Cohen tells fraud trial he was told to boost Trump’s asset values ‘arbitrarily’

Michael Cohen arrives at court (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)
Michael Cohen arrives at court (AP Photo/Yuki Iwamura)

Donald Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen has told the former president’s civil fraud trial that he worked to boost asset values to “whatever number Trump told us to”.

Five years after turning on a boss who he once pledged to “take a bullet” for, Cohen is a key witness in New York attorney general Letitia James’s 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 said, adding that he and former Trump Organisation finance chief Allen Weisselberg laboured “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, who denies Ms James’s allegations, dismissed Cohen’s account outside court as the words of “a proven liar” who served prison time after pleading guilty to tax evasion, lying to Congress and campaign finance violations.

“I’m not worried at all about his testimony,” Trump said. “You see what his record is. He’s not a credible witness.”

The former president and Republican 2024 front-runner voluntarily came to court for the highly anticipated evidence, attending the Manhattan trial for a sixth day this month.

Cohen, whose appearance was delayed from last week by an unspecified health issue, has said it is his first time seeing Trump in five years.

“Heck of a reunion,” Cohen said during the court break. Earlier, he had insisted outside court that “this is not about Donald Trump vs Michael Cohen or Michael Cohen vs. Donald Trump”.

Trump Fraud Lawsuit
Donald Trump at the fraud trial at New York Supreme Court (Maansi Srivastava/New York Times/AP)

“This is about accountability, plain and simple,” he added.

After Cohen began answering questions about his career and criminal convictions, Trump at times whispered to his lawyers. At other points, the former president hunched forward in his seat, watching intently, or leaned back with crossed arms.

Judge Arthur Engoron has already ruled that Trump and his company committed fraud, but the trial involves remaining claims of conspiracy, insurance fraud and falsifying business records.

Trump says his assets were undervalued, and he maintains that disclaimers on his financial statements essentially told recipients to check the numbers for themselves.

He has derided the case as a “sham”, a “scam” and “a continuation of the single greatest witch hunt of all time”. The ex-president argues that the case is part of an effort by Ms James and other Democrats to drag down his presidential campaign.

Cohen spent a decade as Trump’s personal lawyer before famously breaking with him in 2018 amid a federal investigation that sent Cohen to federal prison. He is also a major prosecution witness in Trump’s separate Manhattan hush-money criminal case, which is scheduled to go to trial next spring.

Letitia James
Letitia James (Mike Segar/AP)

Ms James has credited Cohen as the impetus for her civil investigation, which led to the fraud lawsuit being decided at the trial. She cited Cohen’s evidence to Congress in 2019 that Trump had a history of misrepresenting the value of assets to gain favourable loan terms and tax benefits.

Cohen gave copies of three of Trump’s financial statements to the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, saying the former president gave the statements to Deutsche Bank to inquire about a loan to buy American football club the Buffalo Bills, and to Forbes magazine to substantiate his claim to a spot in its list of the world’s wealthiest people.

Earlier this month, Trump dropped a 500 million dollar (£4.1 million) lawsuit that accused Cohen of “spreading falsehoods”, causing “vast reputational harm” and breaking a confidentiality agreement for talking publicly about the hush-money payments.

A Trump spokesperson said the former president was only pausing the lawsuit, while campaigning and fighting four criminal cases, and would refile later.

Cohen took the stand after William Kelly, the lawyer for Trump’s longtime former accounting firm, Mazars USA. The firm cut ties with Trump last year after Ms James’s office raised questions about the reliability of his financial statements.

Mr Kelly said the firm’s decision was based on the attorney general’s lawsuit and on Mazars’ own investigation, which suggested that Mr Weisselberg had provided “compromised” financial statements. Mazars said it had not found any “material discrepancies” in the statements as a whole.