Trump's right, the system is RIGGED. In his favor.
Imagine being a rich white guy complaining that the legal system is stacked against you.
This free edition of Public Notice is made possible by paid subscribers. If you aren’t one already, please consider signing up. Just click the button below.
On Monday, Donald Trump took the witness stand in his civil fraud trial in New York and proved once again that there is a “two-tiered justice system” in this country … just not in the way that he thinks. In fact, he’s treated far better than most criminal defendants, and has gotten away with behavior which would have gotten anyone not named Donald Trump held in contempt of court.
Trump and his allies have been screaming about a supposed two-tiered justice system since well before New York Attorney General Letitia James launched the investigation into a decade of fraudulent financial statements by Trump and his eponymous family business back in 2019. But the howling intensified when she filed a civil enforcement action in September of 2022, and it reached a fever pitch when Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg indicted Trump last April for falsifying business records to hide the hush money payment to Stormy Daniels.
RELATED FROM PN: Trump's Truth Social page is a riot of witness intimidation
“Knowing they cannot beat President Trump at the ballot box, the Radical Left will now follow the lead of Socialist dictators and reportedly arrest President Trump, the leading Republican candidate for President of the United States,” New York Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik huffed in May.
In June, Trump was indicted in Florida by Special Counsel Jack Smith for stealing classified documents, prompting Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin to tweet in rage, “These charges are unprecedented and it’s a sad day for our country, especially in light of what clearly appears to be a two-tiered justice system where some are selectively prosecuted, and others are not.”
But in fact Trump’s entire defense strategy consists of yelling “Do you even know who I am?” over and over again, while demanding to be accorded special status as the former president and a candidate for office.
“This is an unprecedented case in American history,” his lawyer John Lauro complained in a filing in the DC election interference case. “The incumbent administration has targeted its primary political opponent — and leading candidate in the upcoming presidential election — with criminal prosecution.”
Trump’s legal defenses are farcical
In the documents case, Trump’s lawyers insisted that he be allowed to publish all the nuclear secrets he stole in violation of the Classified Information Procedures Act because “there should simply be no ‘secret’ evidence, nor any facts concealed from public view relative to the prosecution of a leading Presidential candidate by his political opponent.” In the election case, Trump demanded that he be permitted to publicly target witnesses against him and publish discovery materials on Truth Social. He’s currently arguing that a former president is magically immune from criminal liability for conduct committed while in office.
As evidence of this heretofore unheard of immunity, Trump points to the 44 presidents who came before him. Did George Washington wind up in jail after he left office? Case closed.
“Here, 234 years of unbroken historical practice — from 1789 until 2023 — provide compelling evidence that the power to indict a former President for his official acts does not exist,” his lawyers wrote, conveniently eliding the fact that Trump was indicted for obstructing Congress, a separate institution specifically erected to act as a check on the president’s powers.
In short, Trump’s entire legal defense is predicated on the idea that he’s entitled to be treated differently from every other defendant.
“The prosecution would silence President Trump, amid a political campaign where his right to criticize the government is at its zenith, all to avoid a public rebuke of this prosecution,” he roars, in defense of his sacred right to publicly demand General Mark Milley’s execution and warn Mark Meadows that cooperating witnesses are “weaklings and cowards.”
“The Gag Order violates President Trump’s most fundamental First Amendment rights. Even worse, it gives no consideration to the First Amendment rights of President Trump’s audience, the American public, to receive and listen to his speech,” his lawyers argue to the DC Circuit, explicitly premising their argument on Trump’s status as a presidential candidate.
Trump’s behavior on the stand was outrageous
Trump’s egregious conduct in court this week highlights his refusal to behave like a normal defendant.
“He ruled against me without knowing anything about me! He ruled against me and said I was a fraud before he knew anything about me!” Trump shouted on the witness stand, pointing at Justice Arthur Engoron.
“The fraud is on the court, not on me,” he complained, referring to the judge’s pre-trial ruling that the Trump Organization engaged in persistent fraud.
Trump later called AG James, who was sitting in the courtroom, a “political hack.”
