Former US president Donald Trump was back in the news on Wednesday after he was fined $10,000 by Justice Arthur Engoron — the New York judge who is overseeing his civil fraud trial— for a second violation of a gag order barring him from disparaging court staff.
Engoron had imposed the order on October 3 (Tuesday) after Trump shared a photo on social media of the judge’s top clerk posing with US Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, and falsely called her Schumer’s “girlfriend.”
During a break in the case brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James concerning Trump’s business practices, the former president told reporters in a hallway, “This judge is a very partisan judge, with a person who’s very partisan sitting alongside of him, perhaps even much more partisan than he is.”
Conjecturing that Trump was alluding to his clerk, Engoron described the remarks as a “blatant” breach of the gag order.
Trump made his statements in the corridor as his former fixer and attorney, Michael Cohen, was giving a second day of testimony against him.
In his brief appearance on the witness stand before being penalised, Trump informed Engoron that he had made reference to “you and Cohen” in his statement.
The notion that Cohen was the “partisan” individual Trump had named was rejected by the judge, as Christopher Kise, Trump’s attorney, also expressed.
“The idea that that statement would refer to the witness, that doesn’t make sense to me,” Engoron said. “Don’t do it again or it will be worse.”
Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge President Joe Biden in the 2024 US election, walked out of the courtroom after being fined, Reuters reported.
Previously on October 20 (Friday), after discovering that Trump had not removed a post criticising the clerk, Engoron fined him $5,000 and threatened to impose “far more severe” penalties, including jail time, for future infractions.
When the gag order was first implemented, Engoron declared that remarks made against his employees were “unacceptable, inappropriate, and will not be tolerated under any circumstances.”
Engoron’s clerk has sat next to the judge during the trial, standard practice in a New York state court.
Alina Habba, one of Trump’s lawyers, told Engoron she saw the clerk appear to roll her eyes during Cohen’s testimony, and that this was “completely inappropriate.”
The trial concerns allegations that Trump and his family business, the Trump Organisation, unlawfully manipulated asset values and his net worth to dupe lenders and insurers. The case could break up Trump’s business empire.
Cohen’s two days of testimony marked his first face-to-face encounter with Trump in five years. Trump “arbitrarily” inflated the value of real estate assets to secure favourable insurance premiums, Cohen testified on Tuesday.
Since cutting ties and becoming one of Trump’s fiercest critics, Cohen has written two books and created a political podcast.