By Jennifer Peltz and Michael R. Sisak | Associated Press
NEW YORK — A judge warned Donald Trump and others at his New York civil fraud trial to keep their voices down Wednesday after the former president threw up his hands in frustration and spoke aloud to his lawyers while a witness was testifying against him.
Judge Arthur Engoron made the admonition after Trump conferred animatedly with his lawyers at the defense table during real estate appraiser Doug Larson’s second day of testimony at the Manhattan trial.
State lawyer Kevin Wallace asked Engoron to ask the defense to “stop commenting during the witness’ testimony,” adding that the “exhortations” were audible on the witness’ side of the room. The judge then asked everyone to keep their voices down, “particularly if it’s meant to influence the testimony.”
The 2024 Republican frontrunner was in court for a second straight day Wednesday, watching the trial that threatens to upend his real estate empire and his wealthy businessman image. He attended the first three days, but skipped last week. On Tuesday, he left during an afternoon break to give a deposition in an unrelated lawsuit.
In a pretrial decision last month, Engoron ruled that Trump and his company, the Trump Organization, committed years of fraud by exaggerating his asset values and net worth on annual financial statements used to make deals and get better terms on loans and insurance.
As punishment, Engoron ordered that a court-appointed receiver take control of some Trump companies, putting the future oversight of Trump Tower and other marquee properties in question, but an appeals court has blocked that for now.
Trump didn’t talk about the case on his way into court past TV cameras Wednesday, saving his usual vitriol about New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit for a morning break.
Inside the courtroom, which is closed to cameras, Trump grew irritated as Larson testified. Trump’s lawyers were seeking to undercut the state’s claims that his top corporate deputies played games to inflate the values of his properties and pad his bottom line.
In a series of questions, Trump lawyer Lazaro Fields sought to establish that Larson had, at one point, undershot the projected 2015 value of a Trump-owned Wall Street office building by $114 million. Larson said the “values were not wrong — it’s what we knew at the time.”
Trump threw up his hands during the exchange.
On Tuesday, Larson testified that he never consulted with or gave permission for the Trump Organization’s former controller, Jeffrey McConney, to cite him as an outside expert in the valuation spreadsheets he used to create Trump’s financial statements.
Fields on Wednesday accused Larson of lying, pointing to a decade-old email exchange between McConney and the appraiser.
That touched off an angry back-and-forth between the defense and state sides, with Trump lawyer Christopher Kise suggesting that Larson could risk perjuring himself and needed to be advised about his rights against self-incrimination. State lawyer Colleen Faherty called Kise’s comments “witness intimidation.”
After Larson was escorted out of the courtroom, Kise insisted that he was trying to protect the witness’ rights, while state lawyer Kevin Wallace complained that the defense was mounting “a performance” for the media. Ultimately, Engoron allowed Larson to return and answer the question with no legal warning. Larson said he didn’t recall the email.
Asked again whether he understood that McConney had asked for his input in order to carry out valuations, a weary Larson said: “That’s what it appears.”
Trump railed about that exchange during a court break.
“See what’s happened? The government lied. They just lie. They didn’t reveal all of the information that they had,” Trump said. “They didn’t reveal all the evidence that made me totally innocent of anything that they say.”
After Larson, state lawyers called Jack Weisselberg, the son of former longtime Trump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg. The son arranged financing for Trump while an executive at Ladder Capital.
Trump’s civil trial involves six claims in James’ lawsuit that weren’t resolved in Engoron’s pretrial ruling, including allegations of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. Engoron will decide the case, not a jury, because state law doesn’t allow one in this type of lawsuit.
Wednesday’s dust-up was just the latest clash between Engoron and Trump.
After Trump maligned a key court staffer on social media on the trial’s second day, the judge, a Democrat, issued a limited gag order barring parties in the case from smearing members of his staff. Last year, Engoron held Trump in contempt and fined him $110,000 for being slow to respond to a subpoena from James’ office.
Trump on Tuesday said outside court that he had grown to like and respect Engoron, but that he believed Democrats were “pushing him around like a pinball.” “It’s a very unfair situation that they put me in,” Trump said.
Associated Press reporter Jill Colvin contributed to this report.