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Trump’s Legal Battle with NY Attorney General Reaches Climax as Final Witness Takes Stand; Gag Orders, Fines, and Courtroom Drama Unfold

Donald Trump (Source: Brookings)

On Tuesday, the legal showdown between former President Donald Trump and New York Attorney General Letitia James reached a pivotal moment as the defense presented the final witness, accounting professor Eli Bartov. Describing James’ case as “absurd,” Bartov added his voice to over a dozen witnesses in the civil fraud trial.

Former President Donald Trump speaks to the media while attending his trial at New York State Supreme Court on December 7, 2023, flanked by his counsel. (Source: DAVID DEE DELGADO / GETTY IMAGES)

Trump-James Legal Battle

The trial, marked by heated exchanges between Trump and James, featured both parties frequently present as their legal teams clashed. The courtroom drama spilled into the public domain, with Trump riding downtown in his limousine on Oct. 2 to condemn the case as a “disgrace.” James, in response, dismissed his remarks as “baseless” and criticized them as a mere “show.” Accused of misrepresenting his wealth to financial institutions, Trump and his two sons, along with their firm, faced allegations of securing over $250 million through deceptive means. Throughout the proceedings, Trump took to social media to express his disdain, even targeting a clerk for Judge Arthur Engoron on Oct. 3. This post led to a gag order and a subsequent dispute, with Trump expressing frustration at the judge’s restrictions. Ultimately, Trump and his campaign were fined $15,000 for violating court orders twice. As the civil fraud trial wraps up, two brief rebuttal witnesses from the state are anticipated before closing arguments on Jan. 11. The judge is expected to deliver a ruling a few weeks later, concluding a month-long legal battle.

The state presented its case first and called more than 20 witnesses, including Trump, his children Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump, and Ivanka Trump, as well as Allen Weisselberg and Jeffrey McConney, former Trump Organization employees. An appellate court rejected charges against Ivanka Trump due to the statute of limitations. During his court appearances, Trump routinely addressed the press in two pens outside the courtroom. He discussed the lawsuit, court, Capitol Hill, and his 2024 Republican presidential opponents. But on Oct. 25, he cited “a person who is very partisan sitting alongside” Engoron. The judge raged. His clerk, whose social media post caused the gag order, sits next to him throughout proceedings. An hour later, Engoron called Trump to testify. Under oath, Engoron questioned Trump. Trump said he meant Michael Cohen, his former “fixer” and archenemy, who sat five feet from the judge. He didn’t buy it. After his campaign failed to remove a copy of the infringing social media post, Trump was fined $5,000. Now Engoron penalized him $10,000. “Do it again, it’ll be worse,” Engoron added.

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Trump’s Testimony Drama: Courtroom Tensions, Gag Order Battles, and Last-Minute Testimony Reversal

On November 6, James’ legal team called upon Trump to testify, leading to an aggressive scene in the courtroom. Engaged in a spat with Judge Engoron and exchanging insults with James from the front row, Trump offered lengthy responses to questions about Trump Organization property appraisal and other matters. Despite the judge’s waning patience, Trump’s attorney, Christopher Kise, advised allowing Trump to answer in his way, emphasizing efficiency. Kise’s suggestion drew laughter from the attorney general’s lawyers, further irking Engoron. The judge, seemingly reaching a breaking point, raised his volume, stating, “No, I’m not here to hear what he has to say. I want to hear his answers. Get comfy!” The tense exchange added to the courtroom drama in the ongoing legal battle.

While reviewing an appeal, a New York appellate judge blocked Trump’s gag order on Nov. 16. Within hours, Trump and his campaign crew attacked the cashier again, mostly on social media. According to a court security officer who submitted an affidavit, the clerk received many antisemitic threats before the appeal was dismissed and the gag was reinstated on Nov. 30. Trump’s team failed to lift the order again. The appeals court is still hearing it. Trump was scheduled to testify Monday, but a large security apparatus and national media gathered in the windy weather to skip it. Trump changed his mind on testifying again late Sunday. He explained Tuesday that he couldn’t criticize the judge’s clerk. He stated on social media that he intended to testify on Monday, despite having already done so successfully. He added that the Judge, Arthur Engoron, had placed a GAG ORDER on him, denying him the chance to defend himself. We’re appealing, but imagine being a witness without free and honest expression.”

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