NEW YORK — A New York judge quickly imposed a limited gag order in Donald Trump’s civil business fraud trial Tuesday after the former president disparaged a key court staffer.
Interrupting a long day of testimony, Judge Arthur Engoron issued the order, which applies to all parties in the case and pertains to verbal attacks on court staff. It came after Trump recirculated a critical social media post about Engoron’s principal law clerk, Allison Greenfield.
The post included a photo of Greenfield with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., posing for a picture at a public event. Trump, the Republican front-runner for president in 2024, has repeatedly cast the lawsuit and trial as a political attack by New York’s Democratic attorney general, Letitia James. Trump wrote that it was “disgraceful” that Greenfield was working with the judge in the courtroom.
Aside from that sideshow, with Trump attending the trial for a second day, James’ attorney questioned an accountant in an effort to build the state’s case that Trump and others at his company had full control over the preparation of misleading and downright false financial statements at the heart of the lawsuit against them.
And Engoron set the record straight about a comment that the ex-president had touted as an important victory.
Engoron had suggested on Monday that testimony about Trump’s 2011 financial statement might be beyond the legal time limit applicable to Attorney General James’ lawsuit. It alleges that Trump and his business chronically lied about his wealth on financial statements given to banks, insurers and others.
The relevant statute of limitations rules out claims related to activities before a date in 2014, and Trump’s legal team has argued that the time limit cuts off most of the case.
Engoron said Tuesday that “statutes of limitations bar claims, not evidence” and that at the trial’s early stage, he’s inclined to give both sides considerably leeway to connect older evidence to claims in the lawsuit.
“I want to emphasize: This trial is not an opportunity to relitigate what I have already decided,” Engoron said. He ruled last week that all the claims were allowable under the statute of limitations.
A lawyer for James’ office, Kevin Wallace, went on to suggest that he was using the 2011 document to show that Trump’s financial statements were prepared in the same manner — giving him and his company the final say over the valuations that appeared — for at least a decade.
Donald Bender, an accountant who prepared the financial statements for years, testified that Trump’s company supplied the numbers that went into the documents. Each spreadsheet was marked “PBC,” for “prepared by client,” in big, red letters, Bender said.
Bender testified that in some years, the Trump Organization failed to provide all documents necessary for producing the statements, despite attesting in letters to the account firm that it had provided all financial records.
“They were not giving all of the documents that we needed,” Bender testified, explaining that “there were certain appraisals out there for a number of years that we had never seen.”
As for the gag order, without naming Trump, Engoron said that a defendant in the case “posted to a social media account a disparaging, untrue and personally identifying post about a member of my staff.” He added that “personal attacks on members of my court staff are unacceptable, not appropriate” and not tolerated
Trump had already deleted the post. Engoron said he ordered it gone.
Trump also commented on the clerk’s role with the judge on Monday, saying that she “should not be allowed to be in his ear on every single question” and “hates Trump.”
Trump, who denies any wrongdoing in the case, said during one court break that he thought the trial was “going very well.” He reiterated key points of his defense, including that the financial statements bore disclaimers saying that they weren’t audited and that others “might reach different conclusions” about his financial position if they had more information.
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“This case is a scam. It can’t be fraud when you’ve told institutions to do their own work,” Trump said Tuesday.
After Monday’s sometimes fiery opening statements, Tuesday’s testimony was so plodding that Bender twice let out a long breath on the stand.
Trump plans to testify later in the trial, but he doesn’t have to attend it now. While grumbling that he’d rather be on the campaign trail, the Republican former president and 2024 GOP front-runner has used the waiting cameras in a courthouse hallway as a microphone for political messaging. He claims that James, a Democrat, is wielding the justice system as a political cudgel to hobble his ongoing campaign.
James scored an early victory when Engoron, a Democrat, ruled last week that Trump committed fraud by exaggerating the size of his penthouse at Trump Tower, claiming his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida was worth as much as $739 million and putting similar oversized valuations on office towers, golf courses and other assets.
The non-jury trial concerns six remaining claims in the lawsuit and how much Trump might owe in penalties. James is seeking $250 million and a ban on Trump doing business in New York. The judge has already ruled that some of Trump’s companies should be dissolved as punishment.
Trump’s lawyers said the financial statements were legitimate representations of the worth of unique luxury properties, made even more valuable because of their association with Trump.
The trial is expected to last into December.