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A key congressional ally of former President Donald Trump and someone whose name has been mentioned as a potential running mate has stepped up to lend him a helping hand in his New York civil fraud case.
Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) filed an ethics complaint against Manhattan Superior Court Judge Arthur Engoron, alleging “inappropriate bias and judicial intemperance.”
In a letter to the New York State Commission on Judicial Conduct last week, Stefanik, the House’s No. 3 Republican, blasted Engoron, who has been openly hostile to the former president and his legal team throughout the proceedings.
“This judge’s bizarre behavior has no place in our judicial system, where Judge Engoron is not honoring the defendant’s rights to due process and a fair trial,” Stefanik wrote, asserting that those “serious concerns” are amplified by Trump’s status as the front-runner in the 2024 GOP presidential primary.
According to The Hill, the letter repeats several arguments made by the former president’s legal team as the case, brought by state Attorney General Letitia James, has progressed, including that there were “no victims” in Trump’s myriad of business dealings and that Engoron has unfairly prejudged the case.
The Hill adds:
Before the trial began, Engoron ruled that Trump, the Trump Organization and several executives — including Trump’s adult sons — were liable for fraud. The decision stripped Trump’s business licenses and put some of his iconic properties at risk, though a New York appeals court paused the cancellation of the business licenses until after it hears Trump’s case.
Trump’s behavior toward Engoron began to significantly break down after the judge issued a limited gag order barring the former president or other parties from speaking about the judge’s principal law clerk, whom Trump and his team have decried as biased and “Trump-hating.”
The letter from the New York Republican extensively discusses the clerk, noting her political contributions to Democratic candidates and causes. Simultaneously, while blasting the now-lifted gag order.
“If anyone in America must have the constitutional right to speak out against the judge, his staff, the witnesses, or the process, it’s a defendant going through a process he believes is politicized and weaponized against him,” Stefanik wrote. “To gag a defendant is un-American.”’
James is seeking a $250 million civil penalty and wants to bar Trump and company executives from doing any business in the state.
Stefanik is a rising star in the party and has Trump’s full support. She’s also been mentioned as a potential running mate.
Meanwhile, on Thursday, an appellate court judge in New York handed Trump a legal victory in his civil fraud trial, lifting a gag order imposed on him by Engoron. Judge David Friedman of the state’s intermediate appeals court cited free speech issues in blocking the order.
Engoron imposed the gag order Oct. 3 following Trump’s remarks about his law clerk on the second day of the trial involving New York Attorney General Letitia James’ claims that the former president overvalued his assets to obtain more favorable loan rates. Engoron previously ruled that Trump engaged in fraud, so now Engoron must determine whether to grant her demand for a $250 million fine and a permanent ban on Trump doing business in the state.
The AP noted further:
Engoron later fined Trump $15,000 for violating the gag order and expanded it to include his lawyers after they questioned clerk Allison Greenfield’s prominent role on the bench, where she sits alongside the judge, exchanging notes and advising him during testimony. Friedman’s ruling allows the lawyers to again comment about court staff, as well.
At an emergency hearing Thursday, Friedman questioned Engoron’s authority to police what Trump says outside the courtroom. He also disputed the trial judge’s contention that restricting the 2024 Republican front-runner’s speech was necessary or the right remedy to protect his staff’s safety.
“Considering the constitutional and statutory rights at issue, an interim stay is granted,” Friedman said as he wrote down his decision on a court order.