A lawyer for former President Donald Trump repeatedly interrupted the judge at a contentious hearing on Thursday and grew so heated at times that the law clerk had to remind her several times not to speak over the judge.
The focus of the hearing were a set of subpoenas that New York attorney general Letitia James’ office sent to Trump and his two eldest children, Donald Jr. and Ivanka. They came as part of a wide-ranging investigation into whether the Trump Organization broke banking, tax, and insurance laws. Lawyers for the Trump family asked the judge to quash the subpoenas, arguing among other things that the investigation was politically motivated and that James was improperly conducting a civil and criminal probe.
At one point, Trump’s attorney, Alina Habba, argued that James’ investigation is “invalid” and tainted by political bias because the attorney general publicly criticized Trump.
“Let me just, let’s say this is obvious, but I’m not the attorney disciplinary committee,” New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron said when Habba said the investigation should be shut down. “So some of these ethical questions, they’re not, they’re not in front of me. And I tend to say they’re not part of the case, but I haven’t totally —”
Habba cut in, saying, “Your honor, how could you say that? They are very much a part of this case. You can’t speak to someone based on your hatred for them. You can’t —”
Then the law clerk, Allison Greenfield, interrupted to chastise Habba.
“When the judge speaks, you need to stop speaking,” she said.
“I’m sorry,” Habba replied. “I thought he was done. My apology.”
At another point in the hearing, Habba insisted that Trump did not violate any laws and pointed to the slew of legal and congressional investigations from the past several years into his business and personal life.
While the judge was speaking, Habba again interrupted him to note that “no charges have been brought in all these years.”
The interruption prompted another reminder from Greenfield.
“When the judge speaks, you have to stop speaking,” she told Habba.
Engoron took the interruption in stride, saying, “I appreciate your vigor, shall I say.”
Habba also directly addressed Kevin Wallace, an attorney from James’ office during the hearing. It was a breach of legal protocol, since lawyers are not supposed to engage in crosstalk — directly speak to each other — during court hearings.
Wallace ignored Habba’s comments to him, telling Engoron that he was “not going to engage in crosstalk, your honor.”
Habba also veered away from the focus of the hearing to air out right-wing conspiracy theories about Hillary Clinton and what Trump has alleged was an illegal plot to spy on his campaign and administration.
“I want to know, Mr. Wallace, Ms. James, are you going to go after Hillary Clinton for what she’s doing to my client?” Habba said, referring to the attorney general of New York and Kevin Wallace, an attorney representing her in the hearing. “That she spied at Trump Tower in your state? Are you going to look into her business dealings?”
But Engoron cut off Habba’s discussion of Clinton, saying it was irrelevant.
“The Clintons are not before me,” he said.
Engoron ruled after the hearing that Trump and his two children must comply with the subpoenas.
“The target of a hybrid civil/criminal investigation cannot use the Fifth Amendment as both sword and a shield; a shield against questions and a sword against the investigation itself,” he wrote.
“When they are deposed, the New Trump Respondents will have the right to refuse to answer any questions that they claim might incriminate them, and that refusal may not be commented on or used against them in a criminal prosecution.”