The judge overseeing Donald Trump’s fraud trial is imminently expected to issue a final judgment in a sprawling civil case that could seriously damage the former president’s family business and brand-building real estate empire.
That is, if he can figure out if one of Mr Trump’s co-defendants lied in his courtroom.
Judge Arthur Engoron is pushing Trump lawyers, the state attorney general’s office and the Manhattan district attorney for “anything” they can tell him about former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg reportedly negotiating a plea deal with New York City prosecutors for his testimony in the civil fraud trial.
If Weisselberg is now “admitting he lied under oath in my courtroom at this trial,” the judge wants to know about, he wrote to attorneys last week. “I do not want to ignore anything in a case of this magnitude,” he said, according to court documents.
Lawyers for Mr Trump’s adult sons and co-defendants called the request “unprecedented, inappropriate and troubling.”
Alina Habba – who represents Weisselberg in the civil case but is not his criminal defence lawyer – also declined to provide the judge with any information about his plea negotiations and said no further action was needed.
An article in The New York Times that reported Weisselberg’s plea negotiations is “neither admissible nor reliable, and it should not be considered in Your Honor’s determination as to the merits of this case,” she wrote, according to court documents. “We urge you to render your decision based solely on the evidence now before you.”
In a separate statement, Mr Trump’s attorney Chris Kise said that “court decisions are supposed to be made based on the evidence at trial, not on media speculation.”
On Thursday, the judge fired back at defence lawyers.
“When I sent my straightforward, narrow request for information about possible perjury by Allen Weisselberg in the subject case, I was not seeking to initiate a wide-ranging debate with counsel,” he wrote. “However, your misleading response grossly mischaracterizes the letter that I wrote, and I feel compelled to respond.”
He accused them of launching a straw-man attack against him for considering the article’s contents as fact, but said that if Weisselberg “publicly confesses to having committed perjury about a significant matter in the case before me, or if he pleads guilty to such perjury at any time before I issue my final decision, I will research and consider what the law allows.”
“You and your co-counsel have been questioning my impartiality since the early days of this case, presumably because I sometimes rule against your clients,” he added. “That whole approach is getting old.”
The judge told defence attorneys that he is “not reopening the case”.
“But if someone pleads guilty to committing perjury in a case over which I am presiding, I want to know about it,” he said.
Last year, Mr Trump’s former top financial lieutenant spent 100 days in Rikers Island jail after pleading guilty to tax-related crimes in 2022. He was also part of a criminal tax fraud trial involving two Trump Organization subsidiaries, among the first Trump-connected entities to be convicted of crimes. A New York City jury found the Trump Corporation and the Trump Payroll Corporation guilty on more than a dozen charges and they were fined $1.6m.
Weisselberg also testified at the civil fraud trial, where lawyers for the state questioned him about his knowledge of statements of financial condition, the documents at the heart of the case.
Those documents included grossly inflated valuations of Mr Trump’s net worth and assets in an effort to obtain favourable financing terms for some of his brand-building properties, according to a lawsuit from New York Attorney General Letitia James.
Ms James is seeking to recover $370m in so-called “ill-gotten gains” that the defendants would not otherwise have obtained if they had included accurate assessments of his wealth in those documents, according to her office.
He also would be banned from the state’s real estate industry for life, under sanctions proposed by Ms James’s office.
The judge initially self-imposed a 31 January deadline for a final judgment in the case, but after that date had passed, a spokesperson for New York courts told The Independent that a final decision could be expected closer to mid-February.
But that was before news of Weisselberg’s potential plea deal.
The Independent has requested comment from an attorney for Weisselberg and a spokesperson for the Manhattan district attorney’s office.
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