Would-be dictator Trump’s tantrums show he really fears conviction in court
Former President Donald Trump waits to take the witness stand at New York Supreme Court, on Nov. 6, 2023, in New York. | Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP

NEW YORK—Former Republican Oval Office occupant Donald Trump spent his sole day on the witness stand at the massive New York fraud trial against himself, his kids, and his company, ranting, rambling and trying to politicize it. An irked State Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron kept telling him to stick to the subject and warning Trump’s attorneys to control their client. They showed no inclination to do so.

And in the process, Trump admitted in court on November 6 that he had some control over the fraudulent financial statements for which New York is trying him, his kids, and his company—after saying in public the week before that the banks he sent the statements to should not have believed him.

The fraud trial is one of four looming state and federal proceedings involving Trump. It’s occurring as Trump ever more looks like the presumptive Republican presidential nominee in the general election a year from now. Four other Trump trials loom, including three in states where voters are suing, using the U.S. Constitution, to keep him off next year’s presidential ballots.

Trump leads by enormous double-digit margins among GOP voters over his closest pursuers, former Trump UN Ambassador and South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley and Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla. Outside Engoron’s courtroom, Trump’s still making political hay out of what he calls a Democratic witch hunt, spouting rhetoric in outdoor press conferences and in fundraising letters—while not telling donors much of the money they send him is actually paying his attorneys’ fees.

Inside the courtroom in lower Manhattan, Justice Engoron, who has already fined Trump $15,000 for twice violating a gag order against criticizing courtroom personnel, repeatedly had to curb the former Oval Office denizen.

At one point, the Justice became so irked that he threatened to dismiss Trump from the stand and let his absence speak for itself, negatively, on the fraud issues the court is tackling. “We don’t have time to waste. We have one day to do this,” Justice Engoron said.

The bench trial, starting its third week, will determine the fate of Trump and his real estate empire. The judge, acceding to proof from New York Attorney General Letitia “Tish” James and her legal staff, has already ruled she can seek the maximum $250 million fine for fraud in low-balling his properties for state and local property tax purposes and high-balling—far overvaluing—them to get loans and favored treatment from banks and insurers.

He got caught on the overvaluations. At one point Trump claimed, in public, that his Mar-a-Lago, Fla., golf club/estate was worth more than $1 billion. But to escape higher Palm Beach, Fla., property taxes, he claimed it was worth $27 million.

“At the end of the day, the only thing that matters are the facts and the numbers. And the numbers don’t lie,” James said in her own statement to reporters during a lunch break. After the session, she reiterated “he inflated his assets to benefit himself and his family.” A Trump attorney, known as a political operative, fired back that the real numbers will be the votes next November.

Special Master appointed

Justice Engoron, with agreement from both sides, also has appointed a special master, a retired state judge, to evaluate and break up Trump’s holdings, including Trump Tower, plus his duplex apartment and his other buildings in Manhattan, his Westchester estate, Mar-a-Lago, his Bedminster, N.J., golf club, his other golf clubs and his hotel-apartment-office tower in Chicago.

Justice Engoron also will decide at the end of this trial, whether to agree to AG James’ demand to pull Trump’s and the Trump Organization’s business licenses for five years, effectively putting the real estate empire out of business.

All of this didn’t prevent Trump from not sticking to the subject in Justice Engoron’s courtroom. Some of the exchanges, according to AP, ABC and Yahoo News, included:

Trump bragged about low-balling his assets. There have been three different estimates—two of them by Trump verbally—for Mar-a-Lago alone. Trump’s bragging led the justice to tell Trump’s lead attorney: “Mr. [Christopher] Kise, can you control your client? This is not a political rally, this is a courtroom.”

When Trump wandered off another answer and started to pontificate, Justice Engoron brought him up short again: “In addition to the answers being non-responsive, they’re repetitive.

“I do not want to hear everything this witness has to say. He has a lot to say that has nothing to do with the case or the questions,” the justice said.

If Trump kept orating, not answering, the justice threatened to dismiss him from the witness stand and then draw the appropriate negative inferences from Trump’s failure to answer. Engoron did not do so and the session ended at its scheduled afternoon time.

Trump admitted he reviewed—scanned might be a better word—the financial statements the Trump Organization sent to banks when seeking loans. Those statements were inflated, but, by law, the signer must take responsibility for them.

“All I did was authorize and tell people to give whatever is necessary for the accountants to do the statements,” he said. As for the results, “I would look at them, I would see them, and maybe on some occasions, I would have some suggestions,” he testified.

But he did sign them, Trump told the press conference the week before. After saying then that the banks shouldn’t have trusted his statements,  he repeated that claim in court, too.

“Banks didn’t find them very relevant, and they had a disclaimer clause—you would call it a worthless statement clause. “ In real estate deals, “I probably know banks as well as anybody,” he bragged. “I know what they look at. They look at the deal, they look at the location.”

The trial resumes Wednesday, November 7, with Trump’s daughter Ivanka on the witness stand.  Tuesday is an off-off-year Election Day, for local offices in New York.

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Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.