After judge’s rebuke, Trump returns to court for 3rd day for fraud lawsuit trial

NEW YORK – Former President Donald Trump returned to his New York civil fraud trial for a third day Wednesday after running afoul of the judge by denigrating a key court staffer in a social media post.

Trump, the Republican front-runner in the 2024 presidential race, is voluntarily taking time out from the campaign trail to attend the trial. New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit accuses Trump and his business of deceiving banks, insurers and others by providing financial statements that greatly exaggerated his wealth.

Judge Arthur Engoron already has ruled that Trump committed fraud by inflating the values of prized assets including his Trump Tower penthouse. The ruling could, if upheld on appeal, cost the former president control of his signature skyscraper and some other properties.

Trump denies any wrongdoing. With familiar rhetoric, on his way into court Wednesday, he called James “incompetent,” portrayed her as part of a broader Democratic effort to weaken his 2024 prospects, and termed the trial “a disgrace.”

Trump has frequently vented in the courthouse hallway and on social media about the trial, James and Judge Arthur Engoron, also a Democrat.

But after he assailed Engoron’s principal law clerk on social media Tuesday, the judge imposed a limited gag order, commanding all participants in the trial not to hurl personal attacks at court staffers. The judge told Trump to delete the “disparaging, untrue and personally identifying post,” and the former president took it down.

The non-jury trial concerns six claims that remained in the lawsuit after Engoron’s pretrial ruling, and the trial is to determine how much Trump might owe in penalties. James is seeking $250 million and a ban on Trump doing business in New York.

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On Wednesday, an accountant who prepared Trump’s financial statements for years was to continue testifying as a witness for the state. James’ lawyers are trying to show that Trump and others at his company had full control over the preparation of the statements.

The accountant, Donald Bender, told the court Tuesday that the Trump Organization didn’t always supply all the documents needed to produce the statements, despite attesting in letters to the accounting firm that the company had provided all financial records and hadn’t “knowingly withheld” relevant data.

During cross-examination, Bender acknowledged he missed a change in information about the size of the former president’s Trump Tower apartment.

Defense lawyer Jesus M. Suarez seized on that, telling Bender that Trump’s company and employees were “going through hell” because “you missed it.”

Bender responded: “We didn’t screw it up. The Trump Organization made a mistake, and we didn’t catch it.”

Trump plans to testify later in the trial.

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