"Stunning": Court reporters hint at “rumblings” of potential Trump settlement talks in NY fraud case

Attorney Alina Habba privately met with judge Tuesday after Trump complained about “low-ball settlement offer"

By Igor Derysh

Managing Editor

Published November 15, 2023 9:14AM (EST)

Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom with attorneys Christopher M. Kise and Alina Habba during his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on October 17, 2023 in New York City. (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
Former President Donald Trump sits in the courtroom with attorneys Christopher M. Kise and Alina Habba during his civil fraud trial at New York State Supreme Court on October 17, 2023 in New York City. (Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

Rumors of potential settlement talks on Tuesday swirled around the Manhattan courthouse where former President Donald Trump’s civil fraud trial is taking place.

Frank Runyeon, a reporter for Law360, on Tuesday cited a “very curious” 25-minute delay in the trial resuming after an afternoon break. Trump attorney Alina Habba walked out of the chambers "alone” before the New York attorney general’s team went in, Runyeon wrote on X/Twitter, linking the incident to Trump recently complaining about a “low-ball settlement offer.”

Trump's attorneys have already appealed Judge Arthur Engoron's pre-trial summary judgment holding Trump, his eldest sons and his company liable for persistent fraud and have signaled that they plan to push for a mistrial.

MSNBC legal analyst Lisa Rubin, who has been reporting from the courthouse during the weekslong trial, also reported “rumblings that the private conversations we’ve observed between each side and the court reflect some sort of settlement negotiation.”

Rubin noted that Habba would make sense as Trump’s proxy in potential settlement talks because aside from being his outside counsel she is also listed as the legal spokesperson and general counsel for his Save America PAC. “She just might be the best positioned to negotiate on behalf of Team Trump,” Rubin wrote.

“Why do folks believe the private conversations today between each side and the judge reflect settlement conversations? In part because of Trump’s Truth Social post” on Monday, Rubin wrote in another post.

Trump on Monday claimed that Judge Arthur Engoron “asked me to settle for a MUCH LOWER AMOUNT, at a settlement conference, but I said NO, I DID NOTHING WRONG!”

Trump two weeks earlier also claimed that the attorney general’s lawyers “want to settle.”

“Why should I be forced to settle when I did nothing wrong?” he wrote.

Rubin noted that the only publicly reported settlement conversations date back to September 2022, before the lawsuit was actually filed.

“Moreover, that reporting discusses many settlement overtures from the Trump Organization to the attorney general, but does not reference any settlement conferences before Judge Engoron. So what is Trump talking about and when did it happen? Stay tuned,” Rubin wrote.

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Former U.S. Attorney Harry Litman tweeted that we should learn soon if settlement talks are indeed happening.

“This would be an absolutely stunning development, but I can’t think of a better explanation for Kise’s being outside the court room for so long mid trial,” he wrote.

The Daily Beast’s Jose Pagliery also reported on Tuesday that Habba met privately with the judge, “probably seeking a settlement to quietly end his bank fraud trial.”

But Pagliery predicted that it would be “a cold day in hell when the Trumps & New York AG agree to shelve this trial.”

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“The judge might drown Trump in fines ranging from $250 million to a gazillion dollars. And the entire Trump Org could end up in receivership soon,” he wrote. “What would the Trumps counteroffer?”

New York attorney Paul Golden told Newsweek that while Trump settled his Trump University case in 2018, "it is possible the public would view a settlement of the current fraud case very differently."

"In the event Trump is considering settlement, and thus far we have not seen any evidence of it, he would have a great many issues to consider, including how a potential settlement would affect his brand, his businesses, and real property, and what kinds of fines would be at stake,” Golden said, adding that the case is "unusual in one major respect: most attorneys never have to consider whether a settlement would affect one's client's ability to win the presidency."

By Igor Derysh

Igor Derysh is Salon's managing editor. His work has also appeared in the Los Angeles Times, Chicago Tribune, Boston Herald and Baltimore Sun.

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Aggregate Alina Habba Arthur Engoron Donald Trump Letitia James Politics