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Trump takes the stand and is fined $10,000 for violating a gag order in fraud case

Former President Donald Trump, center, flanked by his defense attorneys, Alina Habba, left, and Chris Kise, right.
Seth Wenig
Former President Donald Trump, center, flanked by his defense attorneys, Alina Habba, left, and Chris Kise, right.

Updated October 25, 2023 at 3:51 PM ET

Donald Trump was fined $10,000 for violating a gag order in his civil fraud trial in New York after a judge questioned him on the stand about recent comments made by the former president.

Trump's remarks were made during a midmorning break.

"If we had a jury it would have been fair, at least — even if it was a somewhat negative jury — because no negative jury would vote against me," he said during the break. "But this judge will. Because this judge is a very partisan judge, with a person who's very partisan sitting alongside of him, perhaps even much more partisan than he is."

Judge Arthur Engoron asked who he was referring to; Trump, who was on the stand, replied Michael Cohen, the onetime lawyer and fixer for the former president who was face to face with his former boss for a second time in two days. But Engoron inferred Trump's remarks to mean his clerk, who sits to his right. Trump had previously criticized the judge's law clerk as a "partisan Democrat."

"I think I've said this before, but the idea the statement of referring to the witness as someone sitting alongside me doesn't make sense to me," Engoron said.

Trump has already been fined $5,000 for violating a gag order Engoron placed on all parties after a Truth Social post of his clerk was made and stayed on the Trump campaign website.

"I am very protective of my staff," Engoron said, and threatened future "severe sanctions."

Cohen testifies again

The midafternoon interlude came after Cohen testified for a second day at the New York County Supreme Court civil trial alleging the former president inflated the value of his assets to land better business deals and tax benefits.

The attorney general's and Trump's legal teams argued over whether or not Cohen admitted to lying on the stand.

During his testimony Tuesday, Cohen said that Trump had asked him to "increase the total assets based upon a number that he arbitrarily elected." But Alina Habba, Trump's attorney, referred to previous Cohen comments where he said Trump did not directly ask him to inflate the numbers.

Trump's lawyers asked the judge to go direct to verdict, citing what they called Cohen's perjury and admission.

"Denied," said Engoron, leading to Trump leaving the courtroom mid trial.

After being asked to add additional information by Colleen Faherty, who is on the attorney general's office, Cohen described Trump as a "mob boss."

"He did not explicitly say, 'Michael, please inflate the numbers,' " Cohen said on the witness stand, then referencing Trump's desire to be on the Forbes 100 list and acknowledging they knew the value of assets were inflated.

"We understood what he wanted," he said.

On Tuesday, Cohen said his responsibility, along with that of former Trump Organization Chief Financial Officer Allen Weisselberg, "was to reverse engineer the very different asset classes, increase those assets in order to achieve the numbers" Trump had asked for.

Cohen's cross examination on Wednesday, led by Habba, centered on Cohen's past of lying under oath. During Wednesday's questioning, Cohen admitted to lying to U.S. District Judge William Henry Pauley III, the late federal judge who sentenced Cohen.

Trump, who is not required to be present for the trial but arrived within several minutes of Cohen, has continued to deny any wrongdoing and also pointed to Cohen's past legal troubles.

Cohen's past convictions, which include lying to Congress and to a bank, along with his former guilty pleas to tax evasion and breaking campaign finance laws, were brought up by both the attorney general's and Trump's lawyers.

Habba also questioned Cohen on how he and Weisselberg drew up the statements of financial condition that included inflated total values for assets.

Cohen testified that his markups and notes on the statements primarily occurred in the form of handwritten annotations and that he, Weisselberg and Trump would meet briefly and informally to discuss.

Former President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen and his attorney Danya Perry arrive at Trump's civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court.
Spencer Platt / Getty Images
Getty Images
Former President Donald Trump's former lawyer Michael Cohen and his attorney Danya Perry arrive at Trump's civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court.

How Cohen and Trump landed on opposite sides

Trump and Cohen had a falling out in 2018 amid a federal investigation into Cohen's financial dealings and special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into the Trump campaign's possible ties to Russia during the 2016 presidential race.

In late 2018, Cohen pleaded guilty to a raft of federal charges, including campaign finance violations related to hush money payouts to two women in exchange for their public silence about their personal relationships with Trump.

In February 2019, Cohen testified before the House Oversight Committee.

"Mr. Trump is a cheat," Cohen said before lawmakers. "It was my experience that Mr. Trump inflated his total assets when it served his purposes, such as trying to be listed amongst the wealthiest people in Forbes, and deflated his assets to reduce his real estate taxes."

Trump has long argued that he has done no wrong and has repeatedly cast Cohen as untrustworthy.

Ahead of Tuesday's proceedings, Cohen told reporters "this is not about Donald Trump vs. Michael Cohen, or Michael Cohen vs. Donald Trump. This is about accountability, plain and simple, and we leave it up to Judge Engoron to make all the determinations on that."

Engoron, who is overseeing the trial, issued an order before the start of the trial concluding that Trump and his associates — including his sons Eric and Donald Jr. — did inflate the value of their assets. At stake in the trial is whether or not Trump conspired to commit fraud on purpose and how much he will owe the state in penalties if so.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Ximena Bustillo
Ximena Bustillo is a multi-platform reporter at NPR covering politics out of the White House and Congress on air and in print.