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The judge presiding over the bank fraud trial of former President Donald Trump threatened to jail him and impose heavy fines on him for “blatantly” violating a gag order by refusing to remove a website post that attacked court staff.
The trial got underway on a serious note on Friday, with Justice Arthur F. Engoron laying out the high stakes and demanding explanations from Trump’s attorneys.
“In the current overheated climate, incendiary comments can, and in some cases already have, led to serious physical harm and worse. I will now allow the defendants to explain why this blatant violation of the gag order would not result in serious sanctions, including financial sanctions and/or possibly imprisoning him,” Engoron said.
The New York bank fraud trial that Engoron is presiding over is a civil matter, meaning that Trump will not face imprisonment but rather fines and the possible destruction of his real estate empire.
The judge then threatened Trump by saying he could spend time behind bars if he did not comply, the Daily Beast reported.
Christopher Kise, Trump’s defense attorney, quickly issued an apology, attributing the incident to a simple oversight on the part of Trump’s massive “campaign machinery” in failing to delete a webpage that replicated the Truth Social post that Trump had already deleted.
“There was no intention to evade or circumvent or ignore the order. I assure you that. I just know that this is a very large machine and this is one of the reasons, frankly, I don’t have social media,” Kise said, trying to deflect with some light humor.
“But that’s been taken down. And we don’t have any other… there were no subsequent postings,” Kise added.
“I will take that under advisement, but… Donald Trump is still responsible for the large machine,” Engoron reminded him.
This formal reprimand follows the judge’s repeated warnings to the unhinged real estate mogul not to repeat his tactics of intimidating witnesses and defaming judges and prosecutors in New York state court.
To remind Trump’s lawyers of the trouble they’re in, Engoron took the time on Friday morning to go over what had happened so far, bringing up the “untrue disparaging and personally-identifying post about my principal law clerk.” In addition, he told the press about what went down in his courtroom when the press was not present.
“I spoke to defendants on and off the record. Off the record, I ordered Donald Trump to remove the post immediately. Approximately 10 minutes later, Donald Trump represented to me that he had taken down the offending post,” he began.
“I then, on the record, imposed on all parties to his action a very limited gag order forbidding ‘all parties from posting, emailing or speaking publicly about any members of my staff,’ emphasizing quite clearly that ‘personal attacks on members of my court staff are unacceptable, inappropriate and I will not tolerate them under any circumstances,’” he recalled.
“Despite this clear order, last night I learned that the subject of the offending post was never removed from the website donaldjtrump.com, and in fact had been on that website for the past 17 days. I understand that it was removed late last night, but only in response to email from this court,” he went on.
New York Attorney General Letitia James filed a lawsuit against Trump and his company for allegedly providing false and misleading statements to banks and insurers regarding Trump’s net worth and asset values. Although Engoron has already found fraud on the part of Trump and his company, the trial will still have to deal with claims of conspiracy, insurance fraud, and tampering with business records.
James claims that Trump’s financial statements were pivotal in his ability to secure deals and loans, and testimony and exhibits presented at trial corroborate this.
Trump has refuted each and every accusation made by James. He claims that the true value of his assets is much higher than what was disclosed in the disclaimers that accompanied his financial statements.
Since state law does not permit a jury in this kind of lawsuit, Engoron will decide the case.