(Bloomberg) -- The judge: “rogue.” The attorney general: “racist.” The proceeding: “greatest witch hunt of all time.” And that was before the courtroom was gaveled to order.
The first of half a dozen trials facing Donald Trump began Monday in New York with scenes unlike anything in US history. Trump — former star of The Apprentice, and now effectively branded a fraudster — was there, entering the courthouse used as the backdrop for Law & Order.View this post on Instagram
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In the six hours he spent in court confronting a civil case that threatens his company and cuts to the heart of his persona as a master dealmaker, he railed against the justice system, accused the judge of incompetence and suggested he be criminally prosecuted, and made the case to his supporters that he was being wrongfully targeted. All his blistering comments were made outside the courtroom.
“It’s a scam. It’s a sham,” Trump, 77, said of the case against him.
He will attend the second day of the trial on Tuesday as well, according to a person familiar with his plans.
In between evidence and testimony, inside New York State Supreme Court, Trump shook his head, crossed his arms, occasionally muttered beneath his breath — and provided a glimpse of what’s to come in his legal calendar.
On top of the New York civil case, he faces five criminal trials as he campaigns for reelection, four of which have already been scheduled for 2024. Trump so far has managed to capitalize on his legal perils – including those related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss and his handling of national security secrets after leaving office – to rally his supporters and raise money for his campaign.
Monday’s made-for-TV spectacle began just after 9:30 a.m., when Trump was chauffeured downtown from Trump Tower in Midtown, one of the real estate assets at the heart of the case. Trump is fighting to retain control of the Fifth Avenue tower after Justice Arthur F. Engoron – the jurist he’s personally attacked and labeled a “rogue judge” right before entering his courtroom — ruled last month that the former president had committed fraud by inflating the value of various properties for years.
Outside the courthouse, anti-Trump protesters waved signs reading “Trump lies” and “Lies have consequences.” But it was Trump’s display — against Engoron and New York Attorney General Letitia James – that stood out most sharply.
Just before entering the third-floor courtroom at 10:00 a.m., Trump stopped to address the news media. He was flanked by lawyers Chris Kise and Alina Habba and surrounded by dozens of Secret Service agents and court police.
“This is a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time,” Trump said, invoking the phrase he’s often used to characterize investigations into his affairs. He called Engoron a “rogue” and James, who is Black, a “racist.”
Trump again denied inflating his wealth and insisted that no banks were harmed by his alleged misconduct. He then falsely accused the US Justice Department of coordinating the New York case and said he was targeted because he’s the “leading candidate” for 2024.
“There was no crime,” Trump said. “The crime is against me.”
The evidence to the contrary is daunting. James has marshaled documents and testimony that she maintains proves that Trump wildly inflated the value of various assets for years, reaping tens of millions of dollars a year in financial benefits from better terms on loans and insurance coverage.
Among the first evidence introduced Monday were documents showing how Trump wanted to move higher on the Forbes billionaires list, allegedly by fudging numbers to appear wealthier than he was. Trump faces the dissolution of key properties, $250 million in penalties and a ban on serving as an officer of any New York-based company.
Lawyers for the state also pointed to testimony by Trump Organization officials and emails with the Trump family’s bankers to show that the company falsified asset values to get better terms from Deutsche Bank AG, among others.
Kevin Wallace, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office, told the courtroom that employees of Trump had engineered the value of Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street. He played a clip of Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, explaining the process, prompting Trump to shake his head and scowl.
Trump’s lawyers argued that there had been nothing wrong with the financial statements.
Trump sat quietly as Wallace delivered his opening statement. He folded his arms and stared at the judge. When his lawyer, Kise, started speaking, Trump became more animated and appeared to listen intently.
Trump visibly perked up when Habba, his other lawyer, delivered a second opening statement in which she questioned the attorney general’s motive for suing and praised Trump for his supposed real estate genius. When she finished, Trump spoke in whispers to her for several minutes while looking at various documents. At one point he carefully folded a piece of paper several times and put it away.
The proceedings appeared to fire Trump up even more. After the trial broke for lunch, Trump launched into another attack on the judge, saying that Engoron “should be disbarred” and “should be out of office.”
“This is a judge who some people think could be charged criminally for what he’s doing,” Trump said, adding he believes that the judge is “interfering with an election.”
The New York trial is expected to last almost three months, and Trump is expected to take the witness stand at some point later in the proceeding.
Tuesday will start off with more testimony from his former accountant Donald Bender. The next witness is expected to be Camron Harris, an audit partner with Trump’s new accounting firm Whitley Penn LLP.
The former president renewed his attack on James on social media, once again using harsh language while accusing her of undervaluing his properties.
(Adds Trump’s plan to attend again Tuesday in fifth paragraph and details at end. A video caption in an earlier version of this story misspelled Marc Short’s name.)
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