Donald Trump is set to make a surprise appearance on the first day of his trial for “astounding” fraud which begins in New York today.
The former president, who is the favourite to be the Republican presidential candidate next year, is the central defendant in the civil trial which begins today at a courtroom in southern Manhattan.
Trump, along with several members of his family and other associates, is accused of inflating the value of the Trump property empire by billions of dollars to secure loans in a case brought by New York’s Attorney General Letitia James.
On Tuesday last week, a remarkable pre-trial ruling by Judge Arthur Engoron, set in motion the prospect of Trump losing his New York business licence which could force him to sell all his New York property including the iconic Trump Tower on 5th Avenue.
Trump had been expected not to attend this trial unless forced to testify.
However, court documents in a separate lawsuit, published late last week, hint at a potential courtroom showdown with Judge Engoron who he has branded ‘deranged’.
Trump had been due in court in Florida in a case he brought to sue his former attorney, Michael Cohen. However he has sought to delay that case in order to appear in person at the New York trial instead.
“Through counsel, plaintiff [Trump] represented that he would be attending his New York trial in person – at least for each day of the first week of trial.” the court papers in the Florida lawsuit said.
Last night, with trademark Trumpian double-speak, the former president said: “According to news reports, I will be attending the civil trial in New York tomorrow where an anti-Trump judge is attempting to bring down the Trump Organisation and financially break me.”
The news reports had been based on his own indication to attend the New York trial.
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His surprise appearance could trigger a long string of trials
If he does appear, the case will mark the beginning of a long string of unprecedented civil and criminal trials against the 45th President of the United States in New York, Georgia and Florida.
Referring to today’s fraud trial, Trump said last night: “An anti-Trump judge is attempting to bring down the Trump Organisation and financially break me.”
In a statement emailed to his supporters nationwide, he said: “Democrats are seeking to bring down the world-famous ‘Trump Tower’ and impose what some are calling “the corporate death penalty” upon me. This will be the FIRST TRIAL in the Democrats’ string of witch hunts designed to destroy our 2024 presidential campaign.”
The case was brought by New York’s attorney general after Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, revealed what he claimed to show mass fraud by Trump.
It is alleged that the Trump Organisation routinely inflated the value of the former president’s assets to the tune of billions of dollars and the size of his properties in order to obtain better terms from banks and insurers.
In one example alleged by the attorney general, it is claimed that Trump’s triplex penthouse apartment in Trump Tower was 30,000 sq ft when in fact it is one third of that size.
Defending him, his lawyers have said that statements about the value of his assets were never relied on by the banks who had never complained about being misled.
He could lose his New York property – but Trump says it’s a ‘witch-hunt’
Attorney General James is seeking a $250m (£201.3m) fine and to bar Trump and his sons Donald Trump Jr, and Eric Trump from leading the family business.
The pre-trial ruling already puts Trump’s ability to control his New York properties in immediate jeopardy because he is unable to operate them without a business licence.
His lawyers are likely to seek clarity to this ruling in court this week, perhaps with their client now present too.
Financially and symbolically, this represents a huge moment for Donald Trump. He stands to lose control of a property empire in a city from where he built his fortune and fame.
But politically, it perfectly fits his “witch-hunt” narrative; a case brought by a judge and an attorney general, both stated Democrats, who he says are “out to get him”. It is a narrative which unquestionably resonates with his supporters across the country.
“I have a Deranged, Trump Hating Judge, who RAILROADED this FAKE CASE through a NYS Court at a speed never before seen,” he wrote on his social media platform, Truth Social.
The case is set to last until December.