Elise Stefanik Files Ethics Complaint Against Trump Fraud Trial Judge
Representative Elise Stefanik, a member of the House Republican leadership and an ally of former President Donald J. Trump, filed an ethics complaint Friday attacking the judge presiding over Mr. Trump’s civil fraud trial, the latest salvo in a right-wing war against the case.
Echoing the courtroom rhetoric of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, the letter complains that the Democratic judge, Arthur F. Engoron, has been biased against the former president, who testified this week in New York State Supreme Court. The New York attorney general, Letitia James, has accused Mr. Trump of fraudulent business practices, and in a pretrial ruling Justice Engoron agreed, validating the heart of her case.
The letter, to a judicial conduct commission, is unlikely to have any immediate repercussions in the trial, which will determine the consequences Mr. Trump and his company will face as a result of the fraud. But it represents the latest Republican attempt to tar Justice Engoron, and to meddle with Ms. James’s case. The judge has placed narrow gag orders on both the former president and his lawyers, but nothing bars Mr. Trump’s allies from their criticism.
They have taken up the effort with gusto.
“I filed an official judicial complaint against Judge Arthur Engoron for his inappropriate bias and judicial intemperance in New York’s disgraceful lawsuit against President Donald J. Trump and the Trump Organization,” Ms. Stefanik said in a statement Friday.
Al Baker, a spokesman for the New York court system, said in an email, “Judge Engoron’s actions and rulings in this matter are all part of the public record and speak for themselves.” He continued, “It is inappropriate to comment further.”
Mr. Trump, 77, has repeatedly implored his allies to fight on his behalf. And Ms. Stefanik, who has close ties to Mr. Trump’s team, has portrayed herself as one of his chief defenders, thrusting herself into the former president’s controversies dating back to the first impeachment he faced while president.
The civil fraud trial, which is separate from the four criminal cases against Mr. Trump, began early last month and is at its halfway point. After the former president and his daughter, Ivanka, testified this week, the attorney general’s office rested its case, which accuses Mr. Trump and his company of filling annual financial statements with fraudulent asset values in order to receive favorable treatment from banks and insurers. The defense case will start on Monday, with Donald Trump Jr. scheduled to return to the stand, and is expected to last into December.
Justice Engoron, 74, has not responded to the attacks outside the courtroom, though at one point this week he lost his temper when a lawyer for Mr. Trump, Christopher M. Kise, suggested, as he has throughout the trial, that the judge had been biased.
“I object now, and I continue to object, to your constant insinuations that I have some sort of double standard here. That is just not true,” the judge said, adding, “I just make the rulings as I see them. You know, like the umpire says, call them as I see them.”
Statements like those are unlikely to satisfy Mr. Trump’s allies, and Ms. Stefanik’s attack is just one of many hurled at the judge this week. Laura Loomer, a far-right activist whom Mr. Trump considered hiring to work on his third presidential campaign and has since praised, has targeted the judge and his family in numerous social media posts. Commentators on Fox News and elsewhere in right-wing media have attacked him for shirtless photos that appeared in an alumni newsletter.
Ms. Stefanik and others have also attacked the judge’s principal law clerk, Allison Greenfield, who has experience as a trial attorney and whom the judge consults during proceedings when considering rules of evidence and other trial matters.
Mr. Trump attacked Ms. Greenfield on the second day of the trial, saying that she was a partisan and was running the case against him. Justice Engoron placed a gag order on the former president barring him from discussing the court staff; Mr. Trump has twice violated that order, incurring $15,000 in fines.
After the former president was barred from speaking about Ms. Greenfield, his lawyers took up the cause, continuing to complain about the judge’s practice of consulting her during the trial. Justice Engoron barred the lawyers from commenting on his private communications with Ms. Greenfield. He expressed concern about the safety of his staff and noted that his office had received “hundreds of harassing and threatening phone calls, voicemails, emails, letters and packages.”
Republican critics have taken particular issue with donations that Ms. Greenfield, who is also a Democrat, has made over the past several years, accusing her of violating rules governing the conduct of judicial staff members. But Ms. Greenfield has been campaigning for a judgeship and New York’s judicial ethics rules allow candidates to make certain donations, such as purchasing tickets to political functions.
Mr. Trump’s congressional allies have taken on a number of the law enforcement officials who have brought cases against the former president. After the former president was criminally indicted in Manhattan in March, Representative Jim Jordan, who has worked closely with Mr. Trump, demanded information about the case from the prosecutor, the Manhattan district attorney, Alvin L. Bragg. Mr. Jordan also subpoenaed Mark F. Pomerantz, a prosecutor who had worked on the criminal case, compelling Mr. Pomerantz to testify in a closed-door congressional session.
Mr. Jordan has also said he would investigate a Georgia prosecutor who also indicted Mr. Trump, accusing him of interfering with the 2020 election results in the state. The prosecutor, Fani Willis, fired back, writing in a letter that Mr. Jordan’s “attempt to invoke congressional authority to intrude upon and interfere with an active criminal case in Georgia is flagrantly at odds with the Constitution.”