Trump fined $10,000 for second breach of gag order in civil fraud case

'Don't do it again or it will be worse,' New York judge tells former US president

Former US president Donald Trump speaks to the press during a break in his fraud trial in New York. AFP
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Donald Trump was fined $10,000 on Wednesday after the judge overseeing his civil fraud trial found that the former US president had violated a gag order in the case for a second time.

Justice Arthur Engoron last week fined Mr Trump $5,000 after finding that he had not taken down a post disparaging the judge's law clerk.

Mr Engoron had earlier barred Mr Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, from making comments attacking court staff.

During a break in the trial over a lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James over Mr Trump's business practices, he told reporters: “This judge is a very partisan judge, with a person who's very partisan sitting alongside of him, perhaps even much more partisan than he is.”

The judge, surmising that Mr Trump was referring to his clerk, called the comments a “blatant” breach of the gag order. He imposed the fine after Mr Trump briefly took the witness box to take questions.

Trump lawyer Christopher Kise said the “partisan” person Mr Trump had been referring to was not Mr Engoron's clerk but Michael Cohen, the former president's one-time lawyer and fixer who is giving evidence against him in the trial.

Mr Engoron did not buy that argument and declined to reconsider the fine.

“The idea that that statement would refer to the witness, that doesn't make sense to me,” Mr Engoron said.

“Don't do it again or it will be worse.”

When Mr Engoron fined Mr Trump last week, the judge warned that any future transgressions could bring “far more severe” sanctions, including jail.

Also on Wednesday, Mr Cohen acknowledged under questioning by a lawyer for the former president that he has a financial incentive to criticise his ex-boss but defended his credibility as he gave evidence in the trial.

Mr Cohen, who came face-to-face with Mr Trump for the first time in five years on Tuesday, underwent cross-examination during his second straight day of evidence in a case in which the former president's family business is accused of unlawfully manipulating its financials to dupe lenders and insurers.

On Tuesday, Mr Cohen testified in Manhattan that Mr Trump had “arbitrarily” inflated the value of the Trump Organisation's real estate assets to secure favourable insurance premiums.

He also said he had doctored financial statements so the property values matched “whatever number Mr Trump told us”.

Mr Trump has denied wrongdoing in the case and defended the valuations of his properties.

Updated: October 25, 2023, 7:43 PM