Former US president Donald Trump, accused of inflating the value of his assets by billions of dollars a year to dupe banks and insurers, decided to fly back to Florida after attending the first two and half days of his civil fraud trial on Wednesday, according to a person familiar with his plans.
Unexpectedly attending the start of the trial, Mr Trump treated it like a campaign event and used breaks to denounce New York Attorney General Letitia James, who filed the suit a year ago.
But his mood appeared to sour somewhat on Wednesday after he was hit with a gag order by the judge for attacking his law clerk on social media.
“They’ve weaponised justice in this country,” Mr Trump told a crowd of reporters outside the courtroom during a short break. “This trial is a disgrace. A thing like this has never happened before.”
Mr Trump, who is expected to give evidence later, faces five other trials as he campaigns to return to the White House, including four criminal prosecutions.
The attorney general spoke briefly outside the courtroom after the lunch break.
“Mr Trump is no longer here. The Donald Trump show is over,” Ms James said.
The former president was not required to attend the start of the New York state trial.
Mr Trump’s lawyer Jesus Suarez grilled the state's first witness, former Mazars USA LLP accountant Donald Bender, about the years of accounting work he did for Mr Trump’s company, eliciting evidence suggesting he never saw any red flags.
Under that cross-examination, Mr Bender said that he signed off on years of Trump Organisation financial statements because nothing obviously erroneous jumped out at him. The defence was seeking to undercut the state’s claims that the assets were wildly overvalued for more than a decade.
“Did any assets strike you as being presented at an obviously inappropriate value?” Mr Suarez repeatedly asked Mr Bender for each of the statements he signed from 2011 to 2021.
“No, sir,” Mr Bender said.
Ms James had called Mr Bender as the first witness to illustrate that Mr Trump’s long-time accountant was allegedly misled about the appraisals of his properties.
Mr Bender gave evidence on Tuesday that he became aware in 2021, during an interview with the Manhattan district attorney, that Mr Trump had withheld internal appraisals of his properties that conflicted with what he reported to Mazars.
The accountant said he would not have signed off on the financial statements if he had known.
Also on Wednesday, Mr Trump filed a notice informing the court that he is appealing a pretrial ruling in which Justice Arthur Engoron found him liable for fraud.
In that order, the judge cancelled certificates for many of Mr Trump’s companies holding the assets at issue.
That left the trial to focus on the state’s six remaining claims, including issuing false financial statements and conspiring to falsify business records. Ms James is also seeking $250 million in penalties.