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Former U.S. President Donald Trump is questioned by Judge Arthur F. Engoron before being fined $10,000 for violating a gag order for a second time, during the Trump Organization civil fraud trial in New York State Supreme Court in the Manhattan borough of New York City, U.S., October 25, 2023 in this courtroom sketch. 

Jane Rosenberg | Reuters

Former President Donald Trump will return to the witness stand in December in the $250 million civil fraud trial that threatens his business empire, his attorney said Monday in court.

Trump will be the final witness for the defense on Dec. 11, in the trial brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, accusing him and his co-defendants of falsely inflating Trump’s assets for financial gain.

Trump’s adult son and co-defendant Eric Trump is scheduled to testify Dec. 6, defense attorney Christopher Kise said.

Trump Sr., Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr. denied wrongdoing when they were previously questioned on the witness stand by lawyers for the state.

Trump, who is running for president again in 2024, has decried the case as a “witch hunt” and lobbed accusations of political bias at James, as well as the presiding judge and his principal law clerk.

Manhattan Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron has imposed gag orders barring Trump, his lawyers and the other defendants in the case from commenting publicly about his clerk, Allison Greenfield.

Engoron has also expressed concern about the hundreds of threatening and harassing messages that have “inundated” his chambers during the trial.

Battle over threats, gag orders

Earlier Monday, Trump’s attorneys argued that the former president is not responsible for the threats sent by third parties, while questioning Greenfield’s “purported security concerns” because she allowed herself to be photographed and identified in the media at the start of the trial.

Calling the threats “vile and reprehensible,” the lawyers said Trump and his co-defendants did not make the threats themselves, nor do they “condone” them.

It is “lamentable,” they wrote, that the hateful messages “increased in frequency and changed in tenor as the trial began.”

But that shift “cannot be ascribed to President Trump’s re-posting of a photograph the Principal Law Clerk herself first published,” they argued.

The arguments were part of an effort to convince a New York appeals court not to reimpose Engoron’s gag orders, which were temporarily lifted by the higher court earlier this month.

The scope and viciousness of the threats was laid bare in a sworn statement last week by Capt. Charles Hollon, an officer in the Judicial Threats Assessment Unit of the New York Court System’s Department of Public Safety.

He said Engoron, who is presiding over Trump’s fraud case, had been targeted with threats even before the trial began on Oct. 2.

But the intensity ratcheted up and expanded on Oct. 3, after Trump shared a Truth Social post that included a picture of Greenfield posing with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y.

After that, Hollon said, “the threats, harassment, and disparaging comments increased exponentially and also were now being directed at the judge’s law clerk.”

The clerk’s “personal information, including her personal cell phone number and personal email addresses also have been compromised resulting in daily doxing. She has been subjected to, on a daily basis, harassing, disparaging comments and antisemitic tropes,” Hollon said in the affidavit.

Trump’s comments about Greenfield have “resulted in hundreds of threatening and harassing voicemail messages that have been transcribed into over 275 single spaced pages,” said Hollon.

The threats “are considered to be serious and credible and not hypothetical or speculative,” Hollon added.

He also transcribed several highly explicit and threatening voicemails left for the judge in his chambers.

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Engoron had imposed speech restrictions on Trump on the second day of the fraud trial, after the ex-president targeted the judge’s principal law clerk on social media and outside the courtroom.

Engoron has since fined Trump twice for violating that gag order, levying a total of $15,000 in penalties.

The judge later extended that gag order to Trump’s attorneys after they complained openly in court about the clerk and her role in the trial. Engoron noted at the time that his chambers have been “inundated” with threats and harassing messages.

Trump’s lawyers have argued that the gag orders are overly broad and violate the constitutional rights of Trump, a leading Republican presidential candidate who regularly attacks his political and legal enemies on the campaign trail.

The New York appeals court had granted a request by Trump’s lawyers to pause the gag orders earlier this month, with appellate Justice David Friedman citing the “constitutional and statutory rights at issue.”

James, who brought the fraud case, had warned the appeals court that lifting the restrictions could put Engoron’s staff “at risk of harassment or harm.”

Engoron, who will deliver verdicts himself in the no-jury trial, has already found that Trump and his co-defendants are liable for fraudulently misstating the values of real estate properties and other key assets.

That pretrial ruling alone threatens to undermine the ex-president’s company and his ability to run it in New York. The trial will determine penalties and resolve six other claims of wrongdoing by James, who seeks around $250 million in damages and wants to permanently bar Trump and his sons from running a New York business.

Engoron on Nov. 17 denied the defendants’ request for a mistrial, calling their arguments “utterly without merit.”

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