The New York judge presiding over former President Donald Trump’s jury-free fraud trial is a lifelong Democratic donor who has spent thousands of dollars on partisan political contributions, according to campaign finance records.
Judge Arthur Engoron, who attracted ire on Monday after he appeared to pose for cameras during the trial, has contributed exclusively to Democrats over the past 25 years, most of them directly to his local Democratic Party committees. New York’s campaign finance database shows Engoron has contributed over $5,000 to candidates and committees, including most recently in 2018 to the Manhattan Democrats.
Engoron has unique control over Trump’s legal fate. New York’s case against Trump is being carried out as a bench trial, meaning he will not only preside over the case, but will also determine guilt and sentencing. Engoron ruled last week that no trial was needed to determine that Trump had consistently committed fraud by overstating the value of his assets, and revoked Trump’s licenses to operate his New York properties.
Now the state wants Engoron to impose a massive $250 million penalty, and permanently banish Trump from doing business in New York.
Trump last week called Engoron a “deranged, Trump-hating judge” who should be disbarred. During a break in the proceedings on Monday, the former president complained that Engoron had already made up his mind on the case.
“We’re going to be here for months with a judge that already made up his mind. It’s ridiculous,” Trump said. “He’s a Democrat judge. He’s an operative. And it’s ridiculous.”
Contribution records show Engoron has contributed only to Democrats. Though most of his contributions went to local Democratic committees, he has also contributed to Democratic candidates such as former New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, former Governor David Paterson, and several state lawmakers.
The partisan contributions will likely fuel allegations that this case is being brought for political reasons. Trump’s supporters argued on Monday after the footage of Engoron smiling in court that the New York justice system was being weaponized against political enemies.
“To the Left, there are only allies or enemies,” said Stephen Miller, a former adviser in Trump’s White House. “And the more they judge someone the latter, the more they will weaponize the ‘justice’ system against them. This is our brave new world.”
“I’ve never seen anything more inappropriate in my life,” Jesse Binnall, an attorney for Trump but not in the New York fraud case, said during an appearance on Newsmax.
Legal commentator Jonathan Turley also questioned the political motive behind Engoron’s decision to allow cameras in the room in the first place.
“People looking at this picture right now will be either filled with rage or thrilled, and that’s a problem,” Turley said as footage rolled that showed the jovial judge smiling in court. “They’re insisting this trial occur during an election. Many people find it troubling.”
Jonathan Turley is "surprised" to see Trump on camera in the courtroom.
"People looking at this picture right now will be either filled with rage or thrilled and that's a problem. They're insisting this trial occur during an election. Many people find it troubling." pic.twitter.com/fFfc4HtbHy
— Citizen Free Press (@CitizenFreePres) October 2, 2023
Trump holds a commanding lead in the Republican primary, and is widely expected to be the party’s candidate in 2024. He is also facing legal trouble across the country, including a federal probe related to his handling of classified documents, and charges in Georgia based on claims that he violated the state’s anti-racketeering law through his attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Engoron in 2022 said Trump invited legal cases against him because he was “just a bad guy.”
A spokesman for the court did not respond to a request for comment on the donations.