Trump Courtroom Conundrum: Is It Better to Be Seen as a Liar or a Loser?

Former US President Donald Trump speaks to members of the media after testifying in his civil fraud trial at the New York State Supreme Court in New York City on November 6, 2023. (Photo by ADAM GRAY/AFP via Getty Images)

DONALD TRUMP TOOK THE WITNESS STAND on Monday, stunning some with his admissions about his involvement in the false documentation of the value of his real estate properties (a bid to normalize illegality as merely what people do in the fast world of finance)—but surprising no one with his vitriol, atmospherics, and lies.

Trump’s testimony was immediately followed by an email plea to supporters for money, on the ironic rationale that “America has descended into utter tyranny” and that “right before our very eyes, our once beautiful Republic is being transformed into a Marxist tin-pot dictatorship where Crooked Joe’s regime has weaponized the legal system against not only a former president (your favorite, I might add), but against the very citizens he swore an oath to protect.” [Italics in original.]


Of course, for anyone with a thinking brain and a modicum of courage, the psychological projection in this statement is crystal clear. As the Washington Post disturbingly reported on Monday, the same day that Trump testified about the “witch hunt” of the American judicial system, it is Trump who has pledged to use the power of four more years in office to “go after” his political rivals—including his former chief of staff John F. Kelly, his former attorney general Bill Barr, his former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley, and President Joe Biden and his family—with the prosecutorial power of the Department of Justice. He also plans to populate top attorney slots within the vast federal bureaucracy with lawyers who are willing to flout the rule of law in abject fidelity to him.

It’s patently obvious that Judge Arthur Engoron is going to rule against him once the trial concludes (he already entered a judgment in September holding that Trump committed fraud and that his businesses must cease to legally exist as a result). This means that Letitia James’s civil case may wind up forcing Trump to liquidate his gleaming Trump-emblazoned properties in Manhattan (and maybe others, perhaps even his infamous Mar-a-Lago resort) to pay back what he owes for duping investors and insurance companies through false valuations of his holdings.

The court’s September ruling that Trump committed fraud did not require a finding of an intent to deceive investors or what’s known as “materiality”—that is, a showing that the lies actually mattered to the banks. Those issues are on trial now. But the decider is not a jury who might be influenced by Trump’s baseless claims of victimization and his vile histrionics about racism (yes, Trump accused James, an African American, of that hideousness). It’s Engoron who gets to decide it all in the wake of Trump’s personal gibes at him in open court today—not to mention Trump’s troubling attacks on the judge and his law clerk on his Truth Social site. It’s not going to be pretty for DJT.

While the Manhattan civil trial cannot result in Trump behind bars, it is arguably the trial that strikes most directly at his ego—not to mention his bank account.

Judge Engoron understands that this is no regular civil litigant, and the fact that Trump has lured so many lawyers onto the path of trashing their professional careers in deference to his malevolence (even to the point of facing criminal charges, as has happened in the Fulton County, Georgia criminal case)—is disturbing.

For now, Trump’s lies, and his depicting James’s legitimate and formidable legal case against him as an authoritarian “witch hunt,” will fall on deaf ears within the judicial system. Engoron has been unflinching in his refusal to cower, instead adhering to the bedrock foundations of our legal system and democracy itself: Facts. Law. Accountability.

Let’s hope he’s right.

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