As Donald Trump Takes the Stand, Judge Reminds Him “This Is Not a Political Rally”

Donald Trump opened his high-stakes testimony Monday by pissing off the judge overseeing his civil fraud trial. “Just answer the question,” Justice Arthur Engoron scolded the former president, as he attempted to paint the case against as being brought by politically motivated “Trump haters.” 

“No speeches,” Engoron said, later urging Trump’s legal team to “control your client.” “This is not a political rally.”

Even before he headed to the Manhattan courtroom Monday, Trump took a minute to fire off a characteristically unhinged social media missive attacking the case—and the judge he sat next to when he took the witness box. “Got a really Biased, Nasty, Club controlled, but often overturned, Judge, a Racist, Evil, and Corrupt Attorney general, BUT A CASE THAT, ACCORDING TO ALMOST ALL LEGAL SCHOLARS, HAS ZERO MERIT,” Trump wrote, referring to Engoron and New York Attorney General Tish James. “WITCH HUNT!”

It was, as Trump’s Truth Social ravings often are, a peek into the disordered and agitated mind of the former president, and a preview of the performance he would give on the stand. Indeed, Trump has spent the trial—which could determine not only how much he’ll have to pay in penalties after being found liable for fraudulent business practices, but whether he’s allowed to practice business in New York—delivering belligerent broadsides at just about everyone involved: James, the prosecutor he claims is doing Joe Biden’s bidding; Michael Cohen, the former fixer who testified against him; and, of course, Engoron, who has already fined him twice for violating a gag order that bars him from harassing other witnesses or members of the court staff.

While Trump was expected answer questions about his business practices Monday—and possibly to try to shift blame to his adult sons, who have already taken the stand—he has unsurprisingly employed the same old verbal assaults over the course of his testimony, given his notorious lack of impulse control and the political benefits he’s tried to squeeze out of the spectacle. “This is a very unfair trial,” Trump said on the stand. “I hope the public is watching.”

Trump has attempted to wield the case—and the four criminal cases against him—to his advantage ahead of next year’s presidential election, casting himself as a victim of political persecution while rallying his supporters around his vengeance-based campaign. “HE HAS GONE CRAZY IN HIS HATRED OF ‘TRUMP,’” Trump wrote of Engoron last month after one gag order fine, while his campaign dismissed the case as a “sham trial” overseen by a “Democrat judge.”

“This is really election interference,” he claimed Monday, as he arrived in court.

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That might get him somewhere with the base, whose support has made him the dominant frontrunner for the GOP nomination and could even put him back in the White House—a deeply frightening prospect, considering the even more extreme turn a second Trump term would take. But his penchant for outrageous attacks and lies might not serve him quite as well in a court of law. It’s one thing to rail against the “very unfair situation” in the press scrum. It’s another thing to do so under oath.

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