In a courtroom showdown that has lasted five years, Michael Cohen, Donald Trump’s fixer-turned-enemy, testified Tuesday that he worked to reduce the alleged value of the former president’s assets to “the value set by Trump.” to increase.
Trump’s lawyers – and, outside the court, Trump himself – in turn sought to portray Cohen as a serial fraudster who pleaded guilty to crimes that included tax evasion and telling falsehoods to Congress and a bank. During a heated cross-examination, Cohen, a disbarred attorney, even raised his own legal objections, responding to some questions with “Asked and answered!”
It was a tense personal encounter between Trump and a man who once vowed to “take a bullet” for him. Cohen eventually ended up in prison and became a prominent witness against his former boss, from courthouses to Congress.
Now Cohen is a key figure in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit alleging that Trump and his company deceived banks, insurance companies and others by providing them with financial reports that inflated his assets.
“I was tasked by Mr. Trump to increase total assets based on a number he arbitrarily chose,” Cohen testified, saying he and former Trump finance chief Allen Weisselberg worked to “reshape the various asset classes and “to increase these assets to reach a number that Mr. Trump had asked us to achieve.”
When asked what that number was, Cohen replied: “Whatever number Trump told us.”
Trump denies James’ allegations. Outside court, Trump dismissed Cohen’s account as the expression of a “proven liar.”
“The witness is completely discredited,” Trump said. “He’s a disgraced criminal and this is how it comes out.”
The former president and 2024 Republican front-runner made his sixth voluntary court appearance this month. Cohen said he hasn’t seen Trump in five years so far.
“A hell of a reunion,” Cohen said in court. He insisted that “this is not about Donald Trump vs. Michael Cohen or Michael Cohen vs. Donald Trump. This is about responsibility, pure and simple.”
Cohen testified that Trump would subpoena him and Weisselberg and say, for example, “I’m actually not worth four and a half billion dollars. I’m really worth more than six.”
Cohen said he and the finance chief would then drive up the value of Trump properties by tying them to “comparable” properties that were actually different – for example, brand new developments with higher caps, more expansive views and no rent regulation.
Insurance company executives were shown the exaggerated statements in which the combination of extremely high values and low liabilities could help Trump get cheaper premiums, Cohen testified. Plus, he said, Trump would intentionally show up at about three-quarters of his surrogates’ meetings with insurers and initiate a conversation about how he was rich enough to insure himself when he couldn’t get a good premium.
As Cohen testified, Trump at times whispered to his lawyers or shook his head. At other points, the former president leaned forward in his seat and watched intently, or leaned back with his arms folded. He took great interest in Cohen’s cross-examination, pointing at his lawyers and craning his neck to get a better look.
Trump lawyer Alina Habba criticized Cohen’s federal guilty pleas in 2018 and his efforts to distance himself from some of them now. Although he pleaded guilty to tax evasion and making false statements to a bank on a loan application, he said Tuesday he lied about those admissions. He suggested that he had merely committed “tax evasion” and failed to correct inaccuracies in the loan documents.
“You won’t lie to me too?” asked Habba pointedly. And when Cohen objected to certain questions and listed cases he said he had allowed, Habba responded that he was wrong.
“If you still had your law license, you would understand,” she said. Another Trump lawyer, Christopher Kise, complained that Cohen was a “serial liar” who was “out of control” and was trying to “play judge.”
The actual judge, Arthur Engoron, asked Cohen to answer most of the questions.
Engoron has already ruled that Trump and his company committed fraud. The trial involves remaining charges of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsification of business records.
Trump says his assets were actually understated, and he claims that disclaimers in his financial reports essentially asked recipients to verify the numbers themselves.
He derided the case as a “sham,” a “fraud” and part of an effort by James and other Democrats to slow his campaign.
Cohen was Trump’s fiercely loyal personal lawyer for a decade before breaking with him in 2018 amid a federal investigation that landed Cohen in federal prison. He is also a key prosecution witness in Trump’s separate Manhattan hush-money criminal case, scheduled for trial next spring.
James cites Cohen as the catalyst for their civil investigation that led to the fraud complaint and trial. She cited Cohen’s testimony before Congress in 2019 that Trump had a history of misrepresenting the value of assets to obtain favorable loan terms and tax benefits.
Earlier this month, Trump dropped a $500 million lawsuit accusing Cohen of “spreading falsehoods” and breaching a confidentiality agreement. A Trump spokesman said the former president was merely suspending the lawsuit while he campaigns and fights four criminal cases.
In one of those criminal cases, co-defendant Jenna Ellis, an attorney, pleaded guilty Tuesday to a felony charge of trying to overturn Trump’s 2020 election loss in Georgia. She is the fourth defendant to reach a plea agreement in the case.
Trump’s lawyers sought to delay the trial in New York on Tuesday, arguing that coronavirus cases among James’ staff were endangering the former president’s health. The Attorney General’s Office said in a statement it had taken all steps to notify relevant parties and followed health guidelines.
Trump later complained outside court that “what they did in the courtroom with COVID was a disgrace,” but he and the lawyers at his side did not wear masks.
Source : www.france24.com