NEW YORK (AP) — Donald Trump was called to the witness stand and then fined $10,000 on Wednesday after a judge concluded that the former president had violated a limited gag order in his civil fraud trial. It was the second time in less than a week that Trump was penalized for his out-of-court comments.
Before imposing the latest fine, Judge Arthur Engoron summoned Trump from the defense table to testify about his comment to reporters hours earlier about “a person who’s very partisan sitting alongside” the judge.
Trump and his lawyers said that comment was about witness Michael Cohen, a former Trump law, and not about the clerk. Trump told the judge from the witness stand that his remark about partisans was aimed at “you and Cohen.”
But Trump did not conceal his frustration with the clerk. “I think she’s very biased against us, I think we’ve made that clear,” Trump said.
Engoron on Oct. 3 had ordered all participants in the trial not to comment publicly about his staff, a restriction issued after a Trump social media post maligning the clerk.
The judge had ordered Trump to take down that post and Trump did, which the former president noted in court Wednesday. But that post had lingered on his campaign website for weeks, prompting a $5,000 fine for Trump last Friday.
Three of Trump’s attorneys objected to the $10,000 fine and they reiterated Trump’s claim that the clerk was biased.
With Trump at the defense table, his lawyer Alina Habba confronted Cohen with comments he had made praising Trump, before turning on him when Cohen’s legal problems started in 2018.
Habba tried to suggest that Cohen had angled unsuccessfully for a job in Trump’s White House — Cohen insisted he never sought one — and asked whether he had “significant animosity” toward Trump.
“Do I have animosity toward him? Yes I do,” Cohen replied.
“You have made a career out of publicly attacking President Trump, haven’t you?” Habba asked.
After a long pause, Cohen said, “Yes.”
Cohen worked as Trump’s lawyer and fixer for many years, before Cohen’s 2018 federal prosecution, guilty pleas and prison sentence for tax evasion, making false statements on a bank loan application, lying to Congress and making illegal contributions to Trump’s campaign. The contributions were in the form of payouts to women who said they had extramarital sexual encounters with Trump, who said the women’s stories were false.
Cohen is now a key witness in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil case against Trump. James alleges that Trump habitually exaggerated the value of his real estate holdings on financial documents that helped him get loans and insurance and make deals.
Trump denies any wrongdoing and says James, a Democrat, is targeting the leading Republican presidential candidate in 2024 for partisan reasons.
During his first day of testimony Tuesday, Cohen said he and key executives at Trump’s company worked to inflate the estimated values of their employer’s holdings so documents given to banks and others would match a net worth that Trump had set “arbitrarily.”
In cross-examining Cohen, Habba emphasized his federal criminal convictions and worked to portray him as a liar, especially after he said Tuesday he had lied when he pleaded guilty to tax evasion and loan application lies. Cohen asserted that he did not really commit those crimes and he sought to portray his conduct as a matter of omissions and failure to correct paperwork.
Habba returned to those themes Wednesday, underscoring that Cohen had admitted in open court to lying under oath in a federal courthouse next door.
Outside court, Trump said the trial was “very unfair” and a “pure political witch hunt.” Nonetheless, he said, “We’re happy with the way it’s going.”
“We have the facts on our side,” Trump said. He’s expected to testify later in the trial but meanwhile has voluntarily attended several days of the proceedings.
Cohen is also expected to be an important prosecution witness in a criminal trial scheduled for next spring in which Trump is accused of falsifying business records. That case is one of four criminal prosecutions Trump faces in New York, Florida, Georgia and Washington.