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Washington: Donald Trump has once again made history by testifying in a multimillion-dollar fraud trial to defend himself against allegations that he lied about his business and inflated his net worth for financial gain.
Exactly one year until the presidential election, a combative Trump fronted a Manhattan court on Monday where he clashed with the judge overseeing a case that could seal the fate of his real estate empire.
Former US president Donald Trump waits to take the witness stand at New York Supreme Court.Credit: Bloomberg
The twice-impeached, four-times indicted former president took the stand shortly after 10am, local time, and began by swearing under oath that he would tell the truth.
However, things started to get heated about 20 minutes in, when Trump began sparring with Judge Arthur Engoron over his long-winded response to questions that required a simple “yes or no” answer.
The Democrat judge, who Trump has repeated branded a “political operative”, told the former president not to give speeches, so that the court could keep things moving.
A few minutes later, after his directive was ignored, Engoron asked Trump’s lawyer Christopher Kise: “Can you control your client? This is not a political rally.”
People protest against former President Donald Trump outside the New York Supreme Court. Credit: AP
Frustrations escalated once more when Trump continuously failed to stay on topic, resulting in another warning from Engoron.
“That was a simple yes-no question; we got another speech,” he said to Kise. “I beseech you to control him if you can. If you can’t, I will. I will excuse him and I will draw every negative inference that I can. Do you understand that?”
After further testy exchanges between the judge and Trump’s lawyers, the former president commented: “This is a very unfair trial … I hope the public is watching.”
The theatrical start of Trump’s testimony underscored what has become a deeply personal case for the Republican, as it goes to the heart of the billionaire tycoon reputation Trump has spent years crafting, both professionally and politically.
Judge Arthur Engoron presides over former US president Donald Trump’s civil business fraud trial.Credit: AP
Engoron has already found Trump liable of committing widespread fraud and has temporarily stripped his control over some of his signature New York properties. As such, this hearing is to determine the penalties Trump should face.
New York Attorney-General Letitia James is seeking damages of up to $US250 million ($392 million) in fines. She also wants a permanent ban on Trump and his sons, Eric and Donald Jnr, from running businesses in New York, plus a five-year commercial real estate ban for Trump and the Trump Organisation.
Trump, however, insists he is innocent and that his various properties – which include Trump Tower in Manhattan and Mar-a-Lago Resort in Miami – were not inflated.
“They said Mar-a-Lago was worth $18 million. Mar-a-Lago is worth probably 50 to 100 times more than that,” he told reporters outside the courtroom before his testimony.
An aerial view of former US president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate.Credit: AP
“While Israel is being attacked, while Ukraine is being attacked, while inflation is eating our country alive, I’m here and it’s all political opponents attacking us … This is really election interference.”
The civil trial sets the scene for a wave of other trials Trump will also face next year as he campaigns to return to the White House.
They include a trial in New York over hush money payments; a criminal trial in Georgia over alleged electoral interference in that state; another one in Florida over classified documents; and a fourth in Washington DC for his attempt to overturn Joe Biden’s 2020 election victory.
Speaking before she entered court, James – a Democrat – said: “I am sure that he will engage in name-calling, taunts, race baiting and call this a witch hunt.
“But at the end of the day, the only thing that matters are the facts and the numbers – and numbers, my friends, don’t lie.”
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