Donald Trump ongoing legal battles are no longer side issues but central to his quest to return to the White House. This was evident as the former president and leading GOP contender faced the opening day of a civil fraud trial in New York, accused of significantly inflating his business valuations.
While Trump wasn’t required to be in court on Monday, he used the occasion to create a media spectacle, ensuring he remained in the spotlight. He continued to depict himself as a victim of a biased justice system, a stance that has solidified his position as the frontrunner in the 2024 GOP primary.
This scene resembled the repetitive episodes that have unfolded since spring, with Trump appearing in courthouses and even a local jail to address four criminal indictments. Journalists camped out overnight for courtroom seats, news helicopters tracked his motorcade, and cable networks broadcasted the spectacle live.
Trump, however, relished the attention. He addressed the media outside the courtroom multiple times, vehemently opposing the case and providing his commentary.
Former White House press secretary Ari Fleischer noted that Trump defied conventional wisdom by speaking out despite the advice to remain silent. For Trump, the lines between campaigning and legal proceedings have blurred.
Fleischer explained, “Every day is a day on the stump, whether it’s in Iowa, New Hampshire, or in the courtroom.” He added that each appearance is an opportunity for Trump to emphasize that he’s a victim of a weaponized Justice Department and the only one who can change Washington.
The civil fraud case, filed by New York Attorney General Letitia James, accuses Trump and his company of consistently exaggerating his wealth by as much as $3.6 billion, deceiving banks, insurers, and others.
Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled that Trump committed fraud. If this decision holds up on appeal, Trump could lose control of valuable properties, including Trump Tower and golf courses. James is also seeking $250 million in penalties and a ban on Trump conducting business in New York.
Throughout the day, Trump watched the proceedings from the defense table, sometimes consulting with his lawyers. He grew visibly irate during the morning’s opening statements, particularly at suggestions that he was worth less than he claimed.
By the end of the day, Trump’s mood shifted. He claimed a victory, pointing to comments he believed favored the defense’s view that most allegations in the suit were too old to be considered.
Despite this, Trump expressed his desire to be campaigning instead of dealing with the trial. He lamented, “This was for politics. Now, it has been very successful for them because they took me off the campaign trail ’cause I’ve been sitting in a courthouse all day long instead of being in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, or a lot of other places I could be at.”
Trump’s trial in Georgia over his attempts to undermine the 2020 election results is yet to be scheduled.
While plans for Trump to attend the opening days of the New York trial were revealed last week, his appearance was also used to postpone a deposition in a separate lawsuit against his former lawyer, Michael Cohen.
In a social media post, Trump stated his desire to appear in court “to fight for my name and reputation.” He added, “I want to watch this witch hunt myself. I’ve been going through a witch hunt for years, but this is really now getting dirty.” Trump is expected to return to testify in the case in the coming weeks.
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