A visibly enraged Donald J. Trump sprung out of his chair in New York State Supreme Court on Oct. 25 and rushed out of the courtroom after the judge presiding over the civil lawsuit against him and his business empire denied his request to dismiss the case.
“Denied!” Justice Arthur F. Engoron declared in response to the request, made by Clifford Robert, a lawyer on Trump’s team.
That’s when the former president decided he’d had enough of the prosecution by New York State Attorney General Letitia James, who James is suing him for $250 million dollars and to ban him from doing business in New York.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer, was toward the end of two days’ worth of damning testimony against his former boss when the theatrical moment unspooled in the courtroom of the iconic 60 Centre Street Courthouse–whose front steps are regularly featured in “Law and Order” episodes.
Earlier in the day, Trump had unexpectedly been called to the witness stand to testify about a statement he made to reporters in violation of a partial gag order. Earlier in the trial, Mr. Trump had attacked the judge’s clerk on his Truth Social platform, calling her Senator Schumer’s girlfriend. Judge Arthur Engoron had immediately ordered that the post be deleted, and barred Mr. Trump and other parties in the case from making public statements about his staff. The post was taken down. But last Friday, it came to the judge’s attention that the post was still visible on Mr. Trump’s campaign website. He fined Mr. Trump $5,000 and threatened him with jail time, if he were to violate the order again. It was the first time Mr. Trump had ever faced consequences for violating court-ordered restrictions on his speech. But he did it again. He told news reporters in the hallway during the midmorning break on Wednesday, Judge Arthur F. Engoron is “a very partisan judge with a person who’s very partisan sitting alongside him, perhaps even much more partisan than he is.”
The judge assumed Trump was referring to his clerk, who sits very close to him. The defense lawyers tried to clarify, their client had meant Michael Cohen and not the clerk. The judge was not satisfied and called the former president to the witness stand.
“To whom were you referring?” Engoron asked Trump.
“You and Cohen,” Trump answered.
Once Trump returned to his defense table, Engoron issued an order fining Trump $10,000, saying he did not find the witness “credible”, and was being “on the liberal side.”
Alina Habbas, another lawyer on Trump’s legal brigade, continued to grill Michael Cohen on the second day of his highly anticipated testimony.
On Oct. 24, Cohen had attempted to minimize his federal conviction for tax evasion and violating campaign finance laws by distancing himself from his past crimes. But in doing so, he stumbled over the way he acknowledged his guilt to a federal judge. This had been recorded in a federal court transcript and submitted by Mrs. Habbas as evidence. She had succeeded in getting Mr. Cohen to admit that he lied under oath.
“And when you lied to Judge Pauley under oath... that had nothing to do with Donald Trump, correct?” Mrs. Habbas reminded the witness on Wednesday.
“He’s now admitted to perjury,” Chris Kise, another Trump lawyer added from the defense table.
Assistant Attorney General Colleen Faherty objected vehemently to using the word “perjury”, claiming it was intended to intimidate her client and a “type of showmanship that should not be permitted.”
“The entire case hinges on this perjurious witness.” Chris Kise fired back. “We shouldn’t have to dance around it because of sensitivity.”
A lengthy debate erupted: should the attorneys use the word “perjury” or should they not. Both sides elaborated their points. The judge, in turn, told all participants, “no speeches here,” and pointed out that this was a bench and not a jury trial.
But Cohen’s credibility, which was never solid to begin with, took further hits. Alina Habbas, who was, as usual, dressed to impress in her marine blue outfit and meticulously pampered hair, continued to attack the witness. Parading back and forth, at times even turning to the courtroom audience, she presented text messages from a document obtained by the FBI after they raided Cohen’s house in 2018. She asked Mr. Cohen if he had ever been interested in holding an official position at the White House, instead of ‘just’ working as Trump’s personal lawyer.
Cohen denied ever having expressed such a wish. Habbas pulled up a text message from the FBI document, where Cohen had indeed stated he was at one point in conversation for, and interested in becoming Trump’s Chief of Staff.
By the afternoon, Mr. Cohen’s confidence was worn out. His voice seemed stuck inside his throat. His face was tired.
“The more outrageous your stories are about Mr. Trump, the more money you make.” She was referring to Mr. Cohen’s two books, his podcast, his youtube show, in which, as he admitted, he frequently discussed Donald J. Trump.
Soon after that, a dwindling Mr. Cohen did not ‘recall’ that Mr. Trump had directly asked him to manipulate numbers on his financial statements. The Republican front-runner gesticulated relief at the table.
The eventful day got even more heated, when a third lawyer from Trump’s team took the microphone, Clifford S. Robert. Insisting, he asked Cohen again, “So, Mr. Trump never directed you to inflate the numbers?” He paused. “Yes or no?”
Cohen clarified, Trump had never told him to inflate his finances on paper.
Robert demanded a “directed verdict” from the judge, emphasizing that “the state’s key witness” had disqualified their entire case. “I can’t think of anything more appropriate now,” he concluded.
”Denied,” judge Arthur F. Engoron ruled without hesitation.
Trump left the courtroom. And Cohen tried to explain his testimony.
“Donald Trump speaks like a mob boss,” Cohen said. “He tells you what he wants without telling you.”
The judge was unimpressed. He told the courtroom that he did not consider Mr. Cohen to be “a key witness” in this trial. “There’s enough evidence to fill this courtroom.”
Additional questioning by the prosecution could not save Cohen from his sunken ship. There are still more “key” witnesses on the witness list, like Trump’s sons and Trump himself, who has been called to testify. The show-down between Donald J. Trump and his former lawyer marked one moment in what appears to be a lengthy drama. The judge has predicted the trial will last until December, on the third day he remarked, ”if this was Broadway, we would have a long run.”