After hours of testimony from Donald Trump’s adult sons that the office of New York Attorney General called “extremely” favourable in its case against his business empire, attorneys for the former president raged at the judge overseeing the case, throwing a last-minute grenade into Thursday’s trial.
Judge Arthur Engoron snapped at Trump attorney Christopher Kise, who mentioned the judge’s chief clerk, the subject of disparaging comments from Mr Trump that prompted a gag order he subsequently violated twice.
“Do not refer to my staff again,” the judge said. “If there’s any further reference to anyone on my staff … I will include a standing gag order to include [attorneys].”
Judge Engoron suggested that there’s a “bit of misogyny” that fuels the comments against his female clerk, which Mr Trump’s attorneys flatly denied.
“I have an absolute right to get advice from my principal law clerk,” the judge said.
“There is no First Amendment value that I can see to refer to her, particularly when making things up – that’s not you, that’s someone else,” said Judge Engoron, referencing Mr Trump’s statements about her.
“So weighing First Amendment rights against the safety of my staff, when we know what’s going on out there in the world,” he added, alluding to harassment and threats of violence against public officials surrounding Mr Trump’s mountain of criminal and civil litigation. “Your points are not well taken.”
Attorneys Christopher Kise and Alina Habba criticised his clerk for passing him “notes” throughout the trial.
Judge Engoron slammed the bench with his hand as he spoke directly into a microphone, his voice booming in the echo-filled courtroom.
Those notes are “confidential communications from my law clerk,” he said, striking the bench with each word.
The heated remarks between the judge and Mr Trump’s defence team concluded a day of testimony from Mr Trump’s oldest sons, who are now co-defendants in a $250m lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James alleging years of fraud within the Trump Organization.
As the trustee of his father’s assets while he was in the White House, Donald Trump Jr signed dozens of documents that report the alleged financial state of his business empire.
The only thing Donald Jr can now recall about any of them is that his signature is on them.
On his second day on the witness stand in a lower Manhattan courtroom, the former president’s oldest son was repeatedly asked about statements to banks, lenders and insurers that included the so-called statements of financial condition at the centre of a civil fraud trial that could threaten the family’s business.
Donald Jr repeatedly stated that he doesn’t recall the conversations around them, what they include, or what he intended with them.
His brother Eric Trump, who ran the day-to-day business while his father was in office, also testified that he didn’t have anything to do with those statements.
The Trump brothers – who both speak in a similar fast-paced, restless cadence – have tried to distance themselves from having anything to do with the allegedly fraudulent documents at the heart of the trial, now in the middle of its fifth week inside New York Supreme Court.
But during the brothers’ testimonies on 2 November, counsel with the office of New York Attorney General Letitia James repeatedly confronted them with documents and emails that appeared to show they were more aware of what went into those statements than they had previously stated under oath.
Fuming on the stand at one point, Eric Trump said “we’re a major organization, a massive real estate organization.”
“I am fairly certain that we would have had financial statements,” he said.
He sought to distinguish between discussions about finances and preparation for statements of financial condition.
“I don’t think it ever registered that it was for a personal statement of financial condition,” he said about one piece of correspondence with a former Trump Organization executive.
“It was a detail that was irrelevant to me.”
During Donald Trump Jr’s testimony earlier in the day, Judge Arthur Engoron cut to the chase: “Mr Trump, did you have anything to do with the statements of financial condition?”
“No, I did not, your honor,” he replied.
Eric Trump was shown emails he received from other Trump figures, including one from now-former chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, explicitly referencing “your dad’s annual financial statement” or “Mr Trump’s annual financial statement,” with attachments to spreadsheets and footnotes that included the data used in those statements.
In a taped deposition from earlier this year, Eric Trump adamantly denied any involvement with his father’s statements of financial condition
“It’s just not something I got involved in,” he said. “I knew nothing, or next to nothing, about the [statements of financial condition]. I never worked on it. I’m confident I didn’t know conversations or questions … were being used for that. I was responsible for building properties and pouring concrete. This was just not in my domain.”
After reading through those emails and watching himself on video while sitting on the witness stand, Eric Trump said he stands by those statements.
“It’s very accurate for what I’m saying right now,” he said.
He was also confronted about his hiring of a professional appraiser for valuations for the Trumps’ Seven Springs estate, one of the many Trump properties in the attorney general’s sights, suggesting that he would have known how that appraisal would have been used in statements that reflected his father’s net worth.
Eric Trump insisted another Trump Organization figure was more involved.
His father, meanwhile, continues to rage against the case, the judge, the attorney general and the fact that his children are on the stand.
“Engoron is a wacko who is having a great time endlessly sanctioning, fining, & pushing around ‘TRUMP,’ hurting my very good children,& working to damage & defame me for purposes of Interfering with the 2024 Presidential Election,” he wrote on his Truth Social.
Later in the afternoon, he said his sons were “PERSECUTED in a political Witch Hunt by this out of control, publicity seeking, New York State Judge.”
Eric Trump has dutifully sat on the far left seat of the first row of courtroom benches behind his father throughout his court appearances during the trial.
After abruptly leaving the courthouse last week, the former president has not returned to watch his children. When his two adult sons, now co-defendants, took the witness stand, they did not have anyone from their families supporting them in the courtroom.
Mr Trump is not expected to return until his own scheduled testimony on 6 November.
The trial stemming from a blockbuster lawsuit from the state attorney general alleges that the former president, his adult sons and their chief associates defrauded financial institutions for years by inflating his net worth and assets to fraudulently obtain favourable business deals.
Ms James’s lawsuit also named Ivanka Trump with her brothers as co-defendants, but she successfully fought an effort to get her name dropped from the complaint.
All three Trumps served as executive vice presidents of the Trump Organization, the umbrella name for the many businesses in the family’s empire.
The Trump Organization allegedly secured lucrative business deals with statements of financial condition that encompassed Mr Trump’s net worth and assets, which the attorney general’s office has argued includes manipulated numbers to reach what former company executive Michael Cohen called Mr Trump’s arbitrarily defined “target” number.
That number – allegedly representing Mr Trump’s net worth – was off by as much as $2.2bn in one year and by hundreds of millions of dollars in other years over a decade, according to the attorney general.
Donald Trump Jr served as the trustee of a revocable trust to manage his father’s business while he was in the White House. Shown documents by counsel from the attorney general’s office, he repeatedly pinned the responsibility of the statements of financial condition on the accountants who prepared them.
“They were intimately involved with every aspect,” he testified.
He was shown 2017 emails from Deutsche Bank, among the Trump Organization’s chief lenders. Attorney general counsel Colleen Faherty asked him whether he would sign off on a statement of financial condition “intending” that the bank would rely on it when conducting business with the Trumps.
“I would be fine relying on it but I don’t know what their ‘intent’ is,” Mr Trump Jr said.
“It’s your intent she’s asking about,” Judge Engoron said.
“Then I’m not sure I understand. I’m fine with the bank relying on that information,” Mr Trump Jr replied. “I don’t know if I intended the bank doing anything. I’m fine with them relying on it.”