Trump's lawyer calls fraud case 'manufactured,' as judge faces threat


By Jack Queen and Luc Cohen

NEW YORK, Jan 11 (Reuters) - Donald Trump's lawyer argued on Thursday that a New York civil fraud case that threatens the former U.S. president's business empire is motivated by politics, as a threat against the judge overseeing the case prompted the court to bolster security on the trial's final day.

"This entire case is a manufactured claim to pursue a political agenda," attorney Christopher Kise argued as Trump watched from the defense table. "It has always been press releases and posturing, but no proof at all."

New York Attorney General Letitia James is seeking to ban Trump from the state's real-estate industry and force in penalties for allegedly manipulating the value of his properties to win better financing terms. Justice Arthur Engoron has already ruled that Trump and his company engaged in fraud.

The New York Times reported that authorities in suburban Nassau County responded to a bomb threat at Engoron's home. The judge has been a frequent target of Trump's criticism.

A court spokesperson confirmed that Engoron had been threatened and a Nassau County spokesperson confirmed that police had responded to a security incident at a residence at 5:30 a.m. Eastern time (1030 GMT), without providing further details.

Security has been an issue throughout the months-long trial. Engoron's top staffer faced threats after Trump criticized her as politically biased, prompting the judge to issue a gag order barring him from disparaging court staff. Trump has been fined $15,000 for twice violating the order.

Most recently, Engoron on Wednesday denied Trump's bid to deliver his own closing arguments after the former president would not accept ground rules barring him from making a "campaign speech."

As he arrived at court, Trump again criticized the trial as a "witch hunt" and complained that he was not being allowed to make his case. Trump said he would hold a news conference after the hearing wraps up.

"I really have no rights," Trump said.

As James, an elected Democrat, arrived at the courthouse, onlookers cheered and chanted, "Thank you, James." Police stood guard and tightly controlled entrances to the building.

Trump, the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the November election, has denied wrongdoing. He has complained that the trial is interfering with his campaign but has used occasional court appearances to rally support with inflammatory remarks to news cameras assembled outside.

Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire will be the first to decide their preferred nominee this month in contests that are seen as bellwethers for the wider race.

The lawsuit is on of many legal troubles Trump faces, though none have diminished his commanding lead over party rivals.

Engoron will issue a verdict at a later date without a jury. He found Trump liable for fraud in September, leaving the trial to focus largely on how much money Trump should surrender as ill-gotten gains.

Trump has appealed Engoron's prior order and is almost certain to appeal any verdict against him, which could delay a final judgment for many months to a year or more.

Throughout trial, the state's lawyers sought to show that Trump consistently overvalued many of the towers, golf clubs and other assets that burnished his reputation as a business mogul before he entered politics.

During defiant and meandering testimony in November, Trump defended the valuations of his properties, boasted of his business acumen and accused James and Engoron of being political partisans.

The trial featured a tense face-to-face reunion between Trump and his onetime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who had not seen his former boss in person since their acrimonious break five years ago. Cohen said Trump directed him to change asset values on his financial statements to arrive at whatever arbitrary net worth he desired.

Trump's lawyers said Cohen lacked credibility because of his past felony convictions and open animosity toward Trump. That was the basis for one of their several bids for an immediate verdict in their favor, all of which Engoron denied.

Trump's adult children Donald Jr., Eric and Ivanka Trump also testified, saying they had little or no involvement in preparing their father's financial statements while running the Trump Organization. All three have denied wrongdoing.

Unlike her brothers, Ivanka Trump is not a defendant.

Trump faces four potential criminal trials this year. He has been charged in Washington and Georgia for his attempts to overturn his 2020 election loss, in Florida for his handling of classified documents, and in New York for hush money he paid to a porn star.

Trump has pleaded not guilty in all those cases.

Trump cannot deliver closing arguments at NY fraud trial, judge says

Trump should be banned from NY real estate for 'outrageous' fraud, attorney general says

Trump's million-dollar expert 'lost all credibility,' judge in civil fraud trial says

(Reporting by Jack Queen; additional reporting by Brendan O'Brien and Susan Heavey; Writing by Andy Sullivan; Editing by Noeleen Walder, Will Dunham and Daniel Wallis and Chizu Nomiyama)


The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.


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