He was combative and courageous, unrepentant and committed—no matter what the circumstances of the trial, he was Chief Donald J. It was Trump.
Within minutes of Mr Trump testifying on Monday, his civil fraud trial in Manhattan erupted into chaos before a packed house. The former president has hit back at his accusers and denied their claims, though he admitted to some of the actions at the heart of the case.
As the court seethed and convulsed, Mr Trump attacked New York Attorney General Leticia James as a “political hack”. He derided the proceedings as “a very unfair trial”. And he accused the presiding judge, Arthur F. Ingoro, of fraud in his decision before the trial.
“He called me a liar, he knew nothing about me!” Mr. Trump flashed a smile as he pointed at the loudmouth judge.
The outburst showed contempt for the former president, who had previously threatened his family’s business and labeled him a fraud and fraud. In addition to suing his company, Ms. James, one of Mr. Trump’s main rivals, has called into question the vast fortune he built up during his years as a businessman and reality TV star. An identity that inspired him to run for the White House.
Mr Trump, who has been accused by Ms James of defrauding banks and insurers of their wealth, has admitted to helping compile annual financial statements for the banks.
“I’ll look at them, I’ll look at them, and maybe I’ll make some suggestions,” said Mr. Trump, who began the day looking tired but soon became animated.
Although the admission appeared to bolster the attorney general’s case, Mr. Trump, sitting 30 feet away from Ms. James, also sought to keep financial disclosures out of the country, which he said he left largely to aides. He stated that they contained many denials. Banks did not pay much attention to them, before entering, unexpectedly, some bank employees said that they will soon give their defense testimony.
Mr. Trump, the Republican front-runner for the presidency, brought a campaign-trail energy to the courtroom that peppered his testimony with grandiose claims and infuriated the judge and clouded some of his more effective witnesses.
At his golf course near Aberdeen, Scotland, he presented an “artistic expression” and the largest Audi ever built. “The fraud is in the court, not me,” he attacked Judge Ingoro.
The judge, who will decide the outcome of the case instead of a jury, has repeatedly advised Mr. Trump not to respond directly to questions from Ms. James’ team.
“You can attack me. You can do whatever you want,” the judge told Ingoron, “but answer the question.”
When the judge turned to Mr. Trump with a simple question — “No talking, please” — the words drew a smile from the former president and he continued to speak. At one point, when Mr. Trump asked state attorney Kevin Wallace to comment on what he would do if he wanted to raise property prices, he interrupted him with, “Excuse me, sir.”
Mr Trump criticized Mr Wallace for saying “my net worth was far greater than my financial statements” and later told him he should be “shameful”.
“People like you are going to turn around and try to bring me down and hurt me,” Mr. Trump told Wallace.
The testimony pushed Mr. Trump away from his campaign and into the courtroom he controls. Mr. Trump, 77, said the deeply personal nature of the trial and his obsession with wealth added to his testimony, which has become a hallmark of his popularity.
Mr. Trump is fighting Ms. James’s civil suit against four other criminal charges. While the issue has been a distraction during his third White House run, Mr. Trump’s leadership has grown. He cast himself as a political martyr to the attacks of Democrats like Ms. James and Judge Ingoron.
Speaking to reporters after the testimony, Mr. James said Mr. Trump had been “insulted” and “slandered” but that “the evidence shows that he has in fact falsely inflated his assets to enrich himself and his family.”
“In 33 years, I’ve never had a better witness,” said Christopher M. Keese, Mr. Trump’s lawyer.
Even before Ms. James’s case went to trial, Judge Ingoro ruled that Mr. Trump’s financial statements were fraudulent.
The trial will decide the punishment. Ms. James wants Mr. Trump to pay a $250 million fine, be fired from his company and permanently banned from the New York real estate world.
On Monday, Mr. Wallace deplored the way the former president turned to the judge and accepted Ms. James’s central argument before any evidence was presented in court when Mr. Wallace questioned Mr. Trump: “You’re admitting this political hack to that, and that’s unfortunate.”
“Is it done?” A parent asked Mr. Wallace how they would ask a child to end a tantrum.
“Done,” Mr. Trump replied, and the questioning continued.
During roughly four hours of testimony, Mr. Trump alternately accepted and abdicated responsibility. When Mr Wallace asked how he checked the financial statements were correct, he passed the money on to finance officers and external auditors, saying: “I gave two people general authority to work with a very expensive accounting firm.
Mr. Trump added, but he didn’t give up completely: “I said, ‘Prepare the statements to make the accounting firm happy.’
Repeatedly, Mr. Wallace drew simple questions about whether Mr. Trump would rely on banks to support him on the budget. Mr. Trump made sure, without seeming to realize, that the questioning was to the point, something important to show Ms. James’s lawyers.
Nor could he resist exaggerating precisely the fashion that made him vulnerable to the Attorney General’s claim. When asked how big the triplex in Trump Tower was, he first gave the correct answer: 11,000 square feet. He said 12,000, seemingly unable to stop himself. Then there is 13,000.
Mr Trump said he instructed his staff to drop the value of his Westchester County, N.Y., estate, Seven Springs, because they “thought it was too high”, further evidence of his involvement in the financial disclosures.
While that seemed to diminish Mr. Trump’s task on the stand — to distance himself from speculation about his wealth — the testimony helped him.
Mr. Trump has offered a tutorial on real estate valuations, where a year’s cash flow declines may not reduce the overall value of a headquarters building in the Financial District. And he pointed out that the banks he was accused of defrauding made money, noting that there were few victims.
He also talked about limiting periods.
Mr. Trump said he had approved the estimate for the office building when asked, not because he had approved it, and he had not ordered anyone to change it. Asked if it was based on real and accurate information, the former president replied, “I hope so.”
Mr. Trump has testified that he has an opinion about the value of his properties, particularly his Florida holdings. “I thought Mar-a-Lago was overrated, but I didn’t do anything,” he said. “I let it be.”
But his broad answer irritated the judge. As Mr. Trump spoke fondly of Mar-a-Lago, calling it “beautiful” and “successful,” Judge Ingoro looked up at the ceiling. Justice Ingoro rolled his eyes every time Mr. Trump spoke.
After Mr Trump referred to Aberdeen as the oil capital of Europe, Judge Ingoro shouted: “Irrelevant, irrelevant. Answer the question.”
In a criminal case, a jury or judge cannot hold the accused unwilling to answer questions put to him. But this is a civil case, and the rules are different: A judge can make what’s called an “adverse inference”—an unfortunate assumption about why the defendant won’t answer.
At one point on Monday, the judge, fed up with Mr Trump’s non-responsive responses, threatened to excuse the former president from his stand and assume the worst as to why he would not answer.
Mr. Kissem, Mr. Trump’s lawyer, has repeatedly appealed to Mr. Trump’s lawyer, Judge Ingoron, to oversee the former president. As Mr Trump smacked his lips and poked his shoulders, Mr Keese replied that Mr Trump’s stature – as the “former and soon-to-be chief executive of the United States” – exempted him.
“To Mr. Kise, can you control your client? This is not a political rally,” Judge Ingoron said during the opening of the witness stand, “We will be here forever, and we will do nothing.”
At the end of the day, the judge was relieved when Mr. Trump rose to leave the stand. He turned to the former president and extended his left hand in a wave of farewell.
Kate Christobek, Maggie Haberman, Nate Schweber, Lisette Cruz, Claire Fahy And Susan Craig Contribution reporting.