Former President Trump made a surprise appearance on the witness stand in his New York civil trial on Wednesday. He was there not to defend himself against any of the fraud charges he faces in the case, but to answer for violating a gag order that was put in place.
The unexpected testimony came after a break in the proceedings, during which Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen was on the stand. However, Cohen’s testimony took an explosive turn during cross-examination, as he appeared to contradict his previous statements about inflating Trump’s assets.
But it was Trump’s earlier comments that caused the most stir in the courtroom. When called to the stand, Judge Engoron asked Trump about a recent remark he made to reporters regarding a “very partisan judge with a person who is very partisan sitting alongside him, perhaps even more partisan than he is.” This comment prompted the judge to question whether Trump was referring to his principal law clerk, who was sitting next to the judge.
Trump nodded and confirmed that he was indeed referring to the judge and Cohen. The judge then asked him if he was sure and Trump replied, “Yes, I’m sure.” When pressed further, Trump went on to explain that he believed the judge’s clerk was biased against him and his side in the case. He also claimed that he took down the post that sparked the gag order, but it was left up by a political group or PAC without his knowledge.
Engoron was not convinced and fined Trump $10,000 for violating the gag order, calling him “not credible” as a witness. This fine was doubled from the previous $5,000 fine that was imposed when it was discovered that the post had remained on Trump’s campaign website for 17 days.
Trump’s lawyers objected to the order, claiming that the judge’s clerk was essentially a “second judge” in the case and questioned the judge’s impartiality. However, Engoron rejected these objections and asserted that he makes the final decisions, not his clerk.
After the fine was imposed, Cohen returned to the stand for cross-examination by an attorney for Trump’s sons. During this cross-examination, Cohen’s testimony began to contradict itself, causing Trump to storm out of the courtroom in frustration. Cohen was also questioned about his previous testimony in which he denied being directed by Trump to inflate his net worth, which contradicted his testimony earlier this week. Cohen responded by saying that Trump speaks “like a mob boss” and gives orders without explicitly stating them.
The government attempted to rehabilitate Cohen’s testimony by allowing him to clarify that Trump did, in fact, direct him to inflate his net worth. Cohen also defended his testimony and his role in holding Trump accountable for his actions. The trial is ongoing and it remains to be seen how these new developments will affect the outcome.