For many politicians, exaggerating or lying in public speeches and on TV often draws few consequences, even when it’s called out. But it’s different in the judicial system. Misleading and mouthing off in court can bring on fines and the risk of a jail sentence.
That’s what Trump and his orbit are coming up against as multiple court cases move forward, with the former President fighting charges that he illegally tried to overturn election results in Georgia, fomented a violent attempt to block the certification of the election on Jan. 6, refused to return sensitive government secrets, fraudulently covered up hush money payments, and fudged the value of his properties to get better loan terms.
The proceedings are playing out in courtrooms in New York, Washington, D.C., Georgia and Florida. And it’s not going well for Trump. Here’s an overview of key developments in Trump’s cases.
The judge in the New York civil fraud trial found Trump not credible
The judge presiding over Trump’s civil fraud trial in New York said last week he didn’t find Trump credible when he was briefly asked questions on the stand. That doesn’t bode well for Trump as prosecutors are expected to call on him next week to answer questions about how he valued his properties for insurance companies and banks. The judge has already fined Trump for disparaging court officials and will soon render a verdict on whether Trump should pay the state of New York $250 million in fines for fraud.
Justice Arthur F. Engoron unexpectedly called Trump to the stand on Oct. 25 to answer whether he had disparaged a law clerk in comments to reporters outside the courtroom earlier that day. Why did that matter? Judges can restrict what defendants can say publicly about court staff in an effort to protect courtroom workers from threats, intimidation, and undue influence. Trump was already under court-ordered restrictions on making additional public comments about staff on duty in the courtroom, and the judge had previously fined Trump $5,000 for not deleting disparaging comments about a law clerk from his campaign website.
With Trump on the stand last week, the judge wanted to know if he was referring to the same law clerk when he told reporters the person sitting next to Engoron was “very partisan.” Trump denied it and said he was speaking about his former lawyer Michael Cohen, who that day had been on the witness stand, on the other side of the judge. After deliberating for a few minutes, Engoron reportedly said, “I find that the witness is not credible,” and fined Trump $10,000 for the additional violation of the court’s gag order.
Trump is accused of fraudulently giving banks and insurance companies inflated values of his properties. New York's attorney general Letitia James brought the case against Trump and his two adult sons, Donald Jr. and Eric. Trump's legal team has said that Trump didn't commit fraud and that the financial transactions were profitable for the institutions involved.
Justice Engoron has already ruled that Trump is liable for fraud and the trial will determine what financial fines or other punishments Trump will face. Engoron also canceled the business licenses Trump uses to operate in the state, but an appeals court allowed the licenses to stay in place for now.
Over the next several days, Donald Jr. and Eric are slated to take the stand in the trial, in addition to Trump himself on Nov. 6, and Trump’s daughter Ivanka later that week.
Prosecutors could finish bringing witnesses as soon as next week, and then Trump’s legal team will have an opportunity to bring a slate of witnesses to the stand. The trial is expected to be wrapped up by the end of the year.
Trump’s under a gag order in the Jan. 6 case
Trump's also under a gag order in federal court in Washington, D.C. where he's going to trial on charges brought by Justice Department Special Counsel Jack Smith for his actions to overturn Joe Biden's 2020 election win and encourage the violent interruption of the certification of the results in the Capitol Building on Jan. 6, 2021.
After weeks of deliberations, U.S. District Judge Tanya S. Chutkan ruled on Sunday that Trump cannot make public statements targeting individuals involved in the case. The judge found that when Trump has publicly singled out people in the past, that has led to them being threatened and harassed.
Trump’s legal team had argued that the order restricting Trump’s public comments about the case was vague and violated Trump’s free speech rights. Chutkan disagreed, saying the gag order was necessary for the “orderly administration” of the case.
The judge said the court’s gag order is narrowly tailored to block comments about the people involved in the case and doesn’t limit Trump’s political speech. Chutkan went on to give examples of what kinds of statements Trump is allowed to make, saying that Trump is allowed to say he is innocent, say the prosecution is politically motivated and that the Biden administration is corrupt. Chutkan cited a Truth Social post Trump wrote on Oct. 20 in which Trump wrote, “Does anyone notice that the Election Rigging Biden Administration never goes after the Riggers, but only after those that want to catch and expose the Rigging Dogs.” That would still be allowed under her gag order, Chutkan said.
By contrast, a Truth Social post Trump wrote on Oct. 24 that singled out a potential witness, Mark Meadows, and said that people who make a deal with prosecutors are "weaklings and cowards," is not allowed under the court's gag order, Chutkan wrote. That post, Chutkan ruled, could be seen as an effort to intimidate Meadows or prevent him from working with prosecutors.
Trump will have to show he’s complying with the order for several months. That trial in federal court in Washington, D.C. is set to start on March 4.
Trump’s former lawyers admit to breaking the law in Georgia
The fact that members of Trump’s legal team spread lies and took steps to illegally reverse the 2020 election is now a matter of public record, leading to real consequences for the former Trump allies. In Georgia, three of Trump’s former attorneys who worked on his effort to overturn Biden’s win there took plea deals from prosecutors in the past few weeks.
Facing the prospect of harsher penalties, Sydney Powell pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge that she illegally accessed voting equipment. Kenneth Chesebro took a felony charge for actions that brought together fake electors in the state. And Jenna Ellis pleaded to a felony for aiding and abetting false statements and writings.
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“I believe in, and I value election integrity,” Ellis wrote in an apology to the people of Georgia that she read from in court on Oct. 24. “If I knew then what I know now, I would have declined to represent Donald Trump in these post-election challenges,” Ellis wrote.
The Georgia case, brought by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis, accuses Trump and 18 others of launching a conspiracy to overturn Trump’s election loss to Biden in the state. In addition to Trump’s three former lawyers, bail bondsman Scott Graham Hall pleaded guilty in September to five misdemeanors related to illegally accessing voting equipment and data and agreed to testify in future cases.
The plea deals put pressure on other high-profile defendants in the case, including Rudy Giuliani, who was Trump's most prominent lawyer spreading false claims that Trump won, and John Eastman, who worked in multiple states to marshal fake Trump electors to overturn Biden's win.
The deals also make it more likely that Trump’s former lawyers will provide information to prosecutors about Trump’s role in trying to reverse his loss in Georgia, including what led up to Trump’s taped phone call with Georgia’s top election official, Brad Raffensperger, asking him to “find” votes to help him win.
A Colorado court will decide if Trump stays on the ballot
Trump's actions and statements after the 2020 election are also being examined in a Colorado court where a group of voters are trying to kick Trump off the 2024 ballot in the state, citing a Constitutional amendment that disqualifies officials who have engaged in insurrection from holding future office.
The trial in the lawsuit began this week in Denver. The judge in the case, Sarah B. Wallace, will decide whether to remove Trump's name from GOP primary ballots before they are printed in January in advance of Colorado's March 5 Republican primary.
Lawyers arguing for Trump to be removed from the ballot reportedly said in court Monday that Trump's statements had encouraged the crowd that violently broke into the Capitol Building to stop the certification of election results. Trump’s legal team has said Trump had been using his free speech rights to question the integrity of the election results.
Similar cases trying to bar Trump from ballots for supporting an insurrection are being heard in the Minnesota Supreme Court and Michigan state court.
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