New York: Donald Trump ignored warnings from the judge in his New York civil fraud trial Thursday and turned closing arguments into an election campaign attack, claiming that prosecutors are out to stop his political comeback.
Prosecutors are demanding $370 million from Trump over fraud allegations - and to bar him from conducting business in the state where he made his name as a celebrity real estate tycoon.
Trump had sought to deliver full closing arguments himself, but permission was denied when he failed to sign off on restrictions aimed at stopping him from using the courtroom as an electioneering platform.
Judge Arthur Engoron then allowed Trump to make brief additional comments after his lawyer had spoken - again insisting that the Republican presidential candidate and former president respect courtroom rules.
Trump almost immediately launched into a bitter attack on the New York state attorney general, saying, "They want to make sure I never win again. The (attorney general) hates Trump... and if I can't talk about that it's a disservice."
Engoron attempted to interrupt Trump with a warning to wrap up his statement and Trump responded: "You have your own agenda, you can't listen for more than one minute."
Engoron told Trump's lawyer to "control your client."
The trial is one of multiple criminal and civil cases Trump faces as he seeks to return to the White House, ranging from a rape allegation to conspiring to overturn the 2020 election result.
He is accused of fraudulently inflating the value of his properties in order to obtain favorable bank loans.
"The myriad deceptive schemes they employed to inflate asset values and conceal facts were so outrageous that they belie innocent explanation," New York Attorney General Letitia James's office said in a filing.
If found liable, the amount to be paid by Trump and his companies will be revealed in the judge's final order, for which no date has been confirmed.
As the case is civil rather than criminal, there is no threat of jail time.
In one example given to the court, James's team alleged that Trump valued Mar-a-Lago, his exclusive Florida club, by using "asking prices," rather than actual sales prices, for a comparison.
"From 2011-2015 defendants added a 30 percent premium because the property was a 'completed (commercial) facility,'" the filing said.
But Trump's lawyer Chris Kise said that "there is no clear and present evidence establishing intent by Donald Trump."
"Their case doesn't make common sense," he said.
Kise acknowledged there could be errors in Trump's corporate financial statements but none "lead to the conclusion there was fraud."
"You just cannot allow the attorney general to pursue a victimless fraud... and seek the corporate death penalty," Kise said calling the sum sought "speculation."
A news helicopter hovered over the packed court and a small group of anti-Trump protesters gathered outside, chanting "no dictators in the USA."
Trump, as usual making the most of heavy media interest, told reporters he was being subjected to a "witch hunt."
In court, he said he was an "innocent man" being "persecuted."
Courtroom or campaign?
Trump is scheduled to go on trial in Washington in March for conspiring to overturn the results of the 2020 election, and in Florida in May on charges of taking troves of highly secret documents in his personal belongings when he left the presidency.
The twice-impeached former president also faces racketeering charges in Georgia for allegedly conspiring to upend the election results in the southern state after his 2020 defeat by Democrat Joe Biden.
Trump is appealing a ruling by Colorado's highest court that would keep him off the presidential primary ballot in the state because of his role in the January 6, 2021 Capitol riots by his supporters.