“Even yesterday, she’s out there saying, ‘Fraud! Fraud!’ The fraud is her,” he railed, adding that “She doesn’t even know where 40 Wall Street is.”
This last prompted laughter in the courtroom and a derisive tweet from James, who laughed, “Don’t tell, I can see it from my office window.” But a judge would have come down like a ton of bricks on any other defendant who hurled abuse at the court from the witness stand.
Instead Justice Arthur Engoron simply importuned Trump’s lawyer, “Mr. Kise, can you control your client? This is not a political rally.”
A note from Aaron: Working with brilliant contributors like Liz requires resources. To support this work and help make it sustainable, please click the button below and become a paid subscriber.
But Chris Kise has zero intention of reining in his client, who has raised tens of millions of dollars off this lawsuit and posts daily screeds on Truth Social attacking the judge and the prosecutor.
“In my 33 years I have not had a witness testify better,” Kise said after Trump left the stand. “He’s told everyone the facts. Now that the American people know what’s going on, maybe something will change.”
You couldn’t get away with lying under oath like this
On top of the abuse, Trump spewed preposterous lies under oath. For instance, he’s still insisting that Mar-a-Lago is worth upwards of one billion dollars, despite having agreed to massive encumbrances on its future development which decrease its value. As the New Republic notes, Trump signed a deed of development with the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 2002 stating that “the Club and Trump intend to forever extinguish their right to develop or use the Property for any purpose other than club use.”
But on the witness stand Trump was adamant that he still retains the right to subdivide and develop the property.
“‘Intend’ doesn’t mean we will do it,” he smirked.
Later he was confronted with evidence from Forbes Magazine that his former CFO Allen Weisselberg had lied on the witness stand. Trump sidestepped the question, saying, “I have very little respect for Forbes. I haven’t dealt with them for years. I believe they are out of business actually.” In fact, he screamed at Forbes reporter Dan Alexander on Truth Social just a month ago when the magazine dropped him from its Forbes 400 list.
Trump’s lies on Monday included his constant refrain that he has an “IRONCLAD DISCLAIMER CLAUSE!” which immunizes him from consequences for overestimating his net worth by a billion dollars in an effort to get banks to lend him money. The judge already rejected this get-out-of-jail-free card on September 26, noting that New York law places the “onus for accuracy squarely on defendants’ shoulders” as the party in the transaction with more complete knowledge.
“If you want to know about the disclaimer clause, read my opinion again. Or for the first time, perhaps,” the court reminded Trump when he trotted out the disclaimer.
“You’re wrong in the opinion,” Trump retorted, showing once again that he wasn’t going to be bound by any normal standard of behavior. And then he pulled out a piece of paper from his pocket with the rejected disclaimer language on it, saying “I’d love to read this, your honor, if I could, if I’m allowed to do that.”
To be clear, witnesses simply cannot introduce uncorroborated evidence on the stand under direct examination. Trump knows this perfectly well, and so do his lawyers, so it was no surprise that Justice Engoron put the kibosh on this little stunt.
“Shocker. I’m shocked,” Trump muttered sarcastically, affecting to be once again oppressed by a manifestly unfair legal system, stacked against the poor, defenseless former president.
But flagrantly lying on the witness stand and abusing the judge is quintessential two-tier behavior — and you only do it when you’re certain that you’re safely in the tier of people who don’t wind up cooling their heels in jail overnight.
So far this bet has paid off. Trump refused to moderate his behavior, and the only penalty was a paltry $15,000 in fines for defying Justice Engoron’s order not to talk about his law clerk — less than a slap on the wrist for a billionaire. As Mitchell Epner, a litigator at New York’s Rottenberg Lipman Rich, PC, told me, “Donald Trump has the ability, the backing, and the bankroll to dare the court to take him to account. And so far, nobody has.”
But Trump still has four criminal cases left in front of him, so perhaps that luck will run out eventually.
That’s it for this week
We’ll be back with more Monday. If you appreciate this post, please support Public Notice by signing up. Paid subscribers make this work possible.