Judge Engoron comes thisclose to accusing Trump of perjury in a written order

Donald Trump at his civil fraud trial in New York.
Donald Trump at his civil fraud trial in New York.Jane Rosenberg/Reuters
  • Trump's testimony in a gag order hearing at his NY fraud trial "rings hollow and untrue," the judge writes.

  • Despite Trump's words, it was "unmistakably clear" that he intentionally violated the gag, he writes.

  • The judge stops short of calling Trump an outright perjuror.

Lest there be any mistaking how angry the judge in Donald Trump's New York fraud trial is, he has now memorialized, on paper, why he did not believe the former president's sworn testimony from Wednesday — and why he therefore gag-slapped him $10,000.

It's what's called a "sua sponte" judicial order, meaning an order that no party asked for, but which he, state Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron, took it upon himself to issue.

It's only two pages, but it's loaded, at least as judicial orders go, with swagger and outrage.

In the order, Engoron says Trump gave testimony that "rings hollow and untrue" after being suddenly called to the witness stand on Wednesday.

It was "unmistakenly clear" the judge also writes, that Trump violated his limited gag banning personal attacks on Engoron's court staff, despite the former president's sworn claims Wednesday that he hadn't.

The judge comes thisclose to saying Trump lied under oath — which is the definition of perjury, if coming from a judge — but does not.

Judge Arthur Engoron sits three feet to the left of his principal law clerk, Allison Greenfield, at the Trump fraud trial in New York.
Judge Arthur Engoron sits three feet to the left of his principal law clerk, Allison Greenfield, at the Trump fraud trial in New York.Seth Wenig/AP

Before we unpack the outrage, some background, and an update.

Engoron has presided for three years over New York Attorney General Letitia James' efforts to investigate — and now punish at trial — Trump for what she calls his pattern of billion-dollar exaggerations in annual net-worth statements he uses to get better deals on loans and insurance.

Those three years in the trenches mean Engoron has longer experience dealing with Trump, and presiding over his balky compliance with investigatory subpoenas and judicial orders, than any other judge now handling the former president's many civil and criminal cases. In the AG case he has found Trump in contempt for dodging subpoenas and found him twice in violation of his limited gag order.

And here's the update: early Thursday in his courtroom, Engoron stood by Wednesday's $10,000 gag-violation fine after hearing another round of protests from Trump's lawyers.

The judge sets the scene

The opening of Justice Arthur Engron's written order that Trump pay a $10,000 gag-order fine.
The opening of Justice Arthur Engron's written order that Trump pay a $10,000 gag-order fine.NY Courts/Insider

"On October 3, on the record, I imposed on all parties to this action a very limited gag order," Engoron begins the order.

He starts by quoting from what he said in first setting the gag, saying it's an order "forbidding all parties from posting, emailing or speaking publicly about any members of my staff."

There would be "serious sanctions" if it's violated, he reminds his readers.

Despite the gag, Trump's original offending Truth Social post remained up on Trump's campaign website for 17 days, Engoron notes. This resulted in "a $5,000 nominal sanction against Donald Trump for the first-time violation of the gag order."

Trump has countered through his defense team that this original offending post — falsely calling Engoron's principal law clerk, Allison Greenfield "Schumer's girlfriend" — was accidentally automatically uploaded to his campaign website by underlings and algorithms.

Then came this week's violation

The third paragraph of Justice Arthur Engoron's order fining Donald Trump $10,000.
The third paragraph of Justice Arthur Engoron's order fining Donald Trump $10,000.NY Courts/Insider

"On October 25, during a break from the trial, Donald Trump made the following statement to a gaggle of reporters outside the courtroom: 'This judge is a very partisan judge with a person who's very partisan sitting alongside him, perhaps even more partisan than he is,'" the judge writes now of what happened in a courthouse hallway on Wednesday.

"Quite clearly," he writes, "the defendant was referring, once again, to my Principal Law Clerk, who sits alongside me on the bench."

The judge reminds the reader that soon afterward, he called Trump to the witness stand, swearing him in as the only witness in a three-minute-long hearing on the gag violation.

Asked by Engoron who he had meant by "a person who's very partisan sitting alongside him," Trump had answered, "You and Michael Cohen," who'd testified throughout the day.

Engoron now writes: "As the trier of fact, I find this testimony rings hollow and untrue. The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'alongside' as 'close to the side of; next to.'

"Witnesses do not sit 'alongside' the judge, they sit in the witness box, separated from the judge by a low wooden barrier," the judge continues.

Besides, the judge notes, whenever Trump insults his former fixer, he comes right out and says "Michael Cohen – or a "derogatory name."

"He is unambiguous in making it known he is referring to Michael Cohen."

michael cohen
Former attorney for former U.S. President Donald Trump, Michael Cohen, arrives to be deposed by Trump lawyers in New York, U.S. April 28, 2023.REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz

And there's another big clue Trump meant the clerk, the judge writes. Trump's hallway attack "mirrors the language he used in public statements to the press on October 2," the first day of the fraud trial, the judge notes.

Back then, Trump bellyached that "this rogue judge is a Trump hater, the only one that hates Trump more is his associate up there, this person that works with him, and she's screaming into his ear."

Trump intentionally left out Greenfield's name when he called her "partisan" in the hallway on Wednesday, Engoron also notes. The judge calls this name-omission a calculated, ultimately unsuccessful end run around his gag order.

"Using imprecise language as an excuse to create plausible ambiguity about whether the defendant violated this Court's unequivocal gag order is not a defense; the subject of Donald Trump's public statement to the press was unmistakably clear," he adds.

"As the trier of fact, I find Donald Trump was referring to my Principal Law Clerk, and that, as such, he has intentionally violated the gag order."

The judge ends by ordering Trump to pay a $10,000 fine within 30 days, payable to the New York Lawyers' Fund for Client Protection.

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