Trump legal news brief: Judge Engoron allows Trump to speak briefly during closing arguments — and quickly regrets it

One day after reversing himself and refusing a request by former President Donald Trump’s lawyers to let him speak during closing arguments in his New York financial fraud trial, Judge Arthur Engoron reverses himself once again. Predictably, Trump’s remarks do not follow the guidelines laid out by the judge, who quickly interrupts him. Here are the latest legal developments involving the former president hoping to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

New York financial fraud

Engoron allows Trump to speak during closing arguments, then quickly cuts him off

Key players: Judge Arthur Engoron, Trump lawyer Christopher Kise, New York Attorney General Letitia James

  • Near the end of the defense’s closing arguments, Kise asked Engoron to relent on his refusal to allow Trump to address the court even if he did not agree to the judge’s terms of what topics were off limits, the Associated Press reported.

  • Engoron then asked Trump directly whether he would keep his comments limited to the facts in the case.

  • “Well I think your honor that I think this case goes outside just the facts,” Trump responded and then proceeded to flout those guidelines that would have barred him from making a political speech or from attacking courtroom staff and the judicial system.

  • “We have a situation where I’m an innocent man. I’ve been persecuted by somebody running for office and I think you have to go outside the bounds,” Trump said.

  • “This was a political witch hunt,” he added.

  • “What’s happened here sir is a fraud on me,” Trump continued. “They want to make sure that I don’t win again and this is partially election interference.”

  • James, Trump adds, “hates Trump and uses Trump to get elected.”

  • Lashing out at the judge, Trump says, “You can’t listen for more than one minute.”

  • Engoron told Trump’s lawyer to “control your client,’’ before cutting Trump off altogether.

  • “This could have been done differently,” Engoron tells Kise before a lunch recess.

Why it matters: Trump’s courtroom comments were similar to those he has made to reporters outside the courtroom. The fact that Engoron allowed him to speak at all during the proceedings was the only real surprise about the exchange. But Trump’s remarks are unlikely to impress the judge who will decide the penalties in his civil fraud trail.

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Wednesday, Jan. 10

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After former President Donald Trump’s lawyer Christopher Kise refused to agree to the conditions laid out by Judge Arthur Engoron to allow Trump to speak in court during Thursday’s closing arguments in his financial fraud civil trial, Engoron says Trump will not be permitted to make remarks. Here are the latest legal developments for the former president who hopes to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

New York financial fraud

Engoron changes his mind on allowing Trump to speak during closing arguments in fraud trial

Key players: Judge Arthur Engoron, Trump lawyer Christopher Kise, New York Attorney General Letitia James

  • After a testy email exchange between Engoron, Kise and members of James’s legal team, the judge reversed his earlier decision to allow Trump to make remarks during the closing arguments in his financial fraud trial on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

  • Engoron said in the email thread that he was doing so because Trump had not agreed to abide by the conditions the judge had laid out beforehand.

  • Those conditions included limiting his remarks to what a defense lawyer would cover in a closing argument, sticking to material facts in the case, refraining from attacking the judge or his staff or delivering a campaign speech. “He may not seek to introduce new evidence,” Engoron wrote.

  • Engoron said if Trump violated those terms, he would not hesitate to remove him from the courtroom. If he were to violate the judge’s earlier gag order, Engoron added, he would fine Trump a minimum of $50,000.

  • Kise protested Engoron’s conditions.

  • “You are not allowing President Trump, who has been wrongfully demeaned and belittled by an out of control, politically motivated attorney general, to speak about the things that must be spoken about,” he wrote.

  • Engoron set a deadline for noon on Wednesday for Trump to agree to the terms and fired back a testy reply to Kise.

  • “I won’t debate this yet again. Take it or leave it,” the judge shot back, with an all-caps addition: “I WILL NOT GRANT ANY FURTHER EXTENSIONS.”

  • Kise also asked Engoron to postpone Thursday’s closing arguments until Jan. 29 due to the death of Trump’s mother-in-law.

