World

Trump attorneys target Michael Cohen in heated trial fraud testimony

On his first day on the witness stand in his former employer’s blockbuster fraud trial, Donald Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen ended his testimony with a heated exchange with the former president’s attorneys determined to undermine Mr Trump’s one-time “fixer” and now star witness in the sprawling case against him.

Trump attorney Alina Habba, pacing the front of a lower Manhattan courtroom with a series of direct questions on 24 October, pressed Cohen to admit he previously lied to a federal judge and asked him whether his wife knew he committed tax crimes – an exchange that drew thunderous objections from Cohen and counsel with the office of New York Attorney General, whose lawsuit threatens to blow up Mr Trump’s business empire.

“Your honour, this witness is completely out of control,” Trump attorney Christopher Kise said.

Minutes into his testimony, Cohen got to the heart of the case: The former president allegedly instructed him to craft fraudulent financial documents around an “arbitrarily elected” value of his assets and net worth.

Those so-called statements of financial condition spanning several years are central to a civil fraud trial stemming from a lawsuit that accuses the former president of defrauding banks and insurers by grossly overvaluing assets and exaggerating his net worth.

A trial stemming the complaint entered its fourth week inside New York Supreme Court on Centre Street on 24 October.

Cohen will return to the witness stand on 25 October.

In his testimony, Cohen said he worked with former Trump Organization chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to manipulate Mr Trump’s assets to meet his “goal” net worth in those statements of financial condition.

Cohen answered questions slowly and deliberately in a packed courtroom to explain how the former president allegedly instructed both men – who were later separately convicted on a range of tax charges and other crimes in connection with Mr Trump’s business – to craft financial documents that inflated his net worth and assets.

“I was tasked by Mr Trump to increase the total assets based upon a number that he arbitrarily elected, and my responsibility, along with Allen Weisselberg, predominantly, was to reverse engineer the various different asset classes – increase those assets – in order to achieve the number that Mr Trump had tasked us with,” Cohen said.

Asked by counsel for the attorney general’s office what that number was, Cohen replied: “Whatever number Mr Trump told us to.”

Cohen later explained that the former president would call Cohen and Weisselberg to his office to discuss his statements of financial condition and review his assets.

“He would then direct Allen and I to go to Allen’s office and (not) return until we achieved the desired goal,” he said.

Those “changed numbers” would be in red ink, Cohen said.

Among the assets that Cohen was allegedly directed to inflate were several of the former president’s brand-building properties, including his Trump Tower headquarters on Fifth Avenue, Trump Park Avenue, commercial portions of 100 Central Park South, the Trump Seven Springs estate in Westchester, properties under development in Beverly Hills, the Miss Universe pageant, and “potentially other assets”, he said.

He said he was no longer involved in crafting those documents by 2016.

Cohen also described using those statements when Mr Trump was interested in buying the Buffalo Bills NFL team in 2014, “in order to demonstrate his ability to purchase the team”, he said.

(Former Deutsche Bank executive Nicholas Haigh previously testified that the financial institution “was not willing to increase its credit exposure to Donald Trump at that time”.)

The deal, or the attempt of a deal, was arranged with Mr Trump, Weisselberg, Cohen, and Jason Greenblatt.

Donald Trump talks to reporters outside Judge Arthur Engoron’s courtroom in New York Supreme Court on 24 October.

Xural.com

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