoming one of Trump’s fiercest critics, Cohen has written two books and created a political podcast.
Cohen, who was cross-examined by Hubba on Wednesday, acknowledged having a financial incentive to criticize Trump but defended his credibility. He rejected Hubba’s contention that he has “made a career” of attacking Trump and embellishing criticism for personal gain.
“The more outrageous your stories about President Trump, the more money you make,” Hubba said. “Is that accurate, Mr. Cohen?”
“No,” Cohen replied.
An attorney for Trump’s adult son, Eric Trump — who is also a defendant in the case — asked Engron to immediately rule in favor of the defense based on Cohen’s conflicting testimony.
Cohen said Tuesday that Trump told him to raise his property values, but said he did not remember whether he received such an order during his 2019 congressional testimony.
Engoron denied the request, saying it was “absurd” to rule in favor of the defense in the middle of the trial based on the “equal” testimony of a witness.
“There is enough evidence to fill this courtroom,” Nkoron said.
Trump has denied wrongdoing in the case. Trump has separately pleaded not guilty to four criminal charges this year.
Cohen’s testimony could bolster the attorney general’s case, although his record of admitting fraud could undermine his credibility before Engoron, who alone will decide the outcome of the bench trial. In 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to tax fraud, campaign finance violations and perjury and was sentenced to three years in prison.
Before the trial began on October 2, Engoron found that Trump had fraudulently inflated his net worth and ordered the liquidation of companies that controlled the crown jewels of his real estate portfolio, including Trump Tower in Manhattan. That ruling is on hold while Trump appeals.
The trial is mostly about damages. James wants a fine of at least $250 million, a permanent ban against Trump and sons Eric and Donald Jr. from doing business in New York and a five-year commercial real estate ban against Trump and the Trump Organization.
Reporting by Jack Quinn and Luke Cohen in New York; Editing by Will Dunham and Nolene Walter
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