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Trump can't deliver closing argument in New York civil fraud trial, judge rules

Testimony concludes in Trump fraud trial
Testimony concludes in Trump civil fraud trial 05:59

Former President Donald Trump will not be allowed to deliver his own closing argument in his civil fraud trial in New York on Thursday, the judge overseeing the case said.

Judge Arthur Engoron told Trump's attorneys that the former president must submit to certain restrictions if he wished to address the court, which Trump's team did not agree to. The judge said that Trump would have to limit his statement in court to "what is permissible in a counsel's closing argument, that is, commentary on the relevant, material facts that are in evidence, and application of the relevant law to those facts."

An email thread added to the case's docket Wednesday showed negotiations between Engoron and Trump's attorneys. After extending his deadline for a response, Engoron wrote Wednesday afternoon that Trump would not be allowed to speak.

"Not having heard from you by the third extended deadline (noon today), I assume that Mr. Trump will not agree to the reasonable, lawful limits I have imposed as a precondition to giving a closing statement above and beyond those given by his attorneys, and that, therefore, he will not be speaking in court tomorrow," the judge wrote.

The fight over closing arguments

Former President Donald Trump leaves the New York State Supreme Court during the civil fraud trial against the Trump Organization in New York on Dec. 7, 2023.
Former President Donald Trump leaves the New York State Supreme Court during the civil fraud trial against the Trump Organization in New York on Dec. 7, 2023.  TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP via Getty Images

Closings are the last opportunity to present legal arguments, and they are almost always conducted by lawyers, unless a defendant has chosen to represent themselves. Engoron pointed out that whether Trump would be allowed to speak was "completely at my discretion" under New York state law.

In a message to the former president's legal team and lawyers from the New York Attorney General's Office on Jan. 5, Engoron laid out the conditions that Trump must adhere to if he wished to address the court.

"He may not seek to introduce new evidence. He may not 'testify.' He may not comment on irrelevant matters. In particular, and without limitation, he may not deliver a campaign speech, and he may not impugn myself, my staff, plaintiff, plaintiff's staff, or the New York State Court System, none of which is relevant to this case," Engoron wrote, later calling the limits "reasonable" and "lawful."

In his replies to Engoron, Trump attorney Christopher Kise complained about the restrictions the judge imposed.

"This is very unfair, your Honor. You are not allowing President Trump, who has been wrongfully demeaned and belittled by an out of control, politically motivated Attorney General, to speak about the things that must be spoken about," Kise wrote Wednesday morning.

The emails also showed that the attorney general's office opposed the plan for Trump to present some of the closing argument.

Trump attorney Alina Habba responded tersely when CBS News asked for comment on Engoron's decision to bar Trump from speaking. "Is anyone surprised anymore?" Habba said.

The closing arguments will be the Trump team's last chance to convince Engoron, who has already found Trump and his company liable for fraud, to spare the defendants hundreds of millions in fines and salvage Trump's ability to do business in New York.

It's unusual for a defendant to speak during closing arguments, especially when they have lawyers working for them, according to former Manhattan prosecutor Diana Florence. She said the legal arguments in the court record are important for appeals, and a lawyer understands "the issues in the case" and wants "to set up the best appeal possible."

"Trump's doing this for the court of public opinion and for the MAGA community, and that may not be consistent with what's in his best legal interest in this particular case," Florence said.

The Trump fraud trial

The trial, which began Oct. 2, was marked by months of courtroom outbursts and confrontations pitting Trump and his team of attorneys against lawyers for New York Attorney General Letitia James, witnesses on the stand, Engoron and even Engoron's law clerk. At stake in the case is the fate of the Trump Organization in New York, where it was founded and grew into an empire.

Engoron found Trump, the company, his two adult sons and two other executives liable for fraud in a September pretrial ruling. He ordered many of the company's business certificates to be canceled, and for much of the company — which owns some of the most well-known towers and properties in New York — to be dissolved under the eye of an independent receiver. 

Much of that ruling was put on hold during the trial, which continued on accusations related to insurance fraud, falsification of business records, and conspiracy. James' office is also seeking a $370 million fine, a lifetime ban preventing Trump from ever again working in New York real estate, and a five-year ban for his sons Eric and Donald Trump Jr.

Trump and his co-defendants have denied all wrongdoing, and accuse James of pursuing the case to harm Trump politically.

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