Trump defies judge in closing comments for New York civil fraud trial

Former US president interrupts proceedings claiming he is 'an innocent man' with business fraud allegations

Former US President Donald Trump sits in New York State Supreme Court during the civil fraud trial against the Trump Organization, in New York City. AFP
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Barred from giving a formal closing argument, Donald Trump took a chance to speak in court at the end of his New York civil fraud trial on Thursday, with a barrage of attacks in a six-minute diatribe before being cut off by the judge.

Mr Trump spoke as Judge Arthur Engoron 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 if he would comply with the guidelines, Mr Trump defied the judge and simply launched into his speech.

“I am an innocent man,” he said.

“I’m being persecuted by someone running for office and I think you have to go outside the bounds.

“This is a fraud on me. What’s happened here, sir, is a fraud on me."

Mr Engoron, who earlier denied Mr Trump's extraordinary request to give his own closing statement, let him continue almost uninterrupted before telling his lawyer to “control your client” and cutting him off for a scheduled lunch break.

The in-court remarks, which were not televised, ensured a tumultuous final day for a trial over allegations that he habitually exaggerated his wealth on financial statements he provided to banks, insurance companies and others.

New York Attorney General Letitia James sued Mr Trump in 2022 under a state law that gives her broad powers to investigate allegations of persistent fraud in business dealings.

She wants the judge to impose $370 million in penalties and forbid him from doing business in New York.

Adding to the day's tension, the exchanges took place hours after authorities responded to a bomb threat at the judge’s house in New York City's suburbs. The scare did not delay the start of court proceedings.

Defence lawyer Christopher Kise contended in closing arguments that Mr Trump did nothing wrong and did not mislead anyone about his wealth.

Mr Kise said his client “should get a medal” for his business acumen instead of punishment he considered to be the “corporate death penalty”.

Donald Trump zips his lips after testifying in civil case

Donald Trump zips his lips after testifying in civil case

A lawyer for New York state said in closing remarks that Mr Trump and his “cash poor” company could not have completed various development projects without loans and cash flow from interest savings enabled by spurious financial statements.

“Fraud was central to the operation of the Trump Organisation’s business,” said lawyer Kevin Wallace.

He said that Mr Trump and the other defendants intentionally put false information in the company's financial statements.

The trial involves six undecided claims, including allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records.

Mr Trump’s company and two of his sons, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr, are also defendants.

Mr Engoron, who is deciding the case because state law does not allow for juries in this type of lawsuit, ended by saying he hoped to have a final decision in the case by January 31.

Ms James told reporters after exiting court: “This case has never been about politics or personal vendetta or about name-calling.

"This case is about the facts and the law. And Mr Donald Trump violated the law. I trust that justice will be done."

Updated: January 12, 2024, 6:06 AM