Donald Trump Jr. testifies in Trump civil fraud trial
Judge Arthur Engoron wanted to hear directly from Donald Trump.
Last Wednesday, after Trump had apparently spoken about Engoron’s law clerk — in violation of the judge’s gag order — the judge briefly paused the New York civil fraud trial testimony and said he was “going to hold a hearing right now” on the matter and would call his first witness: Donald J. Trump.
Engoron asked Trump if he would like to be on the witness stand.
Trump didn’t hesitate, pushing back his seat at the defense table instantly to stand and walk into the witness box. Wearing a blue tie, pinstripe shirt and navy suit, Trump raised his right hand, and swore to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
Trump’s surprise appearance as a witness under questioning from the judge was an astonishing moment even in a year of unprecedented firsts for a former president who has been indicted four times and now faces the prospect of criminal trials all playing out while he runs for the White House in 2024.
This episode — where Trump’s alleged violation of a gag order by attacking his perceived opponents could, in theory, have led to his imprisonment — was a stark reminder of the difficulty he will face navigating his campaign rhetoric with the legal realities and constraints of the courtroom.
Once Trump was on the stand, Engoron put on his lawyer hat and launched into a calm interrogation of the former president, reading back what Trump had told reporters outside the courtroom only hours earlier.
“This judge is a very partisan judge with a person who is very partisan sitting alongside him — perhaps even much more partisan than he is,” Trump had said.
Before lunch, Trump’s lawyers claimed his statement was not about the judge’s clerk, but about Michael Cohen, Trump’s former lawyer and fixer, the witness who had also been sitting next to the judge. It was a claim that strained credulity, given Trump’s previous attacks.
But Engoron wanted to hear it directly from Trump.
“To whom were you referring,” Engoron asked Trump about his comments in the hallway.
“You and Cohen,” Trump said.
“Are you sure you didn’t mean the person on the other side?” Engoron asked, a reference to his clerk, who was still seated, keeping a straight face, just to his right.
“Yes,” I’m sure,” Trump responded.
During the first week of the trial, Engoron enforced a gag order barring parties from speaking about his staff, in response to a social media post from Trump attacking Engoron’s clerk and showing a picture of her with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a New York Democrat.
Trump had already been fined last week $5,000 because his post hadn’t been taken down from his website, something his lawyers said was in inadvertent, and warned there would be more severe penalties for additional violations – even threatening imprisonment.