NEW YORK — The judge: “rogue.” The prosecutor: “racist.” The proceeding: “greatest witch hunt of all time.” And that was before the courtroom was gaveled to order.
The first trial of Donald Trump began Monday in New York with scenes unlike anything in U.S. history. Trump — former star of The Apprentice, and now effectively branded a fraudster — was there, entering the courthouse used as the backdrop for "Law & Order."
In the six hours he spent in court confronting a civil case that threatens his company and cuts to the heart of his persona as a master dealmaker, he railed against the justice system, accused the judge of incompetence and suggested he be criminally prosecuted, and made the case to his supporters that he was being wrongfully targeted. All his blistering comments were made outside the courtroom.
“It’s a scam. It’s a sham,” Trump, 77, said of the case against him.
In between evidence and testimony, inside New York State Supreme Court, Trump shook his head, crossed his arms, occasionally muttered beneath his breath — and provided a glimpse of what’s to come in his legal calendar.
On top of the New York civil case, he faces five criminal trials as he campaigns for reelection, four of which have already been scheduled for 2024. Trump so far has managed to capitalize on his legal perils – including those related to his efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss and his handling of national security secrets after leaving office – to rally his supporters and raise money for his campaign.
Monday’s made-for-TV spectacle began just after 9:30 a.m., when Trump was chauffeured downtown from Trump Tower in Midtown, one of the real estate assets at the heart of the case. Trump is fighting to retain control of the Fifth Avenue tower after Justice Arthur F. Engoron – the jurist he’s personally attacked and labeled a “rogue judge” right before entering his courtroom — ruled last month that the former president had committed fraud by inflating the value of various properties for years.
Outside the courthouse, anti-Trump protesters waved signs reading “Trump lies” and “Lies have consequences.” But it was Trump’s display — against Engoron and New York Attorney General Letitia James – that stood out most sharply.
Just before entering the third-floor courtroom at 10:00 a.m., Trump stopped to address the news media. He was flanked by lawyers Chris Kise and Alina Habba and surrounded by dozens of Secret Service agents and court police.
“This is a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time,” Trump said, invoking the phrase he’s often used to characterize investigations into his affairs. He called Engoron a “rogue” and James, who is Black, a “racist.”
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