Trump says he will not give evidence again at his New York fraud trial

10 December 2023, 23:04

Trump Fraud Lawsuit
Trump Fraud Lawsuit. Picture: PA

The former US president, the leading contender for the 2024 Republican nomination, had been expected to return to the witness box on Monday.

Donald Trump said on Sunday he has decided against giving evidence for a second time at his New York civil fraud trial.

He posted on social media a day before his scheduled appearance that he “very successfully and conclusively” testified last month and saw no need to do so again.

The former US president, the leading contender for the 2024 Republican nomination, had been expected to return to the witness box on Monday as a coda to his defence against New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit.

James, a Democrat, alleges Mr Trump inflated his wealth on financial statements used in securing loans and making deals. The case threatens Mr Trump’s property empire and cuts to the heart of his image as a successful businessman.

“I will not be testifying on Monday,” Mr Trump wrote on his Truth Social platform less than 20 hours before he was to enter the witness box.

“I have already testified to everything & have nothing more to say,” Mr Trump added, leaving the final word among defence witnesses to an accounting expert hired by his legal team who testified last week that he found “no evidence, whatsoever, for any accounting fraud” in Mr Trump’s financial statements.

A Trump spokesperson did not immediately respond to questions about his decision.

The decision was an abrupt change from Mr Trump’s posture in recent days, when his lawyers said he was insistent on giving evidence again despite their concerns about a gag order that has cost him 15,000 dollars (£12,000) in fines for disparaging the judge’s law clerk.

“President Trump has already testified. There is really nothing more to say to a judge who has imposed an unconstitutional gag order and thus far appears to have ignored President Trump’s testimony and that of everyone else involved in the complex financial transactions at issue in the case,” Trump lawyer Christopher Kise said on Sunday.

Mr Trump’s decision came days after his son, Eric Trump, ditched his return appearance in the witness box. Mr Trump said on social media that he had told Eric to cancel.

Trump Fraud Lawsuit
Former president Donald Trump sits at the defence table with his lawyers Christopher Kise and Alina Habba (Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP)

It also follows Mr Trump’s first trip back to court since he gave evidence in the case on November 6. Last Thursday, he watched from the defence table as the accounting professor, New York University professor Eli Bartov, blasted the state’s case and said Mr Trump’s financial statements “were not materially misstated”.

Mr Trump’s cancellation caught court officials by surprise. Without Mr Trump in the witness box, the trial will be on hold until Tuesday, when Mr Bartov will finish his testimony. State lawyers say they will then call at least one rebuttal witness.

In a statement, Ms James said whether Mr Trump gave evidence again or not, “we have already proven that he committed years of financial fraud and unjustly enriched himself and his family. No matter how much he tries to distract from reality, the facts don’t lie”.

Mr Trump was often defiant and combative on November 6. Along with defending his wealth and denying wrongdoing, he repeatedly sparred with the judge, whom he criticised as “extremely hostile,” and slammed Ms James as “a political hack”.

Election 2024 Trump
Donald Trump speaks during the New York Young Republican Club’s annual gala at Cipriani Wall Street on Saturday (Yuki Iwamura/AP)

Mr Trump answered questions from state lawyers for about three and a half hours, often responding with lengthy diatribes. His verbose answers irked the judge, Arthur Engoron, who said: “This is not a political rally.”

Had Mr Trump returned to the stand on Monday, it would have been his defence lawyers leading the questioning, but lawyers from Ms James’ office could have cross-examined him, too.

Mr Engoron ruled before the trial that Mr Trump and other defendants engaged in fraud. He ordered that a receiver take control of some Trump properties, but an appeals court has paused that decision.

Mr Engoron is now considering six other claims, including allegations of conspiracy and insurance fraud. Ms James seeks penalties of more than 300 million dollars (£239 million) and wants Mr Trump banned from doing business in New York.

The judge is deciding, rather than a jury, because juries are not allowed in this type of case.

Closing arguments are scheduled for January 11, just four days before the Iowa caucuses start the presidential primary season. Mr Engoron said he hopes to have a decision by the end of January.

Mr Trump has had a prime role in the trial. Along with his testimony, he has voluntarily gone to court eight days to watch witnesses, turning his appearances into de facto campaign stops.

Despite the gag order, Mr Trump was adamant in recent days that he would give evidence again — even as one of his lawyers, Alina Habba, said she discouraged him from taking the stand.

“He still wants to take the stand, even though my advice is, at this point, you should never take the stand with a gag order,” Ms Habba told reporters last week, before Mr Trump changed his mind.

Mr Trump spent Saturday evening with Ms Habba at the New York Young Republican Club’s black-tie gala. At the event, about a mile from the courthouse, he went on at length highlighting his objections, saying: “I have proven my innocence literally every single day.”

By Press Association

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