Former President Trump Showed Up for His Civil Fraud Case — But Not for the Reasons He Claimed
When former President Donald Trump appeared in the first days of his New York civil fraud case on October 2, many saw it as a sign of his serious concern regarding Attorney General Letitia James’s accusations — which called into question the legitimacy of his wealth and put the entire Trump Organization at risk.
But, Trump’s presence in the New York courtroom may have been more about avoiding his deposition in another case rather than protecting his own image.
In April 2023, Trump filed a $500 million lawsuit against Michael Cohen in Florida’s federal court, alleging that Cohen had breached their contractual obligations. However, Trump abruptly dropped the case, which suggests that Cohen may have ultimately “Trumped” Trump in the courts.
Cohen argued that Trump’s lawsuit was a form of witness intimidation, aimed at coercing him into dropping his testimony in the ongoing New York cases. While Cohen continues to act as a witness against Trump, it seems that Trump was the one who felt intimidated — and ultimately chose to remain silent.
Delay, Delay, Delay is the Trump Way
Last Sunday night, when Trump posted on his Twitter-like social network, “I’m going to Court tomorrow morning to fight for my name and reputation,” most outlets took that statement at face value and didn’t pursue the alternate reasons as to why Trump was attending his court case in person.
Trump has a history of delaying his deposition in the Florida case against Cohen, as he rescheduled the original deposition of September 6 to October 3, citing the unavailability of a specific lawyer. Less than a week before his rescheduled deposition of October 3, Trump informed the Florida federal judge that he needed to be present for his New York trial.
Despite Trump having chosen the date of October 3 — and knowing that this was the start of his New York fraud case — at the end of September, Trump once again requested to delay the deposition.
As a result, his deposition in Florida was pushed ahead, this time to October 9. The court order specified “No further continuances will be granted with respect to this deposition.”
Trump had run out of runway.
However, it was recently revealed that the October 9 deposition won’t be taking place either — since Trump suddenly dropped the allegations against Cohen altogether.
While delaying proceedings is a common defense strategy, it is unusual for a plaintiff to employ this tactic. One of the classic moves for a defense is to delay, delay, delay, and, it also appears to be a mantra for Trump in his cases. But in the Michael Cohen lawsuit, Trump is not the defendant, so why the need to delay, delay, delay?
Fear of Incrimination
Bloomberg reported in August that Trump’s legal team feared that he would incriminate himself in a deposition — and tried to keep documents private. Michael Cohen had successfully boxed Trump in by forcing him to speak under oath and with this, Cohen and his legal team could ask questions about confidential documents, and anything Trump said could — and would — be held against him.
“If Donald was concerned that release of this information could or will cause him damage in the ongoing criminal investigations, he should have thought twice about bringing the lawsuit in the first place,” Cohen said at the time. “You can’t have it both ways.”
While Trump could plead the fifth in a trial where he was the defendant, how would he make his case to win $500 million from Cohen while refusing to speak? He would have to rely on facts, but, Trump often becomes squirrelly when forced to rely on those.
It was a pickle.
Instead of taking Trump at his word — that he was simply attending the NY fraud trial to fight for his name and reputation — it seems evident that he was fleeing Florida, where Cohen was forcing him to provide sworn testimony.
Surprisingly enough, Trump just couldn’t manage to sit through the trial for five whole days. His deposition had been rescheduled for October 9, due to his assurances that he planned to attend the NY trial in person for the entire week.
When Trump left New York midday on Wednesday, Michael Cohen gave an interview where he said that he would be informing a federal judge about Trump’s decision to leave his trial early. This would make it clear to the judge that Trump was using the New York trial as an excuse to avoid being deposed by Cohen’s legal team — in violation of what Trump presented to the court.
On Thursday morning, Cohen got to declare checkmate when, just before 9 a.m., in a one-sentence filing, Trump wrote to the Florida court, “he is voluntarily dismissing this action without prejudice.”
Trump’s Latest Form of Witness Intimidation
Michael Cohen deftly navigated for Trump to drop the case, but why did Trump bring about the case at all? Cohen believes that this was yet another form of witness intimidation — which Trump seems to regularly engage in through various tactics.
In May 2023, Reuters reported, “Michael Cohen asked a court to throw out [Trump’s] $500 million lawsuit against him, calling it an ‘abusive act of pure retaliation and witness intimidation.’”
However, the case was not thrown out in May, possibly because establishing that it was witness intimidation would be difficult. But with his rapid about-face on Thursday, Cohen’s legal team claimed that Trump himself had ultimately proved them right.
On Friday, Cohen’s attorney, E. Danya Perry, released a statement saying, “This is a great win for Michael and for our team, and it confirms what we’ve said from the beginning: this was a baseless lawsuit solely brought to retaliate against our client for his willingness to testify truthfully against Trump, including before Congress, in the NY Attorney General’s fraud suit, and in the NY District Attorney’s criminal case related to Trump’s hush money payments. We stood up to Mr. Trump’s threats, and last night he ran scared to avoid me deposing him on Monday.”
Trump’s Twisted Words
In one of his impromptu news conferences outside of the courtroom last week, Trump declared, “I’d rather be right now in Iowa.”
Trump turned the court into a circus, as he regularly converted the hallway outside of the courtroom into a stage and capitalized on his appearance in Manhattan — to use it as a platform for fundraising, campaigning and to paint himself as the victim.
“I’m here, stuck here, and I can’t campaign. I’d rather be right now in Iowa. I’d rather be in New Hampshire or South Carolina or Ohio or a lot of other places. But I’m stuck here because I have a corrupt attorney general that communicates with the DOJ in Washington to keep me nice and busy,” Trump said.
In actuality, Trump being stuck in a New York courtroom was based on a situation of his own making. He sued Michael Cohen, scheduled his deposition for the Cohen trial in Florida to coincide with the opening days of his New York fraud trial and his only excuse to get out of speaking under oath was to make himself present in New York.
It‘s evident that Trump keeps himself, the courts and his fleet of lawyers nice and busy.
Shortly after making remarks about “being stuck,” Trump left. Not for Iowa, but for Florida, presumably to cancel his Michael Cohen lawsuit, as it was dropped the next day.
As Attorney General James declared on Wednesday afternoon, “Mr. Trump is no longer here. The Donald Trump show is over.”
A Witness Not Intimidated
If Trump filed his $500 million lawsuit against Cohen in Florida with the intent of witness intimidation — as Cohen claimed — it backfired. The only witness intimidated is Trump himself.
Nothing is stopping Cohen, who remains on Attorney General Letitia James’s witness list and seems ready and willing to assist in all of the other ongoing investigations and cases against Trump.
The one thing that Trump doesn’t want to talk about is how he was outmaneuvered by Cohen in court. Maybe because it doesn’t bode well for his ability to outmaneuver the NY Attorney General, NY District Attorney, Fulton County, Georgia’s DA or a Special Prosecutor in his other upcoming cases.
In the end, Cohen is willing to do what he proved Trump would not do: speak under oath.