A judge fined Donald Trump $10,000 on Wednesday for violating his gag order again.
Trump told the judge that his comments to reporters were aimed at Michael Cohen, not a law clerk.
The judge didn't buy it.
The judge in Donald Trump's New York fraud trial called the former president to the stand in a Manhattan courtroom on Wednesday, then doled out a $10,000 fine to the ex-president for violating his gag order.
Trump was "not credible" when he swore under oath that he hadn't broken the limited gag order, the judge found. The gag order bars Trump from any spoken or online comments disparaging members of his courtroom staff.
Audible gasps rose in the courtroom shortly after the lunch break, when the judge, New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, announced that he would hold a one-witness hearing and ask Trump directly if he had violated the gag order by telling reporters during a morning break that the trial's law clerk is "very partisan."
"I'm going to hold a hearing right now about that," the judge said. "And as the first witness, I'm calling the defendant, Donald J. Trump. Mr. Trump, would you take the stand?"
"Donald John Trump," the former president said when asked to state his name after climbing slowly to the stand and swearing to tell the truth.
The judge asked Trump if he had said what The Associated Press had reported him saying during the morning break — when he griped that Engoron, a Democrat, is "a very partisan judge, with a person who's very partisan sitting alongside of him, perhaps even more partisan than he is."
"Yes," Trump answered.
To whom were you referring, the judge asked the former president.
"To you and Michael Cohen," Trump answered, denying that he was referring to the law clerk, Allison Greenfield.
But Engoron didn't buy it and ordered the former president to pay a fine of $10,000 for violating the gag order, which had been issued on October 3, the second day of the now four-week trial.
"As the finder of fact, I find the witness was not credible," the judge said of Trump.
"The idea that the statement would refer to the witness" instead of the law clerk, who sits just three feet to his right, "doesn't make sense to me," the judge said, adding that his ruling stands.
The $10,000 fine was levied on top of a $5,000 gag-order-violation fine the judge levied for a similar offense five days earlier.
On both occasions, the judge had threatened Trump with a potential contempt of court fine and even a term of imprisonment for violating the gag.
Trump denied that the clerk was his target
"I'm very protective of my staff," the judge said earlier Wednesday. "I don't want anybody killed," he said, emphasizing the word, and noting that when Trump makes disparaging comments about his perceived enemies, those enemies often face hate mail and threats.
"I'll ask again," the judge said to Trump's lawyers, who sat with Trump at the defense table. "Why should there not be severe sanctions for this blatant, dangerous, disobeyal of a judicial order?"
Trump's lead lawyer, Christopher Kise, said that Trump had been referring to Cohen, not the clerk.
In shooting that down later Wednesday, the judge noted that Greenfield sits far closer to the judge than witnesses do and that there's a barrier between the witness and the judge, making it much more likely that Trump was disparaging the "person sitting alongside of him."
"Partisan" is also an insult Trump has lobbed at Greenfield in the past, the judge told him.
"I think she's very biased against us," Trump agreed from the witness stand. "I think she made that clear."
Alina Habba, a yearslong member of Trump's fraud defense team had, in fact, started Wednesday off by complaining that Greenfield and the judge had been "whispering" and "eye-rolling" the day before as she cross-examined Cohen.
Habba's aggressive, sometimes improper style of questioning has met with many objections from lawyers for the state's attorney general's office on Tuesday. Most were sustained by the judge, who does confer frequently, in whispers, with Greenfield during testimony.
"It is incredibly distracting when there are eye rolls and constant whispering at the bench," Habba complained, singling out Greenfield and noting that she had once been a law clerk herself. "It just is very distracting."
Lawyers from the defense team and prosecutor's office had no further questions for Trump and he was allowed to step down from the witness stand.
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