If you’ve been following this at all the big story this week was that Judge Arthur Engoron had given former President Donald Trump permission to make the closing arguments in his fraud trial and then changed his mind. Actually, what happened was that Engoron set limits on what Trump would be allowed to say and at that point Trump decided he wouldn’t speak.
Mr. Trump, who considers himself his own best spokesman, had planned to address the court during closing arguments on Thursday. But one of his lawyers called limits imposed by the judge, Arthur F. Engoron, unacceptable.
The judge said in a recent email exchange with Mr. Trump’s lawyers that while he was predisposed to allow Mr. Trump to speak, the former president, like any lawyer, would be limited to discussing the facts of the case and the relevant law, and barred from attacking the judge, the judge’s staff members or New York’s attorney general, whose suit against Mr. Trump led to the trial.
Those conditions may have nullified Mr. Trump’s purpose in speaking.
That was yesterday but today there was a last minute reversal and Trump did wind up speaking although it sounds like the Judge didn’t so much agree to it as allow it to continue once Trump started speaking.
Trump spoke as the judge was trying to find out if the former president would follow rules requiring him to keep his remarks focused on matters related to the trial. Asked whether he would comply with the guidelines, Trump defied the judge and simply launched into his speech.
“We have a situation where I am an innocent man,” Trump protested. “I’m being persecuted by someone running for office and I think you have to go outside the bounds.”
Trump continued to speak for about six minutes and, as predicted, he did attack Judge Engoron directly. He has made comments about the judge before but those comments were made in the hallway or elsewhere. I think this is the first time he has made comments like this to the Judge’s face.
“They found nothing and now they want $370 million, for what?” Trump asked. “I borrowed money from the bank because they wanted me to … they made money.”
“I know this is boring to you,” Trump then said directly to Engoron. “I know you have your own agenda; you can’t listen for more than one minute…”
The judge warned Trump’s lawyers and then eventually cut him off for the lunch break:
“This is a fraud on me. What’s happened here, Sir, is a fraud on me,” Trump said…
“Control your client,” Engoron warned Kise.
Engoron then told Trump he had a minute left, let him speak a little more, and then adjourned.
On his way out of court for lunch, Trump made a statement to the press, recapitulating some what he’d said inside.
Former President Trump exits New York Civil Fraud Trial: “This is an out of control Attorney General. She’s totally out of control…She sued me because she wanted the publicity to run for office.” pic.twitter.com/OR9VpJ3dGP
— CSPAN (@cspan) January 11, 2024
After the break, court resumed and prosecutors began making their closing arguments. Meanwhile, Trump held a brief press conference in the lobby of his building at 40 Wall Street. Trump made the same case here as he had before, i.e. that this case is politically motivated and that he did nothing wrong. He actually expressed some confidence in the first moments that the outcome would be more favorable than people might expect. But as Trump’s lawyer points out, on the underlying issue of Trump’s liability (and that of his co-defendants) the verdict in this case was decided before anyone entered the courtroom. The only question at hand is how much he’ll have to pay and whether he’ll be forbidden to do business in New York going forward.