Donald Trump took the stand on Monday morning in the New York courtroom of Judge Arthur Engoron and almost immediately began to respond to questions with long, meandering rants that more closely resembled his social media posts than an answer to anything state’s attorney Kevin Wallace was asking. Engoron repeatedly asked Trump’s lead attorney Chris Kise to get his client under control, but Kise refused to do so and claimed that Trump had a special right as the “former and future chief executive” to give whatever response he wanted.
Much of Trump’s performance seemed dedicated to trying to rile the judge into taking some kind of action that might have justified a motion for mistrial. That notion was confirmed during the lunch break, when both Trump and his attorney Alina Habba attacked the judge in a transparent ploy to push Engoron into some kind of definitive action, like a contempt citation. That didn’t happen.
What did happen, in both the morning and afternoon sessions, was that Trump was forced over and over again to concede points critical to New York Attorney General Letitia James’s financial fraud case. Much of the coverage is going to be about Trump’s attacks on Engoron, Wallace, and James. But what happened in court on Monday was that Trump kept right on losing.
In that morning session, Trump tried to derail the questioning at every opportunity and attorneys Kise and Habba joined in the effort to goad Engoron into doing something they could complain about. But Engoron and Wallace seemed content to give Trump mile after mile of rope, and eventually, the answers they sought emerged from Trump’s extended ranting.
Most of what Wallace showed during the morning proceedings was how Trump gave highly conflicting reports of the value of some of his biggest properties, including Mar-a-Lago, 40 Wall Street, and his golf property in Scotland.
In a scheme similar to those Eric Trump had been forced to explain during his testimony, Trump had placed a value on all of these properties based not on what was there, but on what could be there if the properties were built out, remodeled, and exploited to the max. That included valuing his Aberdeen golf property as if it had hundreds of houses and a second course, neither of which existed. It included treating 40 Wall Street as if it had been completely updated and divided into high-value apartments, which didn’t happen. And it included valuing Mar-a-Lago as if it had been turned into a private residence, which not only hasn’t happened but also can’t happen based on agreements that Trump signed.
After the lunch break, the pugnacious defendant seemed more subdued as Wallace presented Trump with thick stacks of agreements he had signed to secure loans from Deutsche Bank. Just as his sons had done the previous week, Trump seemed not to grasp—or refused to acknowledge—that signing a document saying that he was legally responsible for the accuracy of the contents made him legally responsible. Trump’s responses in this section were often brief at first as Wallace walked him through one document after another.
Trump devoted a fair amount of the afternoon to insisting that he was protected by a disclaimer, or “worthless clause,” that had already been ruled not relevant in an earlier phase of the trial. At one point, Trump pulled a copy of the clause from his pocket and tried to read it. Engoron did not allow this. Trump also insisted that the banks were responsible for checking his work, even though the documents he signed said otherwise.
Toward the end of the testimony, Trump seemed to be winding up again, attacking Engoron and state’s attorney Wallace. But Wallace successfully led Trump through the remaining loan agreements, got the responses he wanted, and let Trump go.
Following Trump’s testimony, Kise immediately brought up his threat of a motion for a mistrial. This time, Kise told Engoron that he may want to bring up information that could be barred in court. Presumably, this means digging into conspiracy theories around Engoron, James, and others. Engoron ended the day asking Kise not to file that motion. But it’s a pretty good bet that the motion will be filed.
After all, Trump had already lost this case before the trial began. Everything happening now serves only to determine how badly he lost it.