Former President Donald Trump waits to take the witness stand at New York Supreme Court, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in New York.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez | AP
Former President Donald Trump is testifying in the $250 million civil fraud trial that threatens to torpedo his family’s business empire.
In his opening minutes on the witness stand Monday morning, Trump lashed out at the lawyer questioning him and his other Democratic antagonists, calling them “all haters.”
He also griped that Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron “always rules against me,” prompting the judge to respond that that comment “isn’t true.”
At times, Engoron seemed frustrated by Trump’s testimony and his attorneys’ interruptions. He repeatedly warned Trump to answer questions directly and not give “speeches,” and warned the defense team that Trump’s outbursts and tangents could weaken his legal case.
“This is a very unfair trial,” Trump said at one point.
Trump’s anger was visible before he entered the courtroom, when he repeated his claim that the trial was a form of “election interference” conspiracy aimed at undermining his 2024 presidential campaign.
“It’s a very sad situation for our country,” Trump told reporters before heading inside the courtroom.
New York Attorney General Letitia James seeks to permanently bar Trump and his two adult sons from running a business in the Empire State because, she says, they have engaged in years of financial fraud.
James’ lawsuit in Manhattan Supreme Court alleges that the Trumps intentionally misstated the values of his assets on financial statements to falsely inflate Trump’s net worth and obtain various financial benefits.
“At the end of the day, the only thing that matters are the facts,” James said before entering the courthouse Monday morning. “And numbers, my friends, don’t lie.”
The witness stand is a rare position for the former president and current front-runner in the 2024 Republican presidential primary. Trump’s aggressive political and personal speaking style will be tested when he is forced to answer questions under oath.
Trump insists the financial statements at the heart of the case were never meant to be definitive.
New York Attorney General Letitia James arrives at New York Supreme Court, Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, in New York.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez | AP
“My worth is far greater than on financial statements, plus they contain a full disclaimer clause telling readers of this information to do their own due diligence,” Trump posted on Truth Social on Nov. 2.
But Trump’s former personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, has accused him in court of directing executives to falsely manipulate his net worth.
The first time Trump was questioned under oath in this case, he invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination more than 440 times during a deposition with James’ attorneys in August 2022.
Legal experts say that unlike a criminal case, where a defendant opting to take the Fifth cannot be held against them, in a civil case, a judge can draw an adverse inference from a witness’ refusal to testify.
Trump’s two adult sons, Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump, testified last week that they relied on the company accountants who helped prepare the annual financial statements.
Engoron, who will deliver verdicts in the no-jury trial, has already found the defendants liable for fraud and ordered the cancellation of their New York business certificates. The trial, which is scheduled to last until late December, addresses six other claims alleged by James.
Trump is appealing Engoron’s pretrial ruling, which is on hold as the trial takes place. He consistently denies all wrongdoing and often repeats a laundry list of public defenses, including that his financial records contained an absolute disclaimer clause, and that the banks who approved his loans ultimately made money.
This is developing news. Please check back for updates.