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Trump tells fraud trial he did nothing wrong

Donald Trump complained to a New York judge that he “did nothing wrong” as a civil fraud trial that could hobble the former US president’s business empire drew to a close.

Mr Trump made a surprise statement from the defence table after his lawyers wrapped up their closing argument in the case.

“Your honour, look, I did nothing wrong. They should pay me,” Mr Trump said.

Justice Arthur Engoron, who earlier had faced a security threat at his suburban home, did not appear to be impressed with Mr Trump’s argument.

“Please control your client,” the judge told Mr Trump’s lawyer, Christopher Kise.

On the trial’s final day, Judge Engoron reacted sceptically to Mr Kise’s argument that Mr Trump should not be penalised for allegedly manipulating the value of his properties because lenders and insurers that did business with him still turned a profit.

“There does not have to be any evidence of harm,” Judge Engoron said.

Judge Engoron also said he did not find a defence witness to be credible.

In the trial, the judge is considering what penalties to impose after earlier ruling that Mr Trump and his company fraudulently manipulated property values.

New York Attorney General Letitia James, who brought the case, is seeking nearly $370 million (€339m) and a lifetime ban on Mr Trump from the state’s real-estate industry.

Mr Trump is the frontrunner for the Republican nomination to challenge Democratic President Joe Biden in the November election.

Shortly before Mr Trump’s legal team concluded its arguments, Alina Habba, another of his lawyers, pointed out that Ms James pledged to scrutinise Mr Trump’s business practices while she was campaigning for office as a Democrat.

Judge Engoron said that was not relevant to the case.

Judge Engornon has been a frequent target of the former president’s criticism

The trial’s closing arguments took place in an atmosphere of heightened security after media outlets reported a bomb threat at Judge Engoron’s suburban home.

A court spokesperson confirmed that Judge Engoron had been threatened and a Nassau County spokesperson confirmed that police had responded to a security incident at a residence at 5.30am (10.30am Irish time), without providing further details.

The New York Times reported that authorities in suburban Nassau County responded to a bomb threat at his home.

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The judge has been a frequent target of the former president’s criticism.

Security issues

Security has been an issue throughout the months-long trial.

Judge Engoron’s top staffer faced threats after Mr Trump criticised her as politically biased, prompting the judge to issue a gag order barring him from disparaging court staff.

Mr Trump has been fined $15,000 (€13,700) for twice violating the order.

As Ms James arrived at the courthouse, onlookers cheered and chanted: “Thank you, James.”

Police stood guard and tightly controlled entrances to the building.

Mr Trump, who has denied wrongdoing and criticised the trial as a “witch hunt”, renewed his attacks on Ms James during a break.

Protesters block traffic ahead of Donald Trump’s appearance in court

“She sued me because she wanted the publicity,” Mr Trump said.

Mr Trump has complained that the trial is interfering with his presidential campaign but has used occasional court appearances to argue that he is the victim of political persecution.

Judge Engoron will issue a verdict at a later date without a jury.

He found Mr Trump liable for fraud in September, leaving the trial to focus largely on how much money Mr Trump should surrender as ill-gotten gains.

Mr Trump has appealed Judge Engoron’s prior order and is almost certain to appeal any verdict against him, which could delay a final judgment for many months to a year or more.

Throughout trial, the state’s lawyers sought to show that Mr Trump consistently overvalued many of the towers, golf clubs and other assets that burnished his reputation as a business mogul before he entered politics.

Read more: White House hopefuls fail to hit Trump in Iowa debate

Mr Trump admitted to providing inaccurate property valuations during defiant and meandering testimony in November.

Mr Kise argued that any alleged manipulation was harmless.

He said banks and insurers would have been eager to do business with Mr Trump even if his net worth was far lower.

“He’s a whale client,” Mr Kise said.

The trial earlier featured a tense face-to-face reunion between Mr Trump and his one-time lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, who testified that MrTrump directed him to manipulate asset values.

Mr Kise called Mr Cohen a “serial liar”.

A lawyer for Mr Trump’s adult children Donald Jr and Eric, who are also defendants in the case, told the judge there was no evidence that they were significantly involved in the financial statements.

“This is a press release wrapped up in a lawsuit,” lawyer Clifford Robert said of the case brought by the attorney general.

Republican voters in Iowa and New Hampshire will be the first to decide their preferred nominee this month to face Mr Biden.

Mr Trump’s legal troubles have not diminished his commanding lead over party rivals.

The former president also has pleaded not guilty in four criminal prosecutions, including two that charge him with unlawfully trying to overturn his 2020 election loss to Mr Biden.

All could go to trial before this year’s election.

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