Former US president Donald Trump has come face to face with the judge and prosecutor he has spent weeks attacking as he attended a New York court for his fraud trial.
Trump arrived defiantly for the civil case that could cost him control of Trump Tower and other prized properties and mean he is banned from business in New York.
During a lunchbreak, the seemingly rattled Republican attacked Judge Arthur Engoron, a Democrat, as a “disgrace” and “an operative”.
“We’re going to be here for months with a judge that already made up his mind. It’s ridiculous,” Trump said.
“They waste their time with this, with banks that were very happy that got all their money back. They weren’t defrauded. I’ve been defrauded.”
Before arriving in court, Trump denounced the civil fraud case over his business practises as a politically motivated “scam”.
“This is a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time,” he said as he made the voluntary trip to the New York court.
“It’s a scam. It’s a sham.”
Trump reiterated claims that New York Attorney General Letitia James’ suit is a politically motivated attempt to thwart his return to the White House.
“What we have here is an attempt to hurt me in an election,” he charged, adding: “I don’t think the people of this country are going to stand for it”.
He looked away from James, a Democrat and New York’s top prosecutor, as he passed her on the way into court.
The suit accuses Trump and his company of deceiving banks, insurers and others by habitually lying about his wealth in financial statements.
James is seeking $US250 million ($390 million) in penalties and a ban on Trump doing business in New York.
It is a non-jury trial, so Judge Engoron will decide on six other claims in the lawsuit.
The judge’s ruling last week, if upheld on appeal, could force Trump to give up New York properties including Trump Tower, a Wall Street office building, golf courses and a suburban estate.
Trump, the Republican front-runner in the 2024 presidential race, has denied wrongdoing.
He says that James and the judge are undervaluing such assets as Mar-a-Lago and that it did not matter what he put on his financial statements because they have a disclaimer that says they should not be trusted.
Trump’s lawyer Alina Habba told the court Mar-a-Lago could sell for “at least a billion”. But last week Judge Engoron ruled the estate was likely valued between $18 million and $27.6 million.
Before the trial on Monday (local time), James reiterated her position that Trump had for years engaged in “persistent and repeated fraud”.
“No matter how powerful you are, and no matter how much money you think you have, no one is above the law,” she said on her way into the courthouse.
Trump is not expected to testify for several weeks.
He was not required to attend court and his appearance marked a remarkable departure from his past practise.
Trump did not go to court as either a witness or a spectator when his company and one of its top executives was convicted of tax fraud last year.
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