Donald Trump testifies: Sparks fly as ex-president takes stand in New York civil fraud case

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By Madeline Halpert & Chloe Kim, in court, & Bernd Debusmann
BBC News

Former US President Donald Trump clashed repeatedly with a judge while testifying in New York at a civil fraud trial that threatens his property empire.

An exasperated Judge Arthur Engoron told Mr Trump the hearing in Manhattan was not a political rally.

New York’s attorney general is seeking a $250m (£202m) fine and severe restrictions on the family business.

Judge Engoron has already ruled the Trump Organization committed fraud.

Prosecutors allege that Mr Trump, his adult sons Eric and Donald Jr and other Trump Organization executives inflated company assets by over $2bn to secure favourable loans.

The trial will determine what penalties should be imposed.

In court on Monday, prosecutors began by questioning Mr Trump about his company, where its assets are held and about the valuation of its properties.

Mr Trump responded at times with lengthy remarks about the real estate and why he invested in it, prompting rebukes from Judge Engoron.

At one point, the judge said: “Please just answer the questions, no speeches.

“Some of your answers have not been responsive to the questions.”

Watch: Trump attacks prosecutors before testifying and calls trial political ‘lawfare’

Mr Trump later told the court: “I’m sure the judge will rule against me because he always rules against me.”

Judge Engoron fired back: “You can attack me in whichever way you want, but please answer the questions.”

The judge later asked Mr Trump’s lawyer, Christopher Kise: “Mr Kise, can you control your client? This is not a political rally, this is a courtroom.”

“I beseech you to control him,” the judge added. “If you can’t, I will.”

Later on, Mr Kise said that with Mr Trump “it’s far more efficient to listen and take it all in”. A lawyer on the attorney general’s team laughed.

Judge Engoron’s voice rose as he told another defence attorney, Alina Habba: “No, I’m not here to hear what he has to say. I’m here to hear him answer questions. Sit down already.”

In the afternoon, the judge referred to Mr Trump as a “broken record”.

Like his two sons in their testimony last week, Mr Trump said it was the Trump Organization accountants who bore responsibility for the financial reports.

“All I did was authorise and give people whatever was necessary for the accountants to do the statement,” Mr Trump said.

He also sought to rebut allegations the company’s properties were overvalued.

Mr Trump instead argued they were undervalued and banks were “thrilled” to give him loans.

He said his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida and some of his golf courses were worth more than he had priced and were bolstered by his personal brand, although he contended that his brand value was never factored into financial statements.

Towards the end of the morning’s testimony, Mr Trump called New York Attorney General Letitia James a “political hack”, pointing her out in the courtroom.

“I think this is a political witch hunt and she should be ashamed of herself,” he said of the prosecutor, whose office brought the case. “This is the opposite of fraud. The fraud is her.”

Letitia James: ‘He’ll call this a witch hunt’

Mr Trump and Judge Engoron were both more subdued in the afternoon.

As the left court, the former president again referred to the case as a “fraud”.

He added that he believed his testimony “went very well”.

“It [the case] should never have been brought and it’s a case that should be immediately dismissed,” Mr Trump said.

Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, told the BBC that Mr Trump’s aggressive responses indicate his legal team believes “they’ve already lost”.

“They’re trying to spin or add some colour to a very bad result,” Mr Mariotti said.

Another former federal prosecutor, Mitchell Epner, said Judge Engoron could have held Mr Trump in contempt of court for his conduct on the witness stand.

The judge has already fined Mr Trump $15,000 for comments made outside of court last month.

Mr Trump last appeared voluntarily in the court at the end of October to see a former attorney of his, Michael Cohen, testify that Mr Trump had directed him to doctor financial statements.

The former president’s daughter, Ivanka, is expected to give evidence on Wednesday.

The civil case in New York is one of several legal battles in which Mr Trump is embroiled.

He also faces four criminal indictments – two over his alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, one over his handling of classified documents and another alleging false accounting involving hush money.

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