Former President Donald Trump wrapped up his massive civil fraud case with a trademark personal touch: An attack on the judge, right in the courtroom.
“You have your own agenda,” Trump told Judge Arthur Engoron Thursday. “You can’t listen for more than one minute.”
And with that, the trial was over. Now, it’s the judge’s turn.
The man Trump just spent months taunting and insulting will now deliver a judgement within weeks that could wallop Trump’s business empire, with hundreds of millions in fines, a possible lifetime ban on doing business in New York, and possibly other penalties. This case could force Trump to hand over flagship New York properties, including even his Trump Tower headquarters in Manhattan. Trump, who spent a lifetime buffing his preferred self-image as the ultimate brash New York real estate tycoon, may shortly be banned from working in the Big Apple ever again.
With so much at stake, Trump’s decision to repeatedly insult the man with so much power over his fate was an unorthodox choice, to say the least.
“It’s not common,” Tristan Snell, a former assistant attorney general for New York State, told the Lawfare podcast after Trump’s impromptu courtroom remarks on Thursday. “That’s the kind of thing that someone would do if they were a criminal defendant with mental health problems.”
Of course, attacking this judge has been exactly how Trump chose to handle this case from the very start—perhaps, in part, because legal battles have turned out to be good politics for Trump. The former president has managed the rare feat of turning his legal woes into a rallying cry that has turbo-charged Republican support for his presidential campaign. His four criminal indictments have only seemed to cement his status as frontrunner for the GOP presidential primary, and he has turned key legal battles into lucrative multimillion-dollar fundraising opportunities.
That kind of tactical thinking may explain Trump’s boisterousness in court. Or, of course, on the other hand, he might simply be unable to help himself.
Trump repeatedly blasted Judge Engoron on social media, including one recent all-caps rant accusing the judge of plotting to “screw me.”
Trump also went after the judge’s chief clerk, prompting Judge Engoron to put down a gag order after the clerk was swamped with antisemitic harassment and threats. Trump racked up two fines for violating that order, totaling $15,000.
Just hours before closing arguments on Thursday, Judge Engoron himself received a bomb threat at his Long Island home.
Now, because Trump’s lawyers bungled the process of requesting a jury for this trial, this judge has been handed full authority to make a decision that could rock Trump’s world.
New York State Attorney General Letitia James is suing Trump and his company for artificially manipulating the valuations of his business holdings to secure loans and other financial benefits. James’ office is seeking a fine of $370 million, which is an increase from the original claim of $250 million. She also wants Trump banned for life from working in real estate or running companies in New York.
In a pretrial ruling, Judge Engoron found Trump liable for fraud. The trial has therefore been primarily about what kind of penalty Trump, his company and his executives should face.
In a pretrial ruling, the judge already revoked some Trump’s business licenses, including for Trump Tower, and ordered that the Trump Organization itself be “liquidated.”
That decision is now under appeal. But even if it’s reversed, Trump might still be forced to sell significant assets to raise cash if he has to cover a massive fine.
There are other clues, too, that Judge Engoron, an elected Democrat, failed to develop newfound sympathy for Trump’s position that he’s completely innocent over the course of this trial.
The judge also dismissed statements made by an expert witness who was paid almost $1 million by Trump to testify. Judge Engoron said that the witness, New York University accounting professor Eli Bartov, “lost all credibility” by attempting to justify all of Trump’s actions.
“Bartov is a tenured professor, but all that his testimony proves is that for a million or so dollars, some experts will say whatever you want them to say,” Judge Engoron wrote.
Now, there’s little Trump can do except sit back and wait to hear what the fallout will be. The judge said he aims to release his decision by the end of January.