NEW YORK, Oct 24 (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s former lawyer and adjuster, Michael Cohen, testified on Tuesday that the values of the former U.S. president’s real estate assets matched “what Mr. Trump told us.”
Cohen, who testified as a key witness in New York Attorney General Letitia James’ civil fraud case against Trump, alleged that Trump had him and other former Trump Organization executives doctor financial statements to boost the company’s stock value and obtain better real estate premiums.
“He would say, ‘I’m not really worth $4.5 billion, I’m really worth 6 (billion),'” Cohen said, adding that Trump “arbitrarily” reached the valuation of his assets.
Tuesday’s testimony marked a much-anticipated reunion of bitter enemies turned allies.
Trump initially leaned back in his chair with his arms folded and glared at Cohen.
Cohen is expected to return to the witness stand Wednesday for cross-examination by Trump’s lawyers. Trump told reporters after leaving the courtroom that he would return on Wednesday.
Cohen testified that he and one-time Trump Organization chief financial officer Alan Weiselberg would hand-mark line items using red ink after Trump said the numbers in his financial statements were too low.
The testimony comes in the fourth week of a lawsuit brought by Democrat James against Trump and his family company last September in New York state court in Manhattan. The lawsuit, which could break up Trump’s business empire, accuses Trump of inflating the value of his assets.
Trump, a front-runner for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, has denied wrongdoing and defended the valuation of his assets, calling the case a “fraud” and a political witch hunt.
Speaking to reporters outside the courtroom as the hearing concluded for the day, Trump called Cohen a “disgraceful fellow.”
“The testimony has already been completely discredited,” Trump said.
James’ civil suit is one of several legal issues facing Trump as he campaigns for the presidency. He has pleaded not guilty to four criminal charges, including federal cases linked to attempts to alter the results of the 2020 election and the removal of government documents from the White House.
Cohen says he lied at Trump’s direction
Cohen, who once said he would “take a bullet” for Trump, turned on his onetime boss in 2018 when he pleaded guilty to a campaign finance violation and lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings in Russia.
Colin Faherty, a lawyer for the attorney general’s office, began questioning Cohen by reviewing his criminal history, in an apparent attempt to fend off expected attacks by Trump’s lawyers on his credibility. Cohen said he lied at Trump’s direction.
Cohen began a three-year prison sentence in 2019, but was released to house arrest the following year during the coronavirus pandemic.
Prosecutors never allege criminal wrongdoing stemming from Trump’s business dealings with Russia.
During about a half-hour of cross-examination Tuesday, barred attorney Cohen broke through case law to support the attorney general’s objection to a question from Trump lawyer Alina Haba.
“We can also go to your favorite, United States v. Nixon,” Cohen said, referring to the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that ordered former President Richard Nixon to hand over records related to the Watergate scandal.
Trump appeared in court Tuesday, his first appearance after being fined $5,000 by the judge overseeing the case, Arthur Engoran, for violating a gag order.
In September, before the investigation began, Engron found Trump had fraudulently inflated his net worth and ordered the liquidation of companies that controlled the crown jewels of his real estate portfolio, including Trump Tower in Manhattan. That ruling is on hold while Trump appeals.
The trial is mostly about damages. James is seeking at least a $250 million fine, a permanent ban on Trump and his sons Donald Jr. and Eric from doing business in New York, and a five-year commercial real estate ban against Trump and the Trump Organization.
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Report by Jack Quinn; Written by Jack Quinn and Luke Cohen; Editing by Nolene Walter, Nick Zieminski, Lisa Schumacher, and Rod Nickell
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