  • Engoron refused that request because of security and scheduling concerns, but offered his condolences.

  • James is seeking $370 million from the defendants, alleging they schemed to provide fraudulent information to banks and insurers to enrich themselves.

Why it matters: Trump’s plan to speak during the closing arguments in his trial was unusual for a defendant represented by counsel. Engoron’s terms for allowing him to do so were an attempt to make sure that the former president could not simply hijack the proceedings with irrelevant comments. For Trump and his supporters, the judge’s decision to block Trump from offering his own closing statement is further evidence that he is biased against Trump.

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Tuesday, Jan. 9

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Former President Donald Trump is preparing to deliver one of the closing arguments in his New York financial fraud civil trial on Thursday. A three-judge panel with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals appears highly skeptical of the arguments put forth by one of Trump’s lawyers, who claimed Trump could not be prosecuted for attempting to overturn the results of the 2020 election because he was acting as president when he did so. Here are the latest developments in the legal cases facing the former president who hopes to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

New York financial fraud

Trump looks to deliver a closing argument in fraud trial

Key players: Judge Arthur Engoron, New York Attorney General Letitia James, Trump lawyer Christopher Kise

  • Lawyers for Trump have informed Engoron that their client would like to speak during Thursday’s closing arguments of his civil financial fraud trial, the Associated Press reported.

  • Engoron, who has already ruled Trump, his adult sons and their family business are liable for years of fraudulent business practices, approved of the plan to have the former president speak during closing arguments, which was first reported by ABC News.

  • Trump has been harshly critical of Engoron throughout the trial, accusing him of being biased against him and seeking his recusal.

  • James is seeking $370 million from the defendants, who she claims conspired to perpetrate fraud by overvaluing assets to obtain favorable bank loans and insurance rates.

  • Kise has argued that Trump did not commit fraud because the lenders and insurers did not lose money in any of the deals they were involved in with the Trump Organization.

  • Engoron will assess whether the defendants were involved in a conspiracy, what role each may have played, and decide on the extent of the civil punishment owed to the state. Engoron has said he will aim to issue a final ruling by the end of the month.

  • Trump is all but certain to appeal.

Why it matters: While Engoron appears poised to issue a stinging judgment against Trump and the other defendants, the former president could seek to control the narrative with a closing speech.

Jan. 6 election interference

Appeals court judges press Trump lawyer on immunity claim

Key players: D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals Judges Karen Henderson, Florence Pan and J. Michelle Childs, special counsel Jack Smith, assistant special counsel James Pearce, Trump lawyer D. John Sauer, Judge Tanya Chutkan

  • With Trump looking on in a Washington courtroom, a three-judge appeals court panel pressed the former president’s lawyers on their claims that he is immune from prosecution for his efforts to overturn his loss in the 2020 election because he was still president at the time, USA Today reported.

  • Pan sharply questioned Sauer about whether there were limits to so-called presidential immunity.

  • “You’re saying a president could sell pardons, could sell military secrets, could order Seal Team 6 to assassinate a political rival,” Pan told Sauer.

  • Sauer responded that in order for Trump to be prosecuted for ordering the assassination of a political rival, he would first need to be impeached and convicted by Congress, because the Supreme Court has found that a president’s official acts are not reviewable by the courts.

  • Trump has argued that he was acting in his official capacity as president when he sought to reverse the results of the 2020 election.

  • “He would have to be, and would speedily be, impeached and convicted before the criminal prosecution. There is a political process that would have to occur under our Constitution,” Sauer said.

  • Pearce countered, “I think that is an extraordinarily frightening future. I think if we are talking about balancing interests that should weigh extraordinarily heavily in the court’s consideration.”

  • Smith has charged Trump with four felony counts stemming from his efforts to reverse his election loss to Biden. Chutkan previously ruled that presidential immunity does not protect Trump from prosecution, but has paused courtroom proceedings to allow the appeals process to play out.

  • Henderson, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush, seized on another apparent flaw in the presidential immunity argument. “I think it’s paradoxical to say that his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed allows him to violate criminal law,” she said, Politico reported.

