Former President Trump’s civil trial over his business practices in New York City, where he built his business brand and won international fame, seems to have struck a nerve.
Trump, the front-runner for the GOP’s presidential nomination next year, is facing charges in Washington, D.C., for his attempts to remain in power after losing the 2020 election; in Georgia for attempting to overturn the state’s 2020 election results; in New York for an alleged hush money scheme to keep an affair quiet; and in Florida for his retention and handling of classified materials after leaving the White House.
But it is the New York fraud case, where prosecutors are alleging decades of fraud by Trump and his businesses, that the former president by all accounts is taking especially personally.
The case strikes at the heart of Trump’s reputation as a savvy deal-maker and wealthy businessman, which helped propel him into a successful run for the White House in 2016. The case has pitted him against his longtime fixer, Michael Cohen, and it has ensnared his children, who have testified about the family company’s practices.
“It’s pretty obvious that it’s a much more personal case, because it has to do with his business and his family and his brand,” said Sean Spicer, who served a stint as Trump’s White House press secretary.
Trump is the subject of a sweeping civil case in New York alleging decades of fraud by him and his businesses. Judge Arthur Engoron already found Trump liable for fraud, ruling that New York Attorney General Letitia James (D) proved the crux of her case.
But the attorney general’s office is asking for $250 million in financial penalties and a ban on Trump and his children from serving as officers or directors of New York companies as part of the trial.
Although the case may not pose as significant a legal threat as the ones scheduled to go to trial in 2024, it is more personal in certain ways.
It’s taking place in New York City, where Trump grew up and built his brand in the real estate business. And he is facing significant ramifications for his business, which bears his family name and helped propel him to fame.
The case may also be particularly personal for Trump because of who is testifying against him.
Cohen — Trump’s longtime fixer turned antagonist — took to the stand in a high-profile appearance that put the two in the same room for the first time in years.
Trump testified Monday in a highly combative session, and three of his adult children — Donald Trump Jr., Eric Trump and Ivanka Trump — have also testified.
Trump took to social media throughout the trial, complaining that his sons were being “PERSECUTED in a political Witch Hunt” and at one point told the judge to “leave my children alone.”
Trump on Wednesday complained that his “wonderful and beautiful daughter” was being brought in to testify after an unsuccessful attempt to avoid taking the stand.
And the Trump campaign issued a fundraising solicitation Wednesday with the subject line: “They’re going after my family.”
“No one wants to see their children go through that, and it was tough, but he’s very defiant and took over the whole courtroom,” senior Trump campaign adviser Chris LaCivita told CBS News after a Wednesday rally in Florida.
The former president’s testimony featured diatribes against the judge and prosecutors in the case, claims that the case against him is politically motivated, and swipes at Forbes Magazine, a sign that Trump remained bothered by the magazine removing him from its billionaire’s list.
Upon leaving the courtroom after his testimony, Trump indicated he felt a personal responsibility to be there.
“We’re taking days and days, and weeks and weeks, and it goes on, and then you look at the outside world and what’s happening,” Trump told reporters Monday. “But of course, they’re getting their wish because I don’t have to be here for the most part. But I sort of do have to be here because I want to be here, because it’s a scam.”
Trump’s frustration has been palpable throughout the trial. He has excoriated James and Engoron on an almost daily basis since the trial began in October.
“Engoron is a wacko who is having a great time endlessly sanctioning, fining, & pushing around ‘TRUMP,’ hurting my very good children, & working to damage & defame me for purposes of Interfering with the 2024 Presidential Election,” Trump wrote on Truth Social.
He has repeatedly called James, who is Black, a racist and argued she is only targeting him to advance her political career.
Trump’s outbursts prompted Engoron to issue a gag order restricting the former president from speaking about the judge’s staff. Trump was fined $5,000 for the violation.
Lashing out at the judges and prosecutors handling his cases has become a common tactic for Trump, who has repeatedly called special counsel Jack Smith a “thug” as Smith oversees two federal cases against the former president. Trump often portrays himself as the victim of a corrupt system, even as charges pile up across various jurisdictions, and the New York fraud trial has been no different.
While Trump could face far harsher legal consequences if he is found guilty in Washington, D.C., Georgia or Florida next year, the New York trial of the last several weeks has hit him where it hurts.
“The New York trial seems so personally offensive to Trump,” said Rob Stutzman, a California-based GOP strategist. “It’s demonstrating that he’s a fraud.”