Donald Trump was briefly forced to testify at his civil fraud trial in New York and fined a further $10,000 after the judge found that he had breached a gag order.
The former president, who had already been fined $5,000 over a disparaging social media post about a key court staffer, was reprimanded for comments he had made outside court but denied he had violated the order, wherein he had been ordered to cease posting about court staff.
Judge Arthur Engoron said Trump “is not credible” as a witness after he claimed on the stand that his criticisms on Tuesday were not aimed at the judge’s law clerk, Allison Greenfield, who has been assisting Engoron throughout the trial.
Greenfield has usually been sitting next to the judge in the courtroom. On Tuesday, Trump was quoted by the Associated Press as saying: “This judge is a very partisan judge, with a person who is very partisan sitting alongside him – perhaps even much more partisan than he is.”
Trump insisted on the stand that the “very partisan” person he had referred to was Michael Cohen, his former fixer-turned-foe, who has been testifying against him in court this week. When Engoron asked if he was sure, the former president replied: “Yes, I’m sure.”
He continued to attack Greenfield, however. “I think she’s very biased against us,” Trump said. “I think that we’ve made that very clear.”
Engoron had previously threatened Trump with jail if he breached the gag order. Fining him $10,000 on Wednesday, he said: “Don’t do it again, or it will be worse.”
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Trump responded to the court ruling through a spokesperson, who said: “Democrat Judge, under control of radical Letitia James, continues to harass President Trump, doing all possible to infringe on President Trump’s First Amendment right to free speech and to interfere in the 2024 Presidential Election.
“These corrupt efforts, directed by Crooked Joe Biden, will fail.”
Earlier, Engoron had said it was “really easy” for anyone outside the court to identify that Trump was referring to Greenfield, saying: “This recent statement – assuming the Associated Press is correct – obviously was intentional. I stated the last time that any future violations would be severely punished.
“Again, I should ask the question: why should there not be severe sanctions for this blatant, dangerous disobeyal of a clear court order?”
Chris Kise, a lawyer for Trump, claimed: “His whole commentary related to Mr Cohen and his credibility as a witness. We’re certainly aware of the order.”
Engoron did not appear persuaded, noting that he would normally interpret remarks about a person sitting beside him as referring to his law clerk. “There’s a barrier between me and the witness stand,” he observed.
Trump’s language in his gaggle to reporters “seemed clear”, the judge said. “But I could take it another way. I will take it under advisement.”
Trump abruptly left the courtroom shortly after the judge’s comments, reportedly muttering: “Unbelievable.”
Trump’s initial post on his social media platform Truth Social, which prompted the gag order’s enforcement, had attacked Greenfield, included a photo of her with Chuck Schumer, the Democratic Senate majority leader, and a link to her instagram account.
While this post was removed from Truth Social, it remained live on Trump’s campaign website. Trump’s lawyers insisted this breach of the gag order was inadvertent. Engoron fined him $5,000 on Friday.
In a written ruling that outlined the nominal fine, however, the judge stressed that Trump was “way beyond the ‘warning’ stage”, and warned that “future violations, whether intentional or unintentional,” would lead to “far more severe sanctions”, including “possibly imprisoning” Trump.