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Trump lawyers attack judge’s clerk, create ‘sideshow’ as son testifies

Christopher Kise, one of Donald Trump’s attorneys at his civil fraud trial, arrives at a New York court on Wednesday in New York City.  (Spencer Platt)
By Jonah E. Bromwich and Kate Christobek New York Times

NEW YORK – Donald Trump’s legal team on Friday repeatedly attacked a law clerk during the former president’s civil fraud trial, overshadowing Eric Trump’s second day on the witness stand and prompting the judge to ban the lawyers from making public statements about his private communications with his staff.

The judge, Arthur Engoron, works closely with the clerk, Allison Greenfield, and the two often speak and pass notes on the bench. Greenfield previously worked as a trial attorney in New York City’s law department, and the judge appears to rely on her expertise when considering rules of evidence and other matters.

But the former president has taken issue with her involvement in the monthlong trial – Greenfield is a Democrat, and Trump says she is biased against him – and his lawyers have complained about her regularly. On Friday, one of Trump’s lawyers, Christopher Kise, continued those objections, saying that the communications between the judge and clerk had created a “perception of bias.”

After court had ended for the day, Engoron issued a written order prohibiting the lawyers from making public statements, in or out of court, about his private communications with Greenfield, including their conversations and notes. He said that the lawyers’ arguments had no basis, that their accusations of bias were false and that failure to heed the order would result in “serious sanctions.”

He again said that he was concerned about danger to his staff and noted that his chambers had been “inundated with hundreds of harassing and threatening phone calls, voicemails, emails, letters and packages” since the trial began.

A lawyer for the New York attorney general’s office, which brought the case against Trump and his two adult sons, pronounced the whole issue a “sideshow” after Eric Trump had concluded his testimony.

The lawyer, Kevin Wallace, said that the objections about Greenfield seemed designed to interrupt the attorney general’s case. To illustrate his point, Wallace pointed out that Eric Trump left the witness stand Friday with no fanfare after spending several hours testifying about the Trump Organization’s annual financial statements, and many in the courtroom did not realize he had even concluded.

The previous day, he and his older brother, Donald Trump Jr., blamed outside accountants for errors in company financial statements. The documents are at the heart of the civil case brought by the attorney general, Letitia James, that accuses the brothers, their father and their company, the Trump Organization, of using the statements to defraud banks and insurers.

The brothers were the first members of the Trump family to testify in the case. Donald Trump is expected to take the stand Monday, and his daughter Ivanka Trump, who was a key part of the business before joining her father in the White House, is scheduled to testify Wednesday.

Eric Trump’s time on the stand began Thursday morning and continued Friday. He was cautious and often seemed irritable as he parried questioning from another of the attorney general’s lawyers, Andrew Amer.

At one point, asked about how the family’s properties were assessed in Florida, Eric Trump complained that he wasn’t involved in the granular details of financial valuations at the Trump Organization – a response that has characterized his testimony.

“This is not what an executive at my level of the company does,” he said.

But Amer continued to ask Eric Trump about the Trump Organization’s annual financial statements – which Engoron found before the trial were filled with fraudulent misrepresentations – and whether he intended that they be accurate. Eric Trump said that he did.

On Thursday, Amer had pronounced Eric Trump a “good” witness who helped the attorney general’s case. But any post-testimony comments Friday would have been lost in the hubbub that Kise and the former president’s other lawyers raised about Greenfield.

Kise accused Greenfield of making improper political contributions to Democrats, based on a story from the right-wing outlet Breitbart. By repeatedly bringing up the issue and putting it in the court record, Kise said that he was laying the groundwork for either an appeal or a motion for a mistrial.

Wallace responded later that if Trump’s lawyers were going to ask for a mistrial, they should go ahead and do so.

Engoron said that he had an absolute right to confer with Greenfield and with any of his staff. “I cut this case right down the middle,” he said. He added that he did not want any further comments about his staff and how he communicates with them and followed up later in the day with his order.

Engoron had already placed a gag order on the former president, banning him from commenting on court staff. Trump has twice violated that order by attacking Greenfield, incurring $15,000 worth of fines.

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.