It appears that the New York civil fraud trial against former President Donald Trump and his company may be nearing its end, despite Trump’s best efforts to derail the proceedings. The heirs to his empire — his children Eric, Ivanka and Donald Jr. — have either already testified under oath or are scheduled to do so in the coming days. Most ordinary defendants would be looking to inspire leniency right about now —?but not Trump.
Instead, since Judge Arthur Engoron already rendered a partial verdict in a pretrial ruling, there has been less to keep Trump fettered. Engoron ruled that Trump and his businesses had committed years of fraud, both overvaluing and undervaluing his properties’ value and inflating his own net worth on financial documents, to get better rates for loans and lower insurance premiums. Engoron also ordered that limited liability companies, or LLCs, connected with Trump in New York be dissolved, one of New York Attorney General Letitia James’ proposed remedies, alongside a suggested $250 million in damages.
The former president, predictably, hasn’t taken even partial defeat kindly. He has ranted against Engoron and his rulings on his Truth Social account. He has stormed out of the courtroom like a petulant child. He has been fined thousands of dollars for attacking Engoron’s staff in violation of a partial gag order.
In doing so, he’s hoping he can once again turn a short-term loss into a long-term victory, either politically through his long-practiced grievance shtick or legally through the appeals process. Trump’s lawyers already filed an appeal to overturn Engoron’s partial summary judgment. The emergency request to the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division resulted in a limited win for Trump, which, fittingly, he has exaggerated to all hell. “We won against Engoron in the Appeals Court, knocking out a big part of the case, but he then refused to accept their decision,” Trump wrote Wednesday morning on Truth Social. In reality, Associate Justice Peter Moulton did halt the dissolution of Trump’s entities, but only temporarily. His order also denied Trump’s request to halt the full trial pending appeal.
With Engoron’s partial ruling left standing, the current trial is focused more on exactly what penalties Trump should face. Given that the best chance of victory would now come in an appeal, his attorneys have opted to use the trial to lay the groundwork for that effort, as his legal team can’t raise any argument on appeal that wasn’t raised at trial. In the meantime, according to Rolling Stone, the game plan has been to “score some political and public-relations points for Trump, kick up as much dirt as possible, enrage the judge, gratuitously trash some of the witnesses, and turn the process into a media circus.”
That strategy dovetails with Trump’s other goal: framing any verdict against him as a political attack on him and his supporters. That has involved his Truth Social tear on Wednesday, which also included other hits at Engoron, warning the judge to “leave my children alone” and calling him a “disgrace to the legal profession.” He also railed against the “RIDICULOUS GAG ORDER” against him and said Engoron “fines me at levels never seen before.” Trump didn’t mention that the gag order covers only statements against Engoron’s staff, nor that it has resulted in just $15,000 in fines against Trump. Then again, why would someone who is at least in theory a billionaire care about what, for him, is literally chump change?
Engoron has so far opted not to expand the gag order to include the former president’s invective toward himself. That makes sense on one level: Because this is a bench trial, there’s no chance of tainting a jury pool’s views of the case or the judge. And Trump’s yelling about Engoron is much more likely to be protected speech under the First Amendment than instances of potential witness intimidation, the basis for a much more robust gag order in Trump’s federal election interference case.
But that has left him free to post things like “Engoron is crazy, totally unhinged, and dangerous — Our Judicial System has gone to HELL.” And that sort of direct, personal attack is what has always made Trump’s ravings so dangerous. For all his delusions of grandeur, Trump does actually know when he’s been beaten. When he feels cornered, he goes beyond attacking the direct object of his ire —?be it Engoron or former FBI Director James Comey or his loss in the 2020 presidential election —?and calls into question the very system at hand. The troubling part is that there are now enough people who agree with his claims of persecution that, if given the merest chance, they’ll help him tear down those systems brick by brick.