By Jack Queen
(Reuters) -Donald Trump made a voluntary appearance at his New York civil fraud trial and used it to complain that it is distracting from his campaign to reclaim the White House in 2024.
The former U.S. president and frontrunner for the Republican nomination also took the occasion to criticize a limited gag order imposed by a Washington judge in a separate criminal trial related to his attempts to overturn his 2020 election defeat.
Trump appeared in a New York court on Tuesday for the third week of a civil fraud trial which is centered on allegations that he inflated his net worth to secure more favorable loan terms.
“I should be in Iowa now. I should be in New Hampshire now,” Trump told reporters outside the courtroom, referring to two important states early in a U.S. presidential election campaign.
Trump, however, chose to be at the trial which he is not required to attend. He has repeatedly used his legal woes as a campaign fundraising tool.
Dressed in a dark blue suit and wearing a U.S. flag pin on his lapel, Trump lashed out at the Biden administration and repeated his claim that the case amounted to a political witchhunt.
Trump’s legal troubles have resulted in a surge in money from small donors, helping him roughly match the fundraising pace of Democratic President Joe Biden who is seeking re-election, according to disclosures released on Sunday.
At the civil trial, Trump referred to an order on Monday that bars him from verbally attacking U.S. prosecutors, court staff and potential witnesses in a separate criminal case in which he is accused of trying to overturn his 2020 election loss.
“My speech has been taken away from me. I’m a candidate that’s running for office, and I’m not allowed to speak. This is a railroading,” Trump said.
The order does not apply to the civil case, though Justice Arthur Engoron in that case had earlier imposed a gag order on Trump after the former president attacked a court clerk in a post on his Truth Social platform. The gag order bars Trump from speaking publicly about court staff.
The lawsuit by Democratic New York Attorney General Letitia James alleges Trump reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in ill-gotten savings by overstating the value of his properties in documents he provided to banks.
Donna Kidder, an accountant for the Trump Organization, resumed her testimony Tuesday, describing the organization’s internal bookkeeping practices and preparation of financial statements.
Kidder was followed on the witness stand by real estate appraiser Doug Larson, who the attorney general’s office said valued Trump’s 40 Wall Street property at nearly $200 million less than what he listed on financial documents.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and defended the valuations of his properties, saying the case is a “fraud” and attacking both James and the judge overseeing the case.
Trump told reporters outside the courtroom that the true values of his assets including his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida were “close to 100 times” what James’ office claimed.
Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen, a star witness in the case, is expected to testify next week.
Engoron found in September that Trump had engaged in fraud and ordered the dissolution of companies that control crown jewels of his real estate portfolio, including Trump Tower in Manhattan. That ruling is on hold while Trump appeals.
The trial largely concerns damages. James is seeking at least $250 million in fines, a permanent ban against Trump and his sons Donald Jr and Eric from running businesses in New York and a five-year commercial real estate ban against Trump and the Trump Organization.
(Reporting by Jack Queen in New York;Editing by Noeleen Walder, David Gregorio and Alistair Bell)