Two weeks into Donald Trump’s bank fraud trial in New York, it is clear that the former president has no intention of actually winning the legal battle at this point.
Instead, Trump’s legal team is working diligently to use the trial as a pretext for a future appeal – not to mention turning the trial into both a fundraising spectacle and an excuse to skip his other court dates.
For nine days, Trump’s defense attorneys littered the court with legal landmines, objecting to nearly every piece of evidence presented by New York Attorney General Letitia James and warning New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur F. Engoron that every decision he makes be strict will be tested – and likely reversed – by appeals judges.
At one point, Engoron had to remind Trump’s legal team: “Trials are…not an opportunity to re-challenge what I’ve already decided…that’s why we appealed.”
Rolling Stone quoted a source within the Trump camp who referred to the current kamikaze plan to win smaller victories within the self-created chaos as “Fyre Festival strategies,” a reference to the ill-planned 2017 music festival in the Bahamas that took place in ended in a catastrophe.
The stakes are high: Trump, a self-proclaimed business tycoon, is in danger of losing his real estate empire. Engoron has already ordered the Trump Organization’s business licenses revoked after concluding that the Trump family and its company’s top executives had vastly inflated assets over years. In December he could order them to pay $250 million or more.
Team Trump is still upset about having to defend real estate deals that date back a decade because the judge hasn’t yet explicitly drawn a clear line for 2016 or so that could limit the attorney general’s case – something he’s been asked to do Court of Appeal had previously ordered the trial to begin.
Now Trump’s lawyers are objecting to anything that even contains references to older material, even emails from James’ office that contain references to the distant past.
But Trump’s defense team has also adopted a strange and deliberately irritating tactic. Anticipating a massive and detailed appeal, they asked detailed questions about every line in every document – and repeated every question for every year from 2011 and beyond.
Already on the third day of the trial, the tension reached a boiling point when the judge repeatedly advised the defense attorneys to speed things up – only to have defense attorney Jesus Suárez agree and then ignore him anyway.
“You must not waste time,” Engoron said. “This is what it becomes.”
“We will try to simplify this as much as possible,” assured senior defense attorney Christopher Kise.
“It doesn’t seem like it yet,” the judge shot back.
“The devil is in the details. “I’m sorry, but that’s it,” Kise replied.
Then things got heated when the judge alerted Trump’s team to what appeared to be an obvious delaying tactic.
“That’s ridiculous!” Engoron said, turning his head to the dozens of journalists at the back of the courtroom. “To the reporters: I’m knocking on the bench again. The. Is. Ridiculous! There’s no point in going through every line. I’m just being logical here.”
What happened next was a encapsulation of what has become Trump’s preferred legal strategy in this trial. Kise, in his characteristic condescending tone towards the older and more experienced judge, misinterpreted and contradicted what Engoron said.
“Let me make sure I understand,” Kise began. “You’re asking us to go line by line, but are you just asking the same question for each line?”
“I have never had to negotiate how to ask questions. I think it makes you bad balance sheet“Honestly,” he added, in what seemed like a direct address to the court reporter whose records will eventually be reviewed by a panel of appellate judges. “For the record, I’m against it.”
Engoron, seeing through the ruse, replied, “I have thick skin, but this is where the real piercing takes place.”
Similar but less intense versions of this scene repeated over the days, with Kise often twisting what Engoron ordered, then turning around and claiming that the judge’s decisions were unprecedented and unfair.
In Trump’s other cases, such as the criminal investigation into his alleged hoarding of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, his lawyers have relied on procedural delays and appeals to slow the process.
But what sets this court battle apart is the many ways the former president managed to drag it out. So far it’s working, as the trial is in its third week and only half a dozen witnesses have testified. However, it is impossible to know whether a general appeal will be successful until the actual proceedings are completed.
Two sources familiar with the situation told The Daily Beast that the former president’s lawyers were fully focused on the appeal at this point, happily provoking the judge whenever they could about their chances of success at the First Judicial Department of New York’s Appellate Division to increase.
One of those sources noted that Trump, who repeatedly makes angry speeches outside the courtroom and maintains a scowl inside the courtroom, has essentially resorted to theatrical means to draw public attention to himself. The strategy has been described as Machiavellian maneuvering, two steps ahead of the attorney general.
In reality, James is well aware of what is going on. During a brief court recess on Oct. 4, she told The Daily Beast that Trump — who is not required to appear in person at this civil trial — only continues to do so to use it as a fundraising tactic. And she attributed the defenders’ increasingly belligerent demeanor to their desire to please the big boss.
“You’re playing in front of an audience,” James said.
In fact, in the early days of the trial, the Trump 2024 presidential campaign has stepped up its email blasts, sending on-topic messages related to the ongoing court battle.
“I just left the courthouse for the first day of my unfair trial in New York,” read the first email, which ended with the request: “Please make a contribution of ANY amount – really, even just $1 US dollars – for peaceful purposes.” DEFEND our movement from the never-ending witch hunts.”
There’s another twist to Trump’s attempt to turn lemons into lemonade. The former president, mired in legal trouble across the country and fending off criminal charges and private lawsuits, has turned this bank fraud trial into something resembling a doctor’s note.
By appearing in court for half of the first week of the trial, Trump managed to avoid potentially devastating testimony in his revenge trial against his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen.
Trump, who has been known to say self-incriminating things under oath, would have been forced to answer damning questions about the way he used Cohen as his Mafia-like consigliere for years. The Miami federal judge presiding over the case allowed him to skip a scheduled interview to appear at the trial in New York – only to have Trump quickly drop the lawsuit last week.
And now he’s doing it again.
As first reported in The messengerTrump plans to return to the Engoron courtroom next week, which not entirely coincidentally overlaps with his scheduled testimony in a lawsuit filed by Peter Strzok and Lisa Page. Both former FBI officials’ careers faltered as Trump used his power in the White House to drag their names into the mud and demonize them for their roles in the much-maligned Trump-Russia investigation.