Judge says Donald Trump won’t give own closing argument at civil fraud trial after disputing rules

FILE — Former President Donald Trump speaks during a rally, Sept. 20, 2023, in Dubuque, Iowa. New York Judge Arthur Engoron, ruling in a civil lawsuit brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, found that Trump and his company deceived banks, insurers and others by massively overvaluing his assets and exaggerating his net worth on paperwork used in making deals and securing loans. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall, File)

FILE - Judge Arthur Engoron, sits on the bench in the courtroom before the start of a civil business fraud trial against the Trump Organization, Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023, at New York Supreme Court in New York. An accountant who prepared Donald Trump’s financial statements has finished his testimony after four days on the witness stand in the New York civil trial examining whether the former president exaggerated his wealth. Trump himself didn’t attend the proceedings Thursday. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, Pool, File)

NEW YORK — Donald Trump won’t make his own closing argument after all in his New York civil business fraud trial after his lawyers objected to the judge’s insistence that the former president stick to “relevant” matters and “not deliver a campaign speech.”

Judge Arthur Engoron nixed Trump’s unusual plan on Wednesday, a day ahead of closing arguments.


The judge had initially indicated he was open to the idea, saying he’d let Trump speak if he agreed to abide by rules that apply to attorneys’ closing arguments. Among other things, Engoron wanted the former president and current Republican front-runner to promise he wouldn’t assail his adversaries in the case, the judge or others in the court system.

Trump’s legal team said those limitations unfairly muzzled him. They didn’t agree to the terms by the judge’s Wednesday deadline.

“Is anyone surprised anymore?” Trump attorney Alina Habba said in a statement after Engoron wrote that he assumed Trump was not agreeing to the restrictions and therefore would not be speaking.

The trial could cost Trump hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties and strip him of his ability to do business in New York. He’s fighting allegations that his net worth was inflated by billions of dollars on financial statements that helped him secure business loans and insurance.

The former president denies any wrongdoing, and he has lambasted the case as a “hoax” and a political attack on him. The judge is a Democrat, as is New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought the lawsuit.

The trial came after Engoron decided, in a pretrial ruling, that Trump had engaged in fraud for years. The judge ordered at that point that a receiver take control of some of the ex-president’s properties, but an appeals court has put that order on hold.

The trial concerns remaining claims of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records. Engoron will decide the verdict.

It’s extremely uncommon for people who have lawyers to give their own closing arguments. But Trump’s lawyers had signaled privately to the judge last week that the ex-president planned to deliver a summation personally, in addition to arguments from his legal team. James’ office objected, saying that the proposal would effectively amount to testimony without cross-examination.

In an email exchange filed in court Wednesday, Engoron initially approved the request, saying he was “inclined to let everyone have his or her say.”

But he said Trump’s remarks would have to stay within the bounds of “commentary on the relevant, material facts that are in evidence, and application of the relevant law to those facts.”

Trump would not be allowed to introduce new evidence, “comment on irrelevant matters” or “deliver a campaign speech” — or impugn the judge, his staff, the attorney general, her lawyers or the court system, the judge wrote.

Trump attorney Christopher Kise responded that those limitations were “fraught with ambiguities, creating the substantial likelihood for misinterpretation or unintended violation.” Engoron said that they were “reasonable, normal limits” and would allow for comments on the attorney general’s arguments but not personal attacks.

Kise termed the restrictions “very unfair.”

“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,” the attorney wrote.

“I won’t debate this yet again. Take it or leave it,” the judge shot back, with an all-caps addition saying he wouldn’t push back an already extended and imminent deadline to resolve the matter. The deadline passed without a response from Trump’s lawyers.

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