WASHINGTON — Donald Trump clashed repeatedly with a judge and defended his family’s business as he testified in a civil fraud trial in New York.
During almost four hours on the witness stand, the former president disputed claims that he deceived banks and aired grievances with the case.
The judge has already ruled the Trump Organization committed fraud and this trial will determine the penalties.
Prosecutors are seeking a $250m (£202m) fine and severe business restrictions.
During his highly anticipated appearance at a Manhattan federal courthouse on Monday, Mr Trump, 77, was asked about the value of various properties including his Florida estate Mar-a-Lago, Trump Tower in New York and his golf course in Scotland.
These properties are among several that prosecutors say were intentionally overvalued in company statements in order to secure better loans and insurance policies.
In his testimony, Trump, who is the current frontrunner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, stood by the valuations as prosecutors quizzed him on how they were reached and the financial statements at the centre of the trial.
“I’m worth billions of dollars more than the financial statements,” Trump said, before describing the property valuations as “very conservative.”
He said the property values were bolstered by his personal brand, something he said was never factored into financial statements.
“I can look at buildings and tell you what they’re worth,” he said in another testy exchange.
The lawsuit was brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, who accuses Trump, along with his sons Eric and Donald Jr and other Trump Organization executives, of deliberately inflating company assets for years. All deny wrongdoing.
Ms James, who was in the courtroom and stared directly at Trump during his testimony, later told reporters: “He rambled. He hurled insults. But we expected that.”
“The numbers don’t lie,” she said. “Justice will prevail.”
The former president’s time on the stand was marked by heated exchanges and lengthy, sometimes meandering, responses. These prompted several rebukes from Judge Arthur Engoron who appeared exasperated at times.
“Please just answer the questions, no speeches,” the judge said.
After another lengthy answer, Judge Engoron said to one of Trump’s lawyers: “Can you control your client? This is not a political rally, this is a courtroom.”
“I beseech you to control him,” he added. “If you can’t, I will.”
Judge Engoron will ultimately decide the outcome of the trial and, as well as a multi-million dollar fine, could strip the defendants of the ability to do business in New York.
“I’m sure the judge will rule against me because he always rules against me,” Trump said at one point in court.
Judge Engoron fired back: “You can attack me in whichever way you want, but please answer the questions.” He later referred to Trump as a “broken record”.
Like his two sons in their testimony last week, the former president said it was the Trump Organization accountants who bore responsibility for the financial reports.
“All I did was authorize and give people whatever was necessary for the accountants to do the statement,” Trump said.
As he left court, he again referred to the case as a “fraud” and said he believed his testimony “went very well”.
Some legal and political analysts have suggested Trump’s combative approach on the stand was a considered strategy, while others have said he used the much anticipated moment as an opportunity to campaign.
Renato Mariotti, a former federal prosecutor, told the BBC that Trump’s responses indicate his legal team believes “they’ve already lost”.
“They’re trying to spin or add some colour to a very bad result,” Mr Mariotti said.
“I think he is trying to goad the judge into doing something [Trump] can argue on appeal that shows prejudice on his part,” Kevin McMunigal, another former federal prosecutor, said. “Maybe he makes a comment they can use to support a bias case later.”
The judge has already fined Trump $15,000 for comments made outside of court last month.
Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, is expected to give evidence on Wednesday.
The civil case in New York is one of several legal battles in which Trump is embroiled.
He also faces four criminal indictments — two relating to his alleged efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election, one on his handling of classified documents and another alleging false accounting involving hush money. — BBC