The former president has attended several days of trial testimony, including when Michael Cohen, his former fixer-turned-nemesis, testified against him. Trump testified on Nov. 6 as James’s office was presenting its case, a combative appearance in which New York State Supreme Court Judge Arthur Engoron repeatedly admonished him to answer questions directly and avoid making long-winded political statements.
Trump is expected to be called to the stand as a defense witness on Monday, with trial testimony concluding shortly after that. Engoron is expected to decide this part of the case in early 2024. Because it is a civil trial and not a criminal matter, the defendants do not face jail time.
Trump separately has been charged in four criminal cases — involving allegations of election obstruction, mishandling of classified documents and attempting to cover up a hush money payment during the 2016 presidential campaign — and several trials are scheduled for next year.
In the $250 million New York civil case, Engoron has ruled that Trump and his company committed fraud. The trial is exploring whether specific illegal acts were committed as part of that fraud and will determine any potential penalties.
Trump’s latest courtroom appearance came a day after the fourth Republican presidential debate. He skipped the showdown in keeping with his practice this year of refusing to participate in such events. With less than six weeks until the first nominating contest, Trump leads the polls in the GOP race, besting his closest competitors by wide margins in key early states and nationally.
The debate Wednesday featured four candidates who spent much of their time tussling with one another and landed few blows against Trump. With little time left to dent his wide lead before party primaries and caucuses begin, the candidates are essentially in a battle for a distant second, at least for the moment.
Trump has used the New York civil trial as well as the 91 criminal charges he faces as a rallying cry in the campaign, portraying himself without evidence as the victim of an unjust political hit job. Such tactics have resonated with the GOP base, according to polling, as well as interviews with voters and others.
Increasingly, the lines between Trump’s strategy for navigating his civil and criminal cases and his campaign blueprint have blurred. He has used courtroom appearances to amplify grievances and other messages he frequently brings up on the trail, and to draw attention away from his rivals.
And at campaign events, Trump often references his legal situation. Even as he skipped the debate, he has been a focal point in the race this week.
On Tuesday, he drew a fresh round of concern from some critics about his second-term plans after he said during a Fox News town hall gathering that if he is reelected he would not be a dictator, “except for Day 1,” before talking about drilling for oil and closing the border.