  • Even if the appeals court rules against Trump, the issue will likely head to the United States Supreme Court.

Why it matters: A Supreme Court ruling that presidents are protected from prosecution simply because of the stature of their office would effectively give a green light to a commander in chief to carry out actions that previously would have seemed inconceivable, critics say. Trump’s lawyers argue that a decision against presidential immunity would open the door to a flood of lawsuits.

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Monday, Jan. 8

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The Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals rejects a request by lawyers for former President Donald Trump for the full court to review whether federal immunity protects him from being sued for defamation by columnist E. Jean Carroll. In Georgia, meanwhile, Trump’s lawyers submit a court filing Monday in Fulton County asking Judge Scott McAfee dismiss the election interference and racketeering charges filed against him by District Attorney Fani Willis on the grounds that he is protected from prosecution because he was president at the time he sought to overturn the 2020 election results. Here’s the latest legal news involving the former president who hopes to be reelected to the White House in 2024.

E. Jean Carroll defamation

Appeals court denies Trump’s request to review immunity defense in civil defamation lawsuit

Key players: the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, the U.S. Supreme Court, columnist E. Jean Carroll

  • On Monday, the appeals court declined a request by Trump’s lawyers for a full review of his claim that federal immunity protects him from being sued for defamation by Carroll, according to the one-page ruling released by the court.

  • The latest defeat in the case, which is set to begin on Jan. 16, means that Trump’s last resort to pursue his immunity claim will be the U.S. Supreme Court.

  • A federal judge and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan had already ruled that Trump is not protected by presidential immunity in the case. Trump’s lawyers had requested that the full court of appeals consider the question.

  • Last month, the same court denied a request by Trump’s lawyers for a three-month delay to the start of the second defamation lawsuit brought by Carroll.

  • In May, a jury found that Trump had sexually abused Carroll in a department store changing room in the mid-1990s and later defamed her by denying her account of the attack. They awarded Carroll $5 million in damages, but Trump promptly repeated his assertion that she had lied about the encounter, causing Carroll to file suit again.

Why it matters: Trump’s argument that presidential immunity protects him from prosecution continues to be rejected on appeal, but will ultimately be decided by the highest court in the land.

Georgia election interference

Key players: Judge Scott McAfee, Trump lawyer Steven Sadow, Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, special counsel Jack Smith, columnist E. Jean Carroll, former Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, District Court Judge Tanya Chutkan

  • In a Monday court filing, Sadow asked McAfee to dismiss all the charges against Trump in Georgia due to the fact that he was president when he sought to overturn the 2020 election results in the state, CBS News reported.

  • “The indictment in this case charges President Trump for acts that lie at the heart of his official responsibilities as President. The indictment is barred by presidential immunity and should be dismissed with prejudice,” the motion stated.

  • Trump’s lawyers have made the same argument — that being president protects one from prosecution — to judges in the civil defamation case brought by Carroll and in the federal election interference case brought by Smith.

  • In a separate filing, Trump’s lawyers wrote that he “lacked fair notice that his advocacy in the instance of the 2020 presidential election could be criminalized.”

  • Monday was the deadline McAfee set for pretrial motions in the case in which Willis charged Trump and 18 others with numerous felonies for their attempts to overturn Joe Biden’s victory in the state. So far, four of the defendants have pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the prosecution at trial.

  • Willis is hoping to start the trial in August. McAfee has yet to establish a firm start date, but last week rebuffed a request by Giuliani to push back deadlines to review evidence in the case.

Why it matters: Trump’s argument that he cannot be prosecuted or sued for actions he undertook while president presents a major test for the U.S. court system. On Tuesday, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear arguments from Smith’s team and Trump’s lawyers on that question. Chutkan and lower courts in New York have already ruled that presidential immunity does not offer him blanket protection, but Chutkan paused the proceedings in the election interference case last month so that Trump’s lawyers could appeal her ruling on presidential immunity. Because of the importance of Tuesday’s hearing, Trump plans to be in attendance.

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