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Judge fines Donald Trump $5,000 after post maligning court staffer is found on campaign website

Judge Arthur Engoron reserved the right to hold Trump in contempt — and possibly even put him in jail — if he continued to violate a gag order

Former U.S. President Donald Trump exiting the courtroom in New York, U.S., October 18, 2023.
Former U.S. President Donald Trump exiting the courtroom in New York, U.S., October 18, 2023.BRENDAN MCDERMID (REUTERS)

Former President Donald Trump was fined $5,000 on Friday after a disparaging social media post about a key court staffer in his New York civil fraud case was allowed to linger on his campaign website after the judge ordered it deleted.

Judge Arthur Engoron avoided holding Trump in contempt, for now, but reserved the right to do so — and possibly even put him in jail — if he continued to violate a gag order barring parties in the case from personal attacks on court staff. Engoron said in a written ruling that he is “way beyond the ‘warning’ stage,” but decided on a nominal fine because Trump’s lawyers said the website’s retention of the post was inadvertent and was a “first time violation.”

Earlier, an incensed Engoron said the failure to delete the post from the website was a “blatant violation” of his Oct. 3 order, which required Trump to delete the offending message. Trump lawyer Christopher Kise blamed the “very large machine” of Trump’s presidential campaign for allowing his deleted social media post to remain on his website, calling it an unintentional oversight.

Trump, the front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, wasn’t in court Friday. He’d returned to the trial Tuesday and Wednesday after attending the first three days in early October, but skipped the rest of the week.

Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial judge threatened Friday to hold him in contempt, raising the possibility of fining or even jailing the former president because his disparaging social media post about a key court staffer remained visible for weeks on his campaign website after the judge ordered it deleted. Outside court this week, he aimed his enmity at Engoron and New York Attorney General Letitia James, whose fraud lawsuit is being decided at the civil trial. Neither are covered by Engoron’s gag order.

Trump lawyer Christopher Kise blamed the “very large machine” of Trump’s presidential campaign for allowing a version of his deleted social media post to remain on his website, calling it an unintentional oversight. The post was removed from the website late Thursday after Engoron flagged it to Trump’s lawyers.

Engoron, however, said the buck ultimately stops with Trump — even if it was someone on his campaign who failed to remove the offending post. “I’ll take this under advisement,” Engoron said after Kise explained the mechanics of how Trump’s post was able to remain online. “But I want to be clear that Donald Trump is still responsible for the large machine even if it’s a large machine.”

Engoron issued a limited gag order on Oct. 3 barring all participants in the case not to smear court personnel after Trump publicly maligned the judge’s principal law clerk, Allison Greenfield, in what Engoron deemed a “disparaging, untrue and personally identifying” Truth Social post. The judge ordered Trump to delete the post, which he did, and warned of “serious sanctions” for violations.

The post included a photo of Greenfield, posing with Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., at a public event. Trump wrote that it was “disgraceful” that Greenfield was working with Engoron on the case.

Before Trump deleted the post from his Truth Social platform, as ordered, his campaign copied the message into an email blast. That email, with the subject line “ICYMI,” was automatically archived on Trump’s website, Kise said.

The email was sent to about 25,800 recipients on the campaign’s media list and opened by about 6,700 of them, Kise told Engoron after obtaining the statistics at the morning break. In all, only 3,700 people viewed the post on Trump’s campaign website, the lawyer said.

“What happened appears truly inadvertent,” Kise said. The lawyer pleaded ignorance to the technological complexities involved in amplifying Trump’s social media posts and public statements, calling the archiving “an unfortunate part of the campaign process.” “President Trump has not made any statements of any kind about court staff, has abided by the order completely, but it appears no one also took down” the post from the website, Kise explained.

New York law allows judges to impose fines or imprisonment as punishment for contempt. Last year, Engoron held Trump in contempt and fined him $110,000 for being slow to respond to a subpoena in the investigation that led to the lawsuit.

James’ lawsuit accuses Trump and his company of duping banks and insurers by giving them heavily inflated statements of Trump’s net worth and asset values. Engoron has already ruled that Trump and his company committed fraud, but the trial involves remaining claims of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records.

Trump denies wrongdoing, arguing that a disclaimer on his financial statements absolves him of any culpability and that some of his assets are worth far more than what’s listed on the documents. He’s called the trial a “sham,” a “scam,” and “a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time.”

The contempt discussion brought unexpected drama to a sleepy Friday ahead of what’s shaping up to be a busy week at the Manhattan trial. Trump’s onetime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, now a key state witness, said he’ll likely be on the witness stand Tuesday after postponing this week because of a health issue.

On Friday, property appraiser David McArdle resumed his testimony about Trump’s son Eric Trump’s “lofty ideas” for valuing some of his father’s properties and development plans. A Trump Organization executive who worked on Trump’s 2016 financial statement also testified and will resume Monday.

Trump and his two eldest sons, Eric and Donald Trump Jr., are expected to testify in a few weeks. His daughter, Ivanka Trump, is fighting a subpoena for her testimony. Engoron set a hearing on that dispute for next week.

Ivanka Trump was initially a defendant, but an appeals court dropped her from the case in June after finding that claims against her were outside the statute of limitations. Her lawyer argued in court papers Thursday that state lawyers failed to properly serve her subpoena and that she shouldn’t be forced to testify because she isn’t a party to the case and lives outside the court’s New York jurisdiction.

James’ office never questioned Ivanka Trump at a deposition and is now “effectively trying to force her back into this case,” her lawyer, Bennet Moskowitz, wrote.

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