By Catherine Yang
Former President Donald Trump made a surprising move Monday morning showing up in court for opening arguments in the civil fraud case against him in New York. This is the first time President Trump has spoken in court.
He was not present in another civil case against him in New York this year and did not speak to the press in previous arraignments.
Barricades were erected outside the courthouse downtown in anticipation of his arrival, and his motorcade was seen heading from Midtown Manhattan downtown to 60 Centre Street.
The trial begins at 10 a.m. and the former president arrived with Secret Service about 9:30 a.m., but did not enter the courthouse right away.
At 10 a.m., he used a side entrance usually reserved for judges, and stopped for an appearance with the press.
“This is a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time. We have a rogue judge who rules the properties are … a fraction of what they are,” he said, accusing the attorney general of running on a “Get Trump” platform and ignoring rising crime in the city. “We have a corrupt Attorney General.”
He also accused the Biden administration’s Department of Justice of coordinating with local prosecutors to target him.
“It’s a scam it’s a sham,” he said. “Just so you know my financial statements are phenomenal,” he said, adding that his net worth is higher than what is on the statements submitted, and the banks “don’t even know why they have to be involved” in the case because they were not hurt and had profited from his business.
“They were paid back on time, there were no defaults there were no problems. It was like a perfect client,” he said.
“This is an attempt to hurt me in the election,” he said. “This has never happened before, that a president of the United States leaves office and gets indicted.”
“This case could have been brought years ago but they waited until I was campaigning,” he said. “They’re all corrupt people.”
“Frankly the country is corrupt. That’s why I’m running, we’re going to straighten it out,” he said.
President Trump is on the witness list, but is not expected to testify today. He is expected to stay in court all day, until about 4 p.m.
At midnight on Oct. 2, President Trump made the announcement of his arrival on social media.
“I’m going to Court tomorrow morning to fight for my name and reputation against a corrupt and racist Attorney General, Letitia James, who campaigned on ‘getting Trump,’ and a Trump Hating Judge who is unfair, unhinged, and vicious in his PURSUIT of me. He values Mar-a-Lago, in Palm Beach, Florida, at 18 Million Dollars, when it is worth 50 to 100 times that amount. His valuations are FRAUDULENT in pursuit of Election Interference, and worse. THIS WHOLE CASE IS A SHAM!!! See you in Court – Monday morning,” he wrote.
Last week, an appeals court ruled against President Trump, who argued that the judge ruled improperly by ignoring a June ruling from the appeals court that limited the period for which the prosecution could bring charges.
“The judge, Arthur Engoron, refuses to accept our big win in the Court of Appeals, nullifying much of the case that the racist Attorney General of New York, Letitia James, has charged us with. Nobody can believe it!” President Trump wrote in a follow-up post.
He added that his Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, was worth 50 to 100 times the $18 million valuation, which the judge quoted from a county assessor’s report.
President Trump also repeated arguments that the disclaimers on all his financial documents shield him from liability, while Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron has ruled multiple times that they do not.
“He should resign from the ‘Bench’ and be sanctioned by the Courts for his abuse of power, and his intentional and criminal interference with the Presidential Election of 2024, of which I am leading all candidates, both Republican & Democrat, by significant margins,” President Trump wrote. “Likewise, Letitia James should resign for purposeful and criminal Election Interference. She is fully aware that Mar-a-Lago, and other assets, are worth much more than what she is claiming. Both of these Democrat Operatives are a disgrace to New York, and to the United States of America!”
President Trump has previously said that going against his company would be a “red line,” and this case targets both his family and business.
Alina Habba, a legal spokesperson for President Trump, spoke to reporters on the courthouse steps after the former president’s arrival, arguing again that Justice Engoron failed to take the appeal court’s June decision into account. Justice Engoron has sided with Ms. James in saying that financial statements within the allowed time period show fraud in the broader period in which Ms. James is arguing fraud occurred.
“This is nothing more than election interference. Democrats know that he is leading Joe Biden by wide margins and this is the only way they can fight him,” his legal team stated.
New York Attorney General Letitia James brought the case against President Trump, his adult children, and the Trump Organization after four years of investigation.
She is seeking $250 million in penalties and to bar President Trump and his sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. from doing business in New York State. Both of his adult sons were executive vice presidents of the Trump Organization. Ivanka Trump was previously listed as a defendant but was dismissed from the case after the appeals court limited the statute of limitations. She had left the organization in 2016.
The judge has already ruled against President Trump on a key component in the case, finding him liable for fraud.
Last month, Ms. James asked Justice Engoron for a pre-trial summary judgment, or decision, on one of the seven claims—that President Trump had inflated his net worth by up to $2.2 billion, defrauding lenders and insurers.
This means that the trial will mainly deal with how much President Trump owes in penalties, which will include the loss of the Trump Organization.
The trial is a bench trial, decided solely by the judge and not a jury.
Justice Engoron has already gone beyond what Ms. James has asked for, ordering the dissolution of the Trump Organization and related LLCs.
Last week, his order created confusion in court, and attorney Christopher Kise asked whether the dissolution of the LLCs would mean that properties needed to be sold off, or just run by a neutral third party.
This would include high-profile properties such as Trump Tower and 40 Wall Street, as well as a family estate in suburban Westchester County.
The judge consulted with his clerk before answering that he was “not prepared to issue a ruling right now” but it would be hashed out in trial.
Ms. James also met reporters Monday morning, giving a statement before trial.
“For years, Donald Trump falsely inflated his net worth to enrich himself and cheat the system,” she said. “We won the foundation of our case last week and proved that his purported net worth has long been rooted in incredible fraud. In this country, there are consequences for this type of persistent fraud, and we look forward to demonstrating the full extent of his fraud and illegality during trial.”
“No matter how rich or powerful you are, there are not two sets of laws for people in this country,” she added. “The rule of law must apply equally to everyone, and it is my responsibility to make sure that it does.”