In court faceoff, Michael Cohen testifies against Trump in fraud trial. Trump shrugs: ‘Proven liar’

Michael Cohen arrives for former President Donald Trump's civil business fraud trial at New York Supreme Court, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Former President Donald Trump attends his civil business fraud trial at the New York Supreme Court, Tuesday, Oct. 24, 2023, in New York. (Maansi Srivastava/The New York Times via AP, Pool)

NEW YORK — In a courtroom showdown five years in the making, Donald Trump’s fixer-turned-foe Michael Cohen testified Tuesday that he worked to boost the supposed value of the former president’s assets to “whatever number Trump told us to.”

Trump’s lawyers — and outside court, Trump himself — by turn sought to portray Cohen as a serial deceiver who pleaded guilty to crimes that include tax evasion and telling falsehoods to Congress and a bank. During a fractious cross-examination, Cohen, a disbarred attorney, even floated his own lawyerly objections, responding to some queries with “asked and answered!”


It was a fraught face-to-face encounter between Trump and a man who once pledged to “take a bullet” for him. Cohen eventually ended up in prison and became a prominent witness against his former boss in venues from courthouses to Congress.

Now, Cohen is a key figure in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ lawsuit alleging that Trump and his company duped banks, insurers and others by giving them financial statements that inflated his wealth.

“I was tasked by Mr. Trump to increase the total assets, based upon a number that he arbitrarily elected,” Cohen testified, saying that he and former Trump finance chief Allen Weisselberg labored “to reverse-engineer the various different asset classes, increase those assets, in order to achieve a number that Mr. Trump had tasked us.”

Asked what that number was, Cohen replied: “Whatever number Trump told us to.”

Trump denies James’ allegations. Outside court, Trump dismissed Cohen’s account as the words of “a proven liar.”

“The witness is totally discredited,” Trump said. “He’s a disgraced felon, and that’s the way it’s coming out.”

The former president and Republican 2024 front-runner voluntarily came to court for a sixth day this month. Cohen has said he hadn’t seen Trump for five years until now.

“Heck of a reunion,” Cohen said outside court. He insisted that “this is not about Donald Trump vs. Michael Cohen or Michael Cohen vs. Donald Trump. This is about accountability, plain and simple.”

Cohen testified that Trump would summon him and Weisselberg and say, for example: “I’m actually not worth four and a half billion dollars. I’m really worth more like six.”

Cohen said he and the finance chief would then inflate the value of Trump properties by pegging them to “comparable” real estate that was actually different — brand-new developments with higher ceilings, more sweeping views and no rent regulation, for instance.

Insurance company executives were shown the exaggerated statements, where the combination of extremely high values and low liabilities could net Trump more favorable premiums, Cohen testified. Plus, he said, Trump would deliberately show up about three-quarters of the way through his deputies’ meetings with insurers and spark a conversation to the effect that he was rich enough to self-insure if 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 hunched forward in his seat, watching intently, or leaned back with crossed arms. He took a keen interest in Cohen’s cross-examination, gesturing to his attorneys and craning his neck to get a better view.

Trump lawyer Alina Habba hammered at Cohen’s 2018 federal guilty pleas and his effort now to distance himself from some of them. Although he pleaded guilty to tax evasion and to making false statements to a bank on a loan application, he said Tuesday he’d lied when he made those admissions. He suggested he’d only engaged in “tax omission” and failed to correct inaccuracies on the loan paperwork.

The judge of this case, Arthur Engoron, already has ruled that Trump and his company committed fraud. The trial involves remaining claims of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records.

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