NATIONAL NEWS

Woman arrested after trying to get close to Trump at New York trial; she says she’s a supporter

Oct 18, 2023, 9:57 AM | Updated: 3:20 pm

NEW YORK (AP) — A spectator at Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial was arrested Wednesday after standing up in the middle of testimony and walking toward the front of the courtroom where the former president sat.

The woman expressed a desire to aid Trump, and the court system said that neither he nor anyone else at the trial was ever in danger. The ex-president and 2024 GOP front-runner showed no reaction in court and later told reporters he wasn’t aware of the episode that had unfolded behind him.

“Who got arrested?” Trump asked. “We didn’t know anything about it.”

The woman, later identified as a court system employee, retreated after a court officer told her to return to her seat. A short time later, officers escorted her out and arrested her on a contempt charge for disrupting a court proceeding, court spokesperson Lucian Chalfen said.

Chalfen said the woman had been yelling out to Trump that she wanted to help him, though reporters in the courtroom did not hear her raise her voice. She was later heard screaming in the courthouse lobby as officers removed her from the building.

Outside the courtroom, the woman was seen on an NBC camera telling court officers: “You’re scaring me, and I have a right to be here. I’m an American citizen, and I’m also a court employee. I’m also just here to support Donald Trump.”

She went on to say that she had been “peacefully watching this proceeding” and had complied when a court officer told her not to cause “any more problems.”

Chalfen said the woman, whose name wasn’t released, has been placed on administrative leave and barred from entering state courts while authorities investigate.

The trial went on, albeit with one other unusual moment — this one after Trump threw up his hands in apparent frustration and conferred animatedly with his lawyers while real estate appraiser Doug Larson testified about his interactions with a Trump company executive.

State lawyer Kevin Wallace asked Judge Arthur Engoron to ask the defense to “stop commenting during the witness’ testimony,” adding that the “exhortations” were audible on the witness’ side of the room. The judge then asked everyone to keep their voices down, “particularly if it’s meant to influence the testimony.”

The case, brought by New York Attorney General Letitia James, 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.

James maintains that Trump’s financial statements were key to securing deals and loans, and witnesses and evidence presented at trial have indicated that the documents were a factor.

For example, a 2015 offer to refinance a Trump-owned Wall Street building came with terms that included “delivery of financial statements (including tax returns)” from Trump, according to a document shown in court Wednesday.

While the deal was in the works, the Trump Organization sent prospective lender Ladder Capital paper copies of Trump’s financial statements and personal tax returns, Ladder executive Jack Weisselberg testified, adding that a Trump executive messaged him about when to expect the documents.

“I think they were concerned about confidentiality, and they wanted to make sure it was going directly into my hands,” said Weisselberg, who’s the son of former longtime Trump Organization finance chief Allen Weisselberg.

Trump denies all James’ allegations. He says his assets were actually worth far more than claimed on his statements, which came with disclaimers that he portrays as telling people to vet the numbers themselves.

Engoron will decide the case, not a jury, because state law doesn’t allow one in this type of lawsuit.

With Trump voluntarily attending the trial for a second straight day — his fifth overall — his lawyers strove to undercut the state’s claims that his top corporate deputies played games to inflate the values of his properties and pad his bottom line.

In a series of questions, Trump lawyer Lazaro Fields sought to establish that Larson had, at one point, undershot the projected 2015 value of the Wall Street office building by $114 million. Larson said the “values were not wrong — it’s what we knew at the time.”

Trump threw up his hands during the exchange.

Larson had testified Tuesday that he never consulted with or gave permission for the Trump Organization’s former controller, Jeffrey McConney, to cite him as an outside expert in the valuation spreadsheets he used to create Trump’s financial statements.

Fields on Wednesday accused Larson of lying, pointing to a decade-old email exchange between McConney and the appraiser.

That touched off an angry back-and-forth between the defense and state sides, with Trump lawyer Christopher Kise suggesting that Larson could risk perjuring himself and needed to be advised about his rights against self-incrimination. State lawyer Colleen Faherty called Kise’s comments “witness intimidation.”

Ultimately, Engoron allowed Larson to return and answer the question with no legal warning. Larson said he didn’t recall the email.

Asked again whether he understood that McConney had asked for his input in order to carry out valuations, a weary Larson said: “That’s what it appears.”

During a court break, Trump railed that “the government lied.”

“They didn’t reveal all the evidence that made me totally innocent of anything that they say,” added Trump, who has repeatedly cast the case as part of a political attack by James and other Democrats who want to keep him from returning to the White House.

James said outside the courtroom that “none of his behavior, which can best be described as performative, will change what’s happening in the courtroom.”

“I will not give in. I will not give up. I will only serve justice and enforce the law,” she said.

Engoron, a Democrat, has issued a limited gag order barring participants in the case from disparaging members of his staff. The order came after Trump maligned the judge’s law clerk on social media on the trial’s second day.

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Associated Press writer Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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