In a shocking turn of events, the New York judge presiding over Donald Trump’s bank fraud trial ordered the former president to testify Wednesday over an insult Trump threw at the judge’s law clerk.
After a brief testimony by Trump, Justice Arthur F. Engoron formally called him out.
“As the trier of fact, I find that the witness is not credible, that he was referring to my law clerk, who is sitting much closer to me, who doesn’t have a barrier,” he said. “I hereby fine you $10,000, which is on the liberal side, to be paid within 30 days.”
During a court break earlier in the day, Trump held an impromptu press conference outside the courtroom in which he complained about the “person who’s very partisan sitting alongside of [the judge],” an oblique reference to attorney Allison Greenfield, who advises the judge on the case.
Immediately after that, Engoron warned Trump’s lawyers that he was in clear violation of the gag order imposed at the very start of the trial. Defense attorney Christopher Kise claimed that Trump was actually referring to the witness, Trump’s sworn enemy and former lawyer Michael Cohen. The judge said he’d take the matter under advisement.
However, when trial continued after a lunch break, Engoron held a surprise hearing in which he ordered Trump to take the witness stand—marking the first time the real estate tycoon has done so in his ongoing legal troubles.
After a visibly perturbed Trump was sworn in, Engoron asked him who he was referring to when he directed his anger at the “very partisan” person sitting next to the judge.
“Are you sure you didn’t mean on the other side of me, my principal law clerk?” Engoron asked.
“Yes, actually,” Trump said, sticking to his story.
Engoron probed further, asking Trump if he had previously referred to the law clerk as a “partisan Democrat?”
“She may be unfair. I think she’s very biased against us. I think we made that clear… we put up a picture, and you didn’t want that up… we didn’t necessarily agree with that... and we didn’t take it down,” Trump replied.
But Engoron wouldn’t buy it.
“As you can see, my principal law clerk is very close to me,” Engoron said. “You and I see can see each other, we’re close, but we’re not as close, clearly. And there’s a barrier between us.”
“Don’t you always refer to Michael Cohen as Michael Cohen?” Engoron pressed on.
“No,” Trump shot back.
Engoron, clearly frustrated, frowned as he moved his tongue under his cheek.
“The witness is excused, I have no further questions,” he said.
“Thank you, sir,” Trump said, then walked out of the witness box.
Engoron then issued his ruling, which sparked protests from Kise and fellow defense attorney Alina Habba.
“I think that’s a dangerous place to go, not just with the sanction but with the trial,” Kise warned.
The judge said he wouldn’t reconsider, and started up the trial again.