Judge issues gag order, blasts Trump team for conduct during Manhattan fraud trial | Courthouse News Service
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Judge issues gag order, blasts Trump team for conduct during Manhattan fraud trial

Judge Arthur Engoron chided the former president for an "inappropriate" social media stunt that involved one of the judge's staffers.

MANHATTAN (CN) — Judge Arthur Engoron hit Donald Trump with a gag order during the second day of his Manhattan fraud trial, promising “serious sanctions” if the former president continues to attack members of Engoron’s staff.

Tuesday's order came after Trump lashed out at Engoron’s clerk, posting a photograph of her on Truth Social and baselessly referring to her as the “girlfriend” of Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer.

“Schumer’s girlfriend… is running this case against me,” Trump wrote Tuesday in a now-deleted post that featured a photograph of Engoron’s clerk next to the New York senator. “How disgraceful! This case should be dismissed immediately!!”

Engoron, whose demeanor has appeared lighthearted and patient throughout the trial thus far, pulled no punches when reprimanding Trump for the “inappropriate” social media stunt.

“This morning, one of the defendants posted to a social media account a disparaging, untrue and personally identifying post about a member of my staff,” Engoron said.

The judge acknowledged that the post had been deleted by the time of his order, but not before it was “emailed out to millions of other recipients.”

“Personal attacks on members of my court staff are unacceptable, inappropriate and I will not tolerate them under any circumstances,” Engoron continued, issuing an effective gag order to any public comments or online posts about his staff members for the remainder of the trial.

It’s unclear what punishment Trump could face if he violates the order. But former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who is expected to testify as early as next week, doesn’t believe his former client will be deterred from posting.

“Despite the unprecedented action by a concerned judge against the language and rhetoric of a former president of the United States, nothing will stop Donald from continuing this behavior,” Cohen told Courthouse News. “The only question that remains is what will the penalties be for his continued actions.”

Engoron made the announcement after an unannounced, extended lunch break during which Trump and his team entered and exited the courtroom several times as reporters waited to get back inside. The break was slated to end at 2:15 p.m., but Engoron didn’t allow reporters to re-enter the courtroom until about 3:00 p.m. while privately meeting with the parties.

It was the second time the judge scolded Trump and his team for their conduct on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, Engoron chided them for repeatedly returning from breaks late.

Trump had stopped to talk to news cameras in the hallway during the 10-minute morning break. He re-entered the courtroom about five minutes later than Engoron would have liked.

“I like to run a tight ship,” Engoron said to the defense lawyers.

So far, the former president has made a habit out of using the waiting news crews in the courtroom’s foyer to spread his political messaging. He repeated on Tuesday some of the same arguments and statements he made the day prior.

“This case is a scam. It can’t be fraud when you’ve told institutions to do their own work,” Trump said, once again referencing the disclaimer on his financial statements that encouraged the banks to verify the value of the assets he was found to have inflated. “This case is a fraud and it’s a scam.”

Despite Engoron’s summary judgment last week rejecting the disclaimer argument, Trump and his legal team have continued to raise it as a legitimate issue. The attorneys used the disclaimers in their cross-examination of former Trump Organization accountant Donald Bender on Tuesday.

Bender is still the only witness to testify on both the state attorney general's and the defendants' lengthy witness lists. On Tuesday, he picked up where he left off the day before: fielding questions about his firm’s accounting procedures and paperwork.

But when defense attorneys took over for cross-examination, Jesus Suarez of Continental PLLC held Bender’s feet to the fire when he tried to pin some of the Trump Organization’s financial inaccuracies on him.

Among those inaccuracies was the size of Trump’s triplex apartment building in Manhattan, which Engoron found in last week’s ruling was three times smaller than Trump reported on his yearly financial statements.

Suarez asked if it was Bender, who had “screwed it up,” even though the “leader of the free world” was relying on him.

“I did not,” Bender replied.

Bender’s cross-examination will continue Wednesday, and is slated to be followed by the testimony of Camron Harris, an accountant at Whitley Penn.

Trump is expected to appear in court once again Wednesday.

New York Attorney General Letitia James brought the civil fraud charges last September against Trump, his businesses, his sons Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr., and Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's longtime chief financial officer.

In last week’s summary judgment ruling, Engoron found the defendants liable for the top fraud count, leaving trial to determine damages and the remaining counts.

The bench trial is expected to run until Dec. 22.

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