The judge in Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial fined the former president $10,000 on Wednesday, saying Trump violated a limited gag order barring personal attacks on court staffers.
The fine came after Trump was called to the witness stand to explain his comment outside the courtroom about “a person who’s very partisan sitting alongside” the judge in the case, Judge Arthur Engoron.
Weeks ago, Engoron ordered all participants in the trial not to comment publicly about his staff. The narrow gag order imposed on Oct. 3 came after Trump made a social media post maligning the judge’s principal law clerk, who sits beside Engoron in court.
The judge ordered Trump to take down that post and Trump did. But it lingered on his campaign website for weeks, prompting a $5,000 fine for Trump on Friday.
Trump and his lawyers said his comment Wednesday was about witness Michael Cohen, not the clerk.
Three of Trump’s attorneys objected to the fine, insisting that the comment was referring to Cohen, and they reiterated Trump's claim that the judge’s law clerk was unfairly biased.
Cohen is testifying in the trial and considered 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, one of Trump's attorneys emphasized his federal criminal convictions and worked to portray him as a liar.
The attorney 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